Posts Tagged 'Book Reviews'

Book Review: Ballad for a Mad Girl by Vikki Wakefield

Ballad for a Mad Girl has everything you could want in a book. Mystery, suspense, secrets, intrigue, and a touch of the supernatural. Add to that well-drawn characters, great prose and an Australian setting and you have a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Seventeen-year-old Grace Foley is a daredevil. She’s not afraid of anything, Balladand will do anything for a laugh. Until she tries to defend her record for ‘Walking the Pipe’ across the disused quarry and something happens that she can’t explain. Not to herself and not to anyone else. Her search for an explanation leads her into a twenty-year-old mystery that has never been solved and despite the well-meaning advice of family and friends she can’t seem to let it go. Is it really the ghost of Hannah Holt come to exact her revenge? Or is Grace going a little bit mad?

This is a novel that keeps the reader turning pages. The characters are well-developed, the voice authentic and edgy, the suspense well drawn, and the mystery intriguing. Vikki Wakefield expertly portrays Grace’s anxiety and fear as she battles with what is real and what is imagined. Highly recommended.

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Book Review: The Loneliest Girl in the Universe by Lauren James

Romy Silvers has had an unusual upbringing. She was born on the spaceship Infinity, bound for a new planet, brought up by her parents until the age of eleven. And then she was alone. The sole surviving crew member with only ghosts and memories for companions. Until she receives word that a second ship has been launched from Earth, scheduled to rendezvous with the Infinity in only twelve short months. The commander of the new ship is a boy named J.

The Loneliest Girl in the Universe is a Y/A science fiction story positively brooding with tension and suspense. Romy and J begin communicating via 32601841-_uy630_sr1200630_.jpgemail as Romy discovers that all is not well on Earth. He is her only link to the human race, and she finds herself drawn to him, despite the months it takes for their transmissions to cross between the two ships. Romy comes to depend on J’s emails for emotional support as her situation on board the Infinity becomes more and more precarious, and she finds herself falling in love with the voice at the end of the emails. All that is keeping her going is the thought of J’s arrival.

James creates a vivid and believable world on the Infinity, and expertly builds the tension throughout the novel to the explosive conclusion. She creates suspense and intrigue by dripping in Romy’s backstory, as well as dropping in small clues as to what is to come. Romy’s is an authentic and believable voice, which evokes empathy and support in the reader. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and highly recommend it not only to science fiction fans but any young adult and adult readers who love suspense.

Book Review: Beautiful Messy Love by Tess Woods

I don’t usually read romance, but I heard so many good things about this book from people I know that I decided to give it a try. I wasn’t disappointed.

Beautiful Messy Love is the story of two couples, Nick and Anna, and Lily and Toby, whose lives are interwoven in multiple, complicated ways. Nick and Anna meet in the café where Anna works, and seem an unlikely match – a football star and a refugee. Lily and Toby meet in a hospital cafeteria with the most awful timing – while Toby is supporting his wife through the end stages of cancer. Each character is struggling with their own tragedies, disappointments and failings, and must overcome prejudice and heartbreak to make things work.

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The story is told from the point of view of each of the characters, alternating between chapters, and it works well. Each character has a distinct voice, and the reader gets an insight into each person’s perspective of the situations that arise. The reader feels for each and every one of them. As evident by the title, their lives and loves are not simple. But it seems destined to be.

 

If I had any criticism for this book, it is that, while the characters are well drawn, they are somewhat larger-than-life. Nick is not just a professional football player, but the star of the team upon who the Premiership depends. Anna is not just a refugee, but the daughter of a strong female presidential candidate from her homeland, and a world champion swimmer as well. It makes the characters a little less relatable initially, but as the story unfolds, the reader still becomes invested in the characters and feels their pain.

 

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would definitely recommend it, not just for romance readers, but for anyone looking to escape for a while. A great holiday read.

Favourite Books for 2017

Two thousand seventeen was a busy year, personally and professionally, and while I am happy with what I have accomplished – notably the completion of my adult crime thriller, re-writing a middle-grade science fiction novel and publication of my hi-lo YA novel Running on Empty (official release date Jan 23 2018) – I ha20180102_122245ven’t read as many books as I’d have liked. One of my goals for 2018 will be to make reading a priority, along with writing, and to post more reviews. But there are, as always, a few stand-outs, so here, in no particular order, are my favourite books for 2017.

Not necessarily published in 2017, but ones that I read in 2017.

 

A Cardboard Palace by Allayne L Webster – This emotional story for younger readers is set in a shantytown in Paris. Eleven-year-old Jorge is part of a gang who survive on the streets by begging and thieving – with their profits going directly into the hands of their controller, Bill. He lives day by day, not knowing when or if he will next eat. Within this harsh environment, Jorge shows conviction and tenacity as he dares to dream of a better life. But it is his courage and loyalty to his friends that endears him to the reader as bigger problems arise. His home (such as it is) is under threat, his friends in danger, and Jorge will not stand by and let it happen without a fight.

Palace of Tears by Julian Leatherdale – A historical saga spanning three generations, Palace of Tears is set in the Blue Mountains in New South Wales and follows the life of Adam Fox, his wives, his children, and his grandchildren. In 2013, Fox’s granddaughter, Lisa, seeks the truth about her mother’s past before she slides into the clutches of dementia and loses it forever. Told from multiple points of view and multiple time periods, gradually the past is unveiled, along with its tragedies, its secrets, and its lies. Until the mystery of the elusive ‘Angie’ is revealed.

Leaving Berlin by Joseph Kanon – A thriller set in post WWII East Berlin, this gritty novel depicts life in Soviet-held Germany after the war. Alex Meier, a young Jewish writer who fled to America before the war, returns to Berlin as an agent for the CIA in a desperate attempt to avoid deportation and the loss of his family. He is embroiled in an intrigue far bigger and more dangerous than he could ever have imagined. I picked this book up for its atmosphere and depiction of post-WWII Germany, but was thoroughly enthralled with the story.

With Malice by Eileen Cook – A fast-paced, intriguing YA thriller, With Malice was a fun read. Eighteen year-old Jill Charron wakes up in a hospital bed after being involved in a fatal accident on a school trip to Italy. A trip she can’t remember. Not the trip, not what happened between her and her best friend Simone, and not the accident, in which Simone was killed. There are lawyers involved, media chasing her, and the question that hangs on everyone’s lips. Was it really an accident?

The Conjoined by Jen Sookfong Lee – The story starts out as social worker, Jessica Campbell is sorting through her mother’s belongings after her death and discovers the bodies of two dead girls in the freezer. But despite its macabre beginning, this is not a thriller. Set in Vancouver, Canada during three time periods – 2016, 1947 – 1959 and 1984 – 1988 – the story follows Jessica’s emotional journey and readjustment of her sense of self and family, as she discovers that her mother was not who she thought she was. Outwardly an ‘earth mother’ who fostered many children during Jessica’s childhood and beyond, Donna is not what she appeared to be, and Jessica is forced to look within herself and what she knew of her childhood as Donna’s past is revealed, along with the past of the two foster girls who Jessica had been led to believe had run away.

The Secret River by Kate Grenville – This is my current read, and I am thoroughly enjoying it.  Set in London, and then Sydney in the early 1800s, this historical novel follows the journey of William Thornhill, riverman and thief, as he is transported to Australia and struggles to carve out a life there for himself and his family. Once free, he settles on a piece of land up-river that he thinks is vacant. But the land belongs to the Darug people. An inspired look into Australia’s history.

Book Review: The Mercy of the Tide by Keith Rosson

I was provided with an ARC copy of The Mercy of the Tide, by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised.

Debut novelist, Keith Rosson, has delivered a riveting character-driven tale that crosses the line between mild horror and alternate reality. Set in the small seaside town of Riptide Oregon, the time is late 1983. The town is grieving the loss of two women killed in a head-on car crash, leaving siblings Trina and Sam Finster motherless and Sheriff Dave Dobbs a widower. The blame for the accident is firmly laid on Melissa Finster, after beer cans are discovered in the back of the wreck, causing more anguish for her devastated family.

The story is told from the point of view of four characters in alternating chapters: eighteen-year-old Sam Finster, his nine-year-old sister Trina Finster who is profoundly deaf, Sheriff Dave Dobbs, and Deputy Nick Hayslip, a Vietnam veteran who grieves for Melissa Finster in secrecy, unable to reveal their affair in light of the tragedy.

Rosson’s characters are well-drawn and believable, each dealing with their grief in their own way, each with their own personality and their own voice, and the addition of several interesting secondary characters only makes the narrative stronger. I thought each of the characters was relatable, although I probably felt the least connection with Trina Finster, who deals with the loss of her mother by obsessing about the possibility of nuclear war, which seems an unlikely reaction for a nine-year-old, even a gifted one.

As the story unfolds, mutilated corpses of birds and animals are found about town and fear grips the tiny community, wondering what sort of animal or human could be responsible. However the discovery of a hundred-year-old skeleton of a Native American girl leads Deputy Hayslip to suspect that something darker and much more ancient is at work.

The descriptions in this novel are vivid. Rosson paints a picture of the town that is dark and cold and windswept, a fitting backdrop to the grief and melancholy that dominates the characters’ thoughts. I did feel the book was a bit of a slow burn, as the tension didn’t really build until the second half, the first half dedicated to setting the scene and building the characters. However, this didn’t seem to detract from the narrative. I kept turning the pages, and when the suspense rose to the ultimate climate, I was invested in the characters and genuinely anxious for their fate.

Overall, a highly enjoyable read. Recommended for readers who enjoy alternate reality, supernatural themes and mild horror.

Book Review: The Good People by Hannah Kent

The Good People by Hannah Kent takes us to a remote valley in south-west Ireland in 1825. Times are hard, crops fail, people sicken, babies die, and despite the insistence of the local priest that the old ways are pagan and forbidden, many attribute their misfortunes to the Good People, the fairies.

It is in these hard times that three women come together. Nóra Leahy, who, within the space of a year, has lost first her daughter and then her husband, and now is burdened with the care of her four-year-old grandson, Micheál, who has changed from a lively energetic two-year-old to a helpless child unable to walk or speak. Mary Clifford, a fourteen-year-old girl who Nóra hires to help care for Micheál, and becomes her eyes and ears in the village, where people whisper of otherworldly interference in his condition. And Nance Roche, a herbalist and a healer, who is reputed to be able to commune with the Good People, and is Nora’s only hope in her quest to get her grandson back.

This book is utterly absorbing. Kent has built a truly believable world, where the hardship and turmoil of the times immerses the reader and draws them into Nóra’s life. Her tragedies are very real, and her obsession with finding a cure for her grandson heartbreaking. The dynamics between the villagers is expertly exposed and the suspicion and mistrust of this closely bound community, whose fear of the unknown is fuelled by the priest, Father Healy, is countered brilliantly by their desperate need for answers to their problems and a cure for their ailments. Told from the point of view of each of the three women, the story unfolds at a natural pace, the rising tension keeping the reader on edge and burning the midnight oil.

Highly recommended.

Book Review: The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon is an enjoyable read. The year is 2059. The place Scion London where clairvoyants have been outlawed and driven underground. Nineteen-year-old Paige Mahoney survives by working for Jaxon Hall, one of the mime-lords. As a dreamwalker, a rare and sought-after form of clairvoyant, she leads a relatively privileged life in the dangerous underworld, until she is attacked, kidnapped, and transported to Oxford, where she discovers a world she never knew existed. Controlled by a powerful, otherworldly race, Paige soon learns that Scion London is hiding far more than the NVD and a corrupt, anti-clairvoyant government.

Samantha Shannon has created an interesting and vivid alternate reality London. It is a complex world, where clairvoyants live a duplicitous life alongside non-clairvoyants, and where the world
of the Rephaim is completely hidden. For the most part Shannon has done well to make this world believable to the reader, however at times it feels like there is a bit of an info-dump and occasionally it becomes somewhat confusing. Not enough to detract from the story, but perhaps the world-building could have been done with a bit more subtlety and clarity.

The pace picks up as Paige learns more about Oxford, the creatures who are threatening to overrun Scion London, her keeper Warden, and the Rephaim who are actively reaping the clairvoyants from the world for their own purposes. It is a world she is determined to expose, once she has escaped. If she can escape.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Bone Season and would recommend it for those who read dystopian and speculative fiction. Categorised as Adult fiction, but suitable for Young Adult as well. The first in a proposed series of seven, I look forward to seeing what the next instalment brings.


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