Creepy Adult Fiction Review: The Ghosts of Sleath…

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ghosts-of-sleath

Meet an old story in a new jacket!  We received this gorgeously covered copy of The Ghosts of Sleath by James Herbert from PanMacmillan Australia not realising that the story was originally published in 1994.  All things considered though, this didn’t really matter to us because we’ve never read any of Herbert’s work anyway!  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Can a ghost haunt a ghost?
Can the dead reach out and touch the living?
Can ancient evil be made manifest?

These are the questions that confront investigator David Ash when he is sent to the picturesque village of Sleath in the Chiltern Hills to look into mysterious reports of mass hauntings. What he discovers is a terrified community gripped by horrors and terrorized by ghosts from the ancient village’s long history. As each dark secret is unveiled and terrible, malign forces are unleashed, he will fear for his very sanity.

Sleath. Where the dead will walk the streets.

Sleath, it seems, is a picturesque village that is haunted by…well, pretty much everything that ever happened there.  When psychic investigator David Ash is called to Sleath at the behest of the local vicar amid whispers of hauntings, he is woefully unprepared to deal with the sheer backlog of instances of human misery that this town seems to be hiding.  Along with Grace, the vicar’s daughter, and later on, a mysterious Irish man who turns up out of the blue, David must try and get to the bottom of the diverse phenomena appearing all over the village and discover whether they have paranormal origins or are driven by something more mundane.

Before you pick this one up you should probably be made aware that it isn’t your average, run of the mill ghost story, but also features some quite graphic, stomach-churning violence that is sprung on the reader without warning in various places.  We Shelf-dwellers, being fans of ghostliness, but not necessarily goriness (unless we’re in the mood!), found this to be a bit of a stumbling block to getting into this book because after a while we became hand-shy that something icky would be around the next corner.  For those who appreciate trigger warnings, you should be made aware that this book features descriptions of child sexual abuse that are quite confronting.

This is the second book in a series featuring psychic investigator David Ash.  Not having read the first book wasn’t a major problem as the author provides enough information here and there to ensure that the reader gets an idea of his backstory. Ash is a bit of a tortured character by all accounts who is committed to his job but still coming to terms with some seriously nasty psychological trauma from a past case.

I couldn’t quite make up my mind as to whether I enjoyed this book or not.  On the one hand, it certainly satisfies the criteria of “totally creepy paranormal phenomena” and “reveals you didn’t see coming”, both of which I appreciate in a good ghosty story.  On the other hand, the aforementioned violence seemed shockingly out of place and was so graphic in places that it made me feel a bit sick.   I also had a few issues with the slow pacing of the investigation and constant interjections of flashbacks from various townsfolk.

While this one didn’t quite hang together in the most appealing way for me as a reader, I’m sure there will be plenty of folk who will appreciate the dark, brooding atmosphere of this book and the multiple narratives that have been woven together to contribute to the surprising reveal.

I will be submitting this one for the Colour Coded Challenge 2017   You can check out my progress toward all my challenges here.

Until next time,

Bruce

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Shouty Doris Interjects during… The Women in the Walls!

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Shouty Doris interjects

It’s been a while, but today Shouty Doris is back to interject during my review of The Women in the Walls by Amy Lukavics, a YA thriller that we received for review from Simon & Schuster Australia.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Lucy Acosta’s mother died when she was three. Growing up in a Victorian mansion in the middle of the woods with her cold, distant father, she explored the dark hallways of the estate with her cousin, Margaret. They’re inseparable—a family.  

When her aunt Penelope, the only mother she’s ever known, tragically disappears while walking in the woods surrounding their estate, Lucy finds herself devastated and alone. Margaret has been spending a lot of time in the attic. She claims she can hear her dead mother’s voice whispering from the walls. Emotionally shut out by her father, Lucy watches helplessly as her cousin’s sanity slowly unravels. But when she begins hearing voices herself, Lucy finds herself confronting an ancient and deadly legacy that has marked the women in her family for generations.

women-in-the-walls

Before we get into it I have to ask: Doris, where have you been for so long?

Shouty Doris interjects

Washing my hair.

For seven months?

Shouty Doris interjects

Yes.

But surely you couldn’t ha —

Shouty Doris interjects

Just get on with it Bruce.

Haven’t lost your charming personality, I see, Doris.  Right.  Let’s crack on.  Just a warning – there will be some spoilers in this review.    

I had high hopes for The Women in the Walls when I requested it for review.  The blurb sounded spooky and mysterious, the cover was creepy, with a hint of old-time menace.  I honestly thought that this would be a five-star read and something I would thoroughly relish.  But….

Shouty Doris interjects

It wasn’t.

Well, quite.  From the very first chapter I started to have misgivings about how creepy this book would turn out to be, mostly because from the very start it seemed that the author was having trouble getting a handle on her protagonist’s voice.  I was finding it hard to pick up from the dialogue, thoughts and actions of Lucy, the main character, just what kind of a person she was – what made her tick, what her strengths might be…in short, who she was going to be as a character.  But, I decided to press on regardless because I didn’t want to give up on the prospect of creepy voices in the walls.

Shouty Doris interjects

Well, that was a mistake.  

How so?

Shouty Doris interjects

The voice problem never gets any better.  It’s like the author decided to pick obvious, wooden dialogue for all the characters and just throw it at the page in the hope that it would create a spooky atmosphere.  Quite frankly, I would have been happy if the walls had collapsed on the lot of them by the end of chapter five.  Spoilt, selfish brats, all.  Even the adults.

You’ve got a point there, Doris.  None of the main characters – Lucy, her cousin Margaret, and Lucy’s father – were particularly likable and none were developed in any deep way.  We get told (through Lucy’s thought processes) about the various tragedies that have befallen each of them, but their behaviour toward each other is so cold and unlikely that I couldn’t muster up the motivation to care about what happened to any of them.  Yet still I pushed on, hoping for the atmosphere to take a turn for the creepy.

Shouty Doris interjects

Strike two!  The author doesn’t know anything about creepy.  There’s no suspense, no atmosphere, no tension; just a bunch of whinging young girls bickering and some supposedly spooky happenings plucked out of thin air and slapped down in front of us with no build up.  I think the author was going for shock value rather than bothering to craft a story that felt suspenseful.  It’s like bringing a bag of salt and vinegar chips to a party – people will be disgusted on first seeing them, but it won’t leave a lasting impression (luckily for you.  Who brings salt and vinegar chips to a party?)

I’d have to agree, Doris.  I was hoping for this to be a real psychological thriller, with voices in the walls causing madness and mayhem to ensue.  It does ensue, admittedly, but the execution is so ham-fisted and unsubtle that any sense of tension is completely lost.  There are a couple of violent and outwardly gruesome scenes – Margaret’s death being one of them – that the author describes in detail and then keeps bringing up, as if to try and raise the scare factor, but the narration and plot arc are so clumsy and signposted that these scenes feel like they’ve been included simply to add a bit of gore to the book.

There were also parts of the narration that made absolutely no sense.  My particular favourite of these is Lucy noting, after Margaret’s brutal and frankly dubious (according to the laws of physics) method of suicide – she throws herself out of a window, landing on a spiked fence, causing her to be impaled through both body and head, in case you’re wondering – that she had no idea why Margaret did what she did.

Shouty Doris interjects

HA!! Yes, that had me chuckling a bit too.  No idea why she did what she did? Really, girly? So the inappropriate giggling in the middle of the night, the claim about hearing voices of dead relatives, the scribbling out her mother’s face in every photograph in the house, the waking to find her standing over you with scissors, the dissection of a rat, the previous gruesome suicide of another member of the household ….none of this gave you a hint that Margaret was unhinged and might do something even more unexpected? Like launch herself out of an unfastened window onto a fence worthy of Vlad the Impaler’s summer home?

Exactly.  That, and the intermittent introspection about “Did I ever really know *Margaret/Penelope/My Father/insert name of character here* at all?” felt stilted and pedestrian and did nothing to add any depth or realism to Lucy as a character.

I think the author had some good ideas for a truly creepy story here, but the execution is amateurish.  There are supposedly interweaving plotlines involving magic, the disappearance of Margaret’s mother and the involvement of a country club, but the author couldn’t seem to bring these together in a coherent, suspenseful story.  Every time I felt any kind of suspense building, the author would cut to a scene that allowed the suspense to deflate.  The parties with the country club were a big culprit here.  I mean, her aunt has disappeared, her cousin has killed herself and Lucy is quite content to hang out with her father’s country club buddies?

Shouty Doris interjects

I don’t know why you bothered to finish it.

Weeeellll.  I didn’t.  I pushed on for 227 pages and then I just couldn’t face wading through any more stilted, disconnected events narrated by a bitchy, self-centred teen.  It’s sort of my two-fingered salute to the book for not being what I expected.

Shouty Doris interjects

I’m sure the author is cut to the bone that you read seven eighths of the book and then put it down in protest.

Yeah, yeah.  I just honestly kept hoping it would get better.

Shouty Doris interjects

Let that be a lesson to you, boyo.  Now, I have to go and wash my hair.

But didn’t you just wa —

Shouty Doris interjects

Get on with it.

Right.

In case you haven’t picked up on my mood yet, I was disappointed with this one, but at least I know I gave it every chance.  Have you read The Women in the Walls?  What did you think?

Until next time,

Bruce

Devilishly Thought-Provoking Adult Fiction: The Summer that Melted Everything

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the summer that melted everthing

Today’s book is that most elusive of creatures – literary fiction that is eminently readable and skilfully demonstrates how reality and our perceptions of reality can merge in ways that result in unexpected personal consequences.  The Summer That Melted Everything is Tiffany McDaniel’s debut novel and an impressive little number it is.  We received a copy from Scribe Australia for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Fielding Bliss has never forgotten the summer of 1984: the year a heat wave scorched Breathed, Ohio. The year he became friends with the devil.

Sal seems to appear out of nowhere – a bruised and tattered thirteen-year-old boy claiming to be the devil himself answering an invitation. Fielding Bliss, the son of a local prosecutor, brings him home where he’s welcomed into the Bliss family, assuming he’s a runaway from a nearby farm town.

When word spreads that the devil has come to Breathed, not everyone is happy to welcome this self-proclaimed fallen angel. Murmurs follow him and tensions rise, along with the temperatures as an unbearable heat wave rolls into town right along with him. As strange accidents start to occur, riled by the feverish heat, some in the town start to believe that Sal is exactly who he claims to be. While the Bliss family wrestles with their own personal demons, a fanatic drives the town to the brink of a catastrophe that will change this sleepy Ohio backwater forever.

While this is by no means a book that’s going to leave you strolling away whistling once you put it down, there is something to be said for storytelling that explores the baser aspects of human existence without casting any particular person as “the monster”.  McDaniel has produced an extremely well-crafted novel for a first-timer, and if you are prepared to delve into a world in which nobody’s flaws are glossed over, then I would highly recommend you take a look at The Summer That Melted Everything.

The book is narrated by Fielding Bliss and alternates between a particularly memorable summer of 1984 and Fielding’s moribund situation in the present.  The story begins with a style that borders on magical realism, with larger-than-life, quirky characters and the unexpected arrival of a young boy whose other-wordliness seems to seep from his very pores.  As the book goes on, it becomes apparent that all is not as it seems, although the “truth” of the matter does turn out to be at least as strange as the fiction.  Sal, as a thirteen year old boy, isn’t a particularly authentic character, being too wise for words in some instances, yet remains incredibly endearing and vulnerable in spite of his apparently redoubtable exterior.  Fielding is a much more genuine portrayal of a young boy, although his narration as an elderly man is quite harrowing at times.  The story is rounded out with Grand, Fielding’s older brother and golden boy of the town, his agoraphobic mother, criminal lawyer father, diminutive, angry and zealous neighbour (named, interestingly enough, Elohim), and a collection of small-town folk whose secrets and personal shames are variously brought to light throughout the story.

By the end of the novel, most of the “magic” of the story has fallen away and the reader is left with the stark and disturbing aftermath of unimaginable actions driven by a town’s collective imaginings.  As I mentioned earlier, the book won’t leave you with an uplifted spirit and the desire to prance along the street, but neither does it employ gratuitous shock tactics simply to provide an action-packed finale. While the content toward the end is reasonably challenging, it certainly leaves the reader with plenty to ponder over and this pondering is aided by the treacle-slow pace of the writing, which brilliantly reflects the apparent stopping of time that occurs during a prolonged heatwave.

The only problem I had with the book is that although it is set mostly in 1984, the characters and dialogue had me more in mind of the 1950s.  This may have been deliberate on the part of the author, and to be honest, it doesn’t make that much of a difference to the story, but it was an interesting side-effect nonetheless.

We highly recommend The Summer That Melted Everything to readers who are looking for realistic literary fiction with a masterfully constructed fantastical streak.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Giveaway! Quarantine: The Loners by Lex Thomas

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It’s giveaway time!  I received a copy of Quarantine: The Loners by Lex Thomas from Walker Books Australia for review.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t my cup of tea – more about that in a minute – so it’s time to send it on to a more loving home.  To enter the giveaway, which is open internationally (hooray!), scroll down a bit.  But if you actually want to know something about the book you are hoping to win, here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

It was just another ordinary day at McKinley High—until a massive explosion devastated the school. When loner David Thorpe tried to help his English teacher to safety, the teacher convulsed and died right in front of him. And that was just the beginning.

A year later, McKinley has descended into chaos. All the students are infected with a virus that makes them deadly to adults. The school is under military quarantine. The teachers are gone. Violent gangs have formed based on high school social cliques. Without a gang, you’re as good as dead. And David has no gang. It’s just him and his little brother, Will, against the whole school.

quarantine

I had high hopes for this one but unfortunately I gave up after about four chapters and 45ish pages.  I had three main problems with what I read.  The first of these is that the narrative style focused far more on telling than showing, and so I didn’t feel drawn in to the story.

The second is that the major plot point of the book – that the kids have somehow contracted a virus that is deadly to adults – is just sort of plonked into the text.  There is no indication of how this happened or why or anything.  Admittedly, this could be explained after page 45 and I would be none the wiser, but essentially what I’m saying is that there was not enough believable world-building in the early stages for me to want to stick with it.

**For examples of parts of the story that stopped me from suspending my disbelief, see the below paragraphs.  If you take my word for it, feel free to skip the below paragraphs**

Examples of this include the fact that the army has cordoned off the school within minutes of the first teacher’s death – why (and how??) could they do this unless they were involved? (I don’t know if they’re involved because I finished at page 45, but this was the only logical reason I could think of for the army to be there so quick.)

Another example is the fact that the teacher who dies in front of David (the main character) takes time out from vomiting up his internal organs to warn David to “stay back!”.  Why? If I was literally spewing my guts up, I’d want the nearest person to help me, not stay back.  Did the teacher know that David was causing his death, and if so, how did he know?

Finally, there is a scene in which the boys carry the corpse of the aforementioned dead teacher to a sort of makeshift burial ground (actually, a collection of lockers).  This scene is noted as being two weeks after the death of the teacher.  At no point are maggots mentioned.  I would have expected (and the most cursory of glances at the first webpage about corpse decomposition I came across confirms this) that the body, at two weeks after death, would be crawling with maggots and doused in more than a little seepage of bodily fluid.  Yet this is not mentioned.  Further to this, the teacher-burial-locker thing seems quite an organised operation, but no mention is made of who organised it, how everyone agreed to it etc, etc….

**Okay, examples over.  Normal service now resumes**

The straw that broke the gargoyle’s back however, was a mention on pages 44 and 45 that was particularly telling to me regarding how women were going to be portrayed in this book.

Picture it: A month after hundreds of teenagers are left to their own devices in a locked school, with food only provided through occasional airdrops, the main characters burst into a girl’s toilet while on the run from an angry mob.  This is mere pages after a boy is stabbed through the throat with a piece of wood.  Guess what the girls in the bathroom are doing.

Go on, guess.

Dying their hair with a packet of Kool-Aid.

I effing kid you not.

So, the authors expect us to believe that in a life-or-death situation, wherein food is scarce and, as has just been demonstrated, people will literally KILL to get it, these young ladies are not only misusing a foodstuff that could be used to boost their daily calorie intake, but are also seemingly more worried about their looks than, oh, I don’t know, being locked up with hundreds of hormonal, angry, mob-based teen boys where the risk of rape or violent attack would be astronomical.

And so I stopped reading.  Because if the lacklustre narrative style and lack of basic research weren’t bad enough, there was no way I was going to sit through a book in which young women are portrayed as looks-obsessed halfwits even as the world collapses around them.

Having said that, the book is getting a majority of four and five star reviews on Goodreads, so what the hell do I know?  Hence, the giveaway!

If you would like to be the forever home of Quarantine: The Loners (kindly provided by Walker Books Australia), just click on the rafflecopter link below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck!

Until next time,

Bruce

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Gritty UKYA” Edition…

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Pull out your best Round-Up hat, because today’s three UK YA titles are ones that you will be wanting to chase down.  We received copies of today’s books from Allen & Unwin for review.  Keep your eyes open my friends, we’ve got some live ones here!

Bad Apple (Matt Whyman)

Two Sentence Synopsis:

bad apple

Bad Apple (Matt Whyman) Published by Bonnier, 25th May 2016.  RRP: $16.99

When Maurice goes on a school trip to observe “trolls” in their settlement for his modern history class, he doesn’t expect to get quite so “up close and personal” with the inhabitants. When he discovers what is going on in the settlements, Maurice decides to risk doing the wrong thing for the right reasons and in doing so, blurs the boundaries between troll and human behaviours.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is one road-trip that bumps along apace and while it doesn’t take itself too seriously, still manages to raise some questions about the labels that we put on each other.  The first few chapters, in which we discover the origin of the under-dwelling trolls, are particularly engaging and the pace never slows enough to register any lag.  Maurice, Cindy and Wretch (not to mention Governor Shores) all have obvious flaws and strengths, which helps to drive the philosophical question about who should be classed a troll and who shouldn’t.  There is a certain sense of the ridiculous laced throughout the main trio’s antics, but the story is so fun and fast that there’s not enough time to dwell on whether or not the happenings are believable.  I’ll definitely be seeking out more of Whyman’s work after this – the absorbing but flippant narrative style really appeals to my sense of humour and I love a story in which fantasy or speculative elements are seamlessly inserted into an otherwise rather ordinary setting.  This is the sort of YA book that would certainly also appeal to adults who appreciate oddity in writing, as well as adult characters who would remind them strongly of the mix of enemies and allies that appear in any workplace.  I recommend this one for those looking for a quirky, fun change of pace with a thought-provoking twist.

Brand it with:

Notes from the underground, genetic testing, born to be wild

The Fix (Sophie McKenzie)

 

the fix

The Fix (Sophie McKenzie) Pulished by Faber Factory Plus (FfP), 25th May 2016.  RRP: $13.99

 

Two Sentence Synopsis:

Blake is a star striker on his football team, but at home his mum is struggling to pay the rent.  When Blake is offered the opportunity to earn some money by deliberately throwing his next match, it seems like the solution to Blake’s rent problem is right in front of him.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this book is touted as “super-readable” by a helpful sticker on the back, and as a “low reading level, high interest” book, it is a great choice for struggling or reluctant readers in the YA bracket who prefer shorter reads that get straight to the action.  This book is easily read in one or two sittings, with no unnecessary segues into side plots that might lessen the interest of the story overall.  The characters are quite two-dimensional, given the short word count, but there is plenty of action to ensure the reader stays engaged.  The book starts with a botched getaway attempt from a midnight kick-around session in Blake’s city’s brand new football stadium, and from that point on, Blake is forced to make some hard decisions over where his loyalties lie.  As it is so short, it’s hard to drum up too much excitement over having read this book, but it does exactly what it says on the tin, which is to pitch a tale of high interest to YA readers at an easily accessible reading level for those in the target age group.

Brand it with:

Money for nothing, divided loyalties, pacey reads

Johnny Delgado (Kevin Brooks)

 

johnny delgado

Johnny Delgado (Kevin Brooks) Published by Faber Factory Plus (FfP), 25th May 2016 RRP: $13.99

 

Two Sentence Synopsis:

Johnny lives in North Tower of the estate with his mum, after his dad – a policeman – was killed in a botched drug raid.  Hoping to make it as a private detective, Johnny will stop at nothing to find out the truth, particularly when it involves his family, but in doing so, will put those he loves in danger.

Muster up the motivation because…

…for a high interest/low reading level YA offering, this is a remarkably engaging and suspenseful book.  Despite this not being my particular preference for content in YA contemporary, I will admit to being riveted by Johnny’s story because it is action-packed from beginning to end.  This bind-up includes the first two stories in what has previously been published as two separate books – Johnny Delgado: Private Detective and Johnny Delgado: Like Father, Like Son – and despite the reasonably naff titles of those two books, the stories are actually aimed at readers of YA who can handle mature themes such as drug use, gang warfare and urban poverty.  The stories don’t shy away from the overbearing sense of despair and entrapment in the poverty cycle that pervades the estate in which Johnny lives, and the writing brings to life the depressing conditions of council house tenants living cheek by jowl.  The characters are, for the most part, authentic representations of the kinds of folk who might populate such an estate and Johnny himself is believable as a young man driven to discover the truth behind his father’s death.  The vivid action and, dare I say, believable violence contained in the stories will no doubt be a drawcard for reluctant male readers, but overall I would recommend having a look at this series simply for the exciting narrative style, suspenseful action and graphic depictions of urban life in a rough locale.

Brand it with:

Is that a gun in your pocket?, stairs or lift?, urban jungle

Have you mentally grabbed one of these books and stuffed it in your proverbial tucker bag yet?

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

 

A YA, Road-Trippin’ Double Dip of Lies and Desolation…

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I hope that you have selected a snack that is easy to transport for today’s Double-Dip because if you haven’t, there’s a high probability that you might be wearing it by the end of the trip!  Both of today’s YA titles feature road trips and nicking off in a big way, so hold onto your snacks and let’s hit the road.

First up we’re travelling with Desolation, the second book in the Demon Road trilogy, by Derek Landy.  We gratefully received a copy of this one from Harper Collins Australia for review.  In case you missed our review of the first book in the series, you can check that out here.  And here’s the Desolation‘s blurb from Goodreads:

Reeling from their bloody encounter in New York City, Amber and Milo flee north. On their trail are the Hounds of Hell – five demonic bikers who will stop at nothing to drag their quarries back to their unholy master.

Amber and Milo’s only hope lies within Desolation Hill – a small town with a big secret; a town with a darkness to it, where evil seeps through the very floorboards. Until, on one night every year, it spills over onto the streets and all hell breaks loose.

And that night is coming.

Dip into it for…  desolation
…another adrenaline-fuelled trip featuring violence, banter and a whole bunch of new characters.  The tale takes place in Desolation Hill this time around, a small town that might offer protection from the Hounds of Hell, and as small town oddities go, Desolation Hill has the mother of all quirks.  I won’t spoil it for you by revealing what it is, but I can tell you that Amber isn’t the only supernatural being getting around the place this time around.  I enjoyed the plethora of new characters that were introduced in this book, which include (but are not limited to) a Scooby-esque supernatural crime fighting squad that travels the Dark Highway in a van, some town officials that are older than they look, two old actors in the middle of a personal feud, a very shady police department and a character from urban legend come to terrifying life.  The fact that the story unfolds in one place means that more space is given over to developing characters and delving more deeply into the nature of Amber’s demonhood.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re not up for face-shredding violence and general debauchery.  If you’ve read the first book you’ll notice that apart from the violence, Landy doesn’t shy away from including really horrible misogynistic and/or generally depraved characters.

Overall Dip Factor

I felt that this book had a bit more of a male skew to it, with some token lesbian action and more of the poor attitudes to women exhibited by many of the male characters.  While I enjoyed the changes in the story and the interesting possibilities generated by the twist at the end, the general tone of this book felt more adult and grimy that the first.  It’s certainly a series for the upper end of the YA bracket, merging into the adult market, rather than for younger readers.  I’m expecting that the final book in the series is going to shake things up even more.

Next up we have There Will Be Lies by Nick Lake, which has been shortlisted for the 2016 Carnegie Medal.  We received our copy from the publisher via Netgalley.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

In four hours, Shelby Jane Cooper will be struck by a car.

Shortly after, she and her mother will leave the hospital and set out on a winding journey toward the Grand Canyon.

All Shelby knows is that they’re running from dangers only her mother understands. And the further they travel, the more Shelby questions everything about her past—and her current reality. Forced to take advantage of the kindness of unsuspecting travelers, Shelby grapples with what’s real, what isn’t, and who she can trust . . . if anybody.

Award-winning author Nick Lake proves his skills as a master storyteller in this heart-pounding new novel. This emotionally charged thrill ride leads to a shocking ending that will have readers flipping back to the beginning.

Dip into it for…  there will be lies

…an unscheduled road trip that will leave you wondering what’s real and what the future holds.  There is an awful lot going on in this book including a mysteriously protective and manipulative mother-daughter relationship, some magical realism with a possibly North American indigenous twist, and the limitations (and advantages) of disability.  Shelby is certainly an authentically teenage narrator who is obviously working things out along with the reader.  The ending is quite satisfying in a strange, unexpected sort of way – at least I was happy to see Shelby making decisions for herself, even if they were a bit odd from an ordinary person’s perspective.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re hoping for a straightforward contemporary with some mysteries along the way. When the story begins to alternate between Shelby’s journey in the real world and her quest in the strange dream-state, I felt a strong preference for the bits anchored in reality.  In my opinion, the dream-state bits felt contrived and didn’t particularly add anything to Shelby’s actions in real life.

Overall Dip Factor

Overall, I was quite engaged with the real-life bits – which featured enough twists, reveals and unexpected surprises to carry the story on its own merits – and could take or leave the dream-state bits.  This is certainly an ambitious way to tell a story and I’m sure some people will love the parallel narratives of Shelby’s life, but for me there was too much interference from flights of fancy in what was essentially an absorbing read about a teenager with an atypical past discovering who she is and who she wants to be.

If you’re in the mood for a road-trip featuring violence and/or the supernatural, you could do worse than pick up one of these two new release offerings.  Let me know what you think!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Shouty Doris Interjects during…Fellside!

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Shouty Doris interjects

Shouty Doris and I are pleased to welcome you today to our review of a book that has certainly had us talking –

Shouty Doris interjects

-arguing-

-…yes, whatever…more than any other tome so far this year!  I speak of Fellside by M.R. Carey, a paranormal, magical realist, hard-bitten jaunt inside a women’s prison.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Fellside is a maximum security prison on the edge of the Yorkshire Moors. It’s not the kind of place you’d want to end up. But it’s where Jess Moulson could be spending the rest of her life.

It’s a place where even the walls whisper.

And one voice belongs to a little boy with a message for Jess.

Will she listen?

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Before we get into it, I should point out that the above blurb gives almost no indication of the depth of story that is explored in this book.  This is one hefty tome, make no mistake, so one shouldn’t go into it thinking it’s all about one young woman and her hopes for redemption.

Shouty Doris interjects

That’s right.  You should go into it thinking it’s about drugs and sex.

Well.  Yes.  There is a considerable amount of drug-smuggling, drug-taking (both in accordance with, and against, medical advice) and general druggery going on within these pages (as indeed one might expect from a book set within a prison), and to a lesser extent, a reasonable amount of sex (extra marital and otherwise).  Also, perhaps, as one might expect from a book set in a prison.

I did not consider this before reading, and therefore I was a little bit shocked by the grittiness of the plot.

Shouty Doris interjects

You old prude.

Indeed!  The main character of the tale is Jess Moulson, a young heroin addict who is convicted of murder after setting a fire that inadvertently caused the death of a ten-year-old boy living in the apartment above her.  The story overall is Jess’s story, as she attempts redemption and tries to remodel herself in the dark, dingy underbelly of the maximum security wing of Fellside.

Apart from Jess’s story, we are also treated to chapters from the point of view of a whole host of other characters – the cowardly, get-along-to-go-along Dr Salazar, the spiteful Nurse Stock, a warder on the up in the drug trade of the prison known as The Devil and a whole host of other inmates, medical staff, lawyers and hangers-on whose stories are interlinked throughout the book.

Shouty Doris interjects

And every one of them a crazed, violent loon!  I needed a picture dictionary to keep up with them all.  Especially the inmates.  One crazy, loud, violent woman became much like another by the end.  

Yes, after a while there were almost too many characters to keep a hold of, but I think Carey did a good job overall of keeping a handle on the multiple threads, and keeping the story from being impossible to follow.

Shouty Doris interjects

You’ve got to be joking! There were more twists than Chubby Checker’s corkscrew!  

Admittedly, by the final few chapters, the twists and unexpected outcomes really had been stretched to their limit.  I couldn’t decide by the end whether I thought the execution was masterful or over the top.

Shouty Doris interjects

Over the top.  By the end, the main character had even changed!  

Mmmm. I stilll think the author managed to err on the side of keeping control of his creation. One thing I can say for certain is that you will definitely get your money’s worth if you buy this book.  There is so much storyline to unpack that you could –

Shouty Doris interjects

-club baby seals to death with it.

Possibly try a less violent metaphor next time, eh Doris?

Shouty Doris interjects

I though it suited the violent prison atmosphere.  

Speaking of atmosphere, one thing I puzzled over was the fact that this book is set in England, written by an Englishman, yet there was nothing remotely British about the feel of the writing or characters.  In fact, I was certain throughout that this was an American book about American characters.  Certainly this isn’t necessarily something to complain about –

Shouty Doris interjects

I’d like to complain about it.

but I just found it a bit strange and disorienting.  This is probably quite appropriate because I found much of the book quite disorienting.

Shouty Doris interjects

Probably due to all the drug use.

Quiet you.

But definitely absorbing.  This was an absorbing, gripping, unexpected read that I can’t say that I enjoyed, exactly, but certainly felt compelled to finish.  I have to say that I’m pretty impressed with Carey’s work here and will now have to hunt down The Girl With All The Gifts, which has been on my TBR for ages.

Shouty Doris interjects

Give me a good ol’ Mills & Boon any day, I say.

**passes tattered book to Shouty Doris**

Shouty Doris interjects

Oooh, this is a good one!

I still can’t decide whether or not to put Fellside up as a Top Book of 2016 pick, simply because, while it was so memorable and different to anything I’ve read so far this year, I didn’t actually enjoy it all that much.  I suspect this one will make its way on to some bestseller lists, so I’m interested to see what others think of it.

If you are looking for a book that isn’t afraid to plumb the depths of human misery and provide you with plenty of distraction from your humdrum, not-being-in-prison existence, with a bit of a paranormal twist, then I would definitely recommend taking a look at Fellside.

But don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Until next time,

Bruce (and Doris)