Monthly Archives: October 2017

It Only Happens In The Movies – Holly Bourne

Holly Bourne is an author I’ve seen so much about in the last few years, but have never actually managed to pick up one of her books.
The first chapter of It Only Happens In the Movies was one of the samplers I picked up at YALC, and I was definitely interested in reading it. So when I saw on Twitter that it was only 99p on Kindle and iBooks, I was on it like a car bonnet, and snapped it up as soon as I could.

It Only Happens in The Movies – Holly Bourne

34564400Audrey is over romance. Since her parents’ relationship imploded her mother’s been catatonic, so she takes a cinema job to get out of the house. But there she meets wannabe film-maker Harry. Nobody expects Audrey and Harry to fall in love as hard and fast as they do. But that doesn’t mean things are easy. Because real love isn’t like the movies…

The greatest love story ever told doesn’t feature kissing in the snow or racing to airports. It features pain and confusion and hope and wonder and a ban on cheesy clichés. Oh, and zombies… YA star Holly Bourne tackles real love in this hugely funny and poignant novel.

 

This book was… basically perfect. It was funny, it was real, it had characters who were so believable and far from perfect. It had realistic sibling relationships and friendships that are strong enough to withstand one member acting like a knob for months. It had dissections of movie tropes and a romance that felt so real, so achingly real, that I was swept up in it.

I have very little negative to say about this book. I might have enjoyed it more if I were more of a film buff, because I really didn’t know half the time what was a real film and what was a fake film in the book. Cinema Paradiso was discussed, and I know that’s real, but Dicky Curtisfield is clearly a pisstake of Richard Curtis. And yet Love, Actually was mentioned, so Richard Curtis clearly also exists in this universe? I was slightly bewildered by that.

But that is a minor, minor quibble in a book which I really very thoroughly enjoyed. I would have liked more of Audrey’s friendships to shine through, as I’ve heard that’s something Holly Bourne does very well, but I guess that just means I’m going to have to read the Spinster Club books.

Also, there were zombies in this book. Who doesn’t like a few zombies to spice things up!

It Only Happens In The Movies is *still* only 99p on Amazon and iBooks, and honestly, if you’re not buying it right now, you are missing out.

Five Stars
*****

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Fortunately, The Milk – Neil Gaiman

Screen-Shot-2013-08-14-at-3_11_39-PM-640x451I haven’t waxed lyrical on here about the joys of BorrowBox yet. My local library has signed up to a shared scheme with two other London boroughs which means that I can have library access to ebooks and audiobooks held in all three boroughs. It’s a great system, which means that I don’t have to go into the library to get books, and hello, free books? I can’t praise it enough – BorrowBox has made my audiobook library much bigger!

Last weekend, I downloaded and listened to Neil Gaiman’s Fortunately, The Milk, and loved it. Read by Gaiman himself, it was a short, massively entertaining, wild ride with pirates, aliens, a scientific stegosaurus, and two very sceptical kids.

Fortunately, The Milk – Neil Gaiman

You know what it’s like when your mum goes away on a business trip and Dad’s in charge. She leaves a really, really long list of what he’s got to do. And the most important thing is DON’T FORGET TO GET THE MILK. Unfortunately, Dad forgets. So the next morning, before breakfast, he has to go to the corner shop, and this is the story of why it takes him a very, very long time to get back.

Featuring: Professor Steg (a time-travelling dinosaur), some green globby things, the Queen of the Pirates, the famed jewel that is the Eye of Splod, some wumpires, and a perfectly normal but very important carton of milk.

This was probably one of my favourite Neil Gaiman books. Good humour, good storytelling, time loops, and catastrophic, world-ending consequences of touching the milk made for a funny and endearing tale of Dad’s trip home littered with insertions from the kids and the fourth wall breaking that ensued from that.

The audiobook was read with Gaiman’s characteristic good humour and soothing voice, and with inflections which made the whole thing massively more interesting.

The physical versions are illustrated, with Chris Riddell providing the UK edition’s additions, and Skottie Young the US counterpart. I’m very tempted to go and pick up a copy to have a look at the typesetting and an alternative production of a hugely entertaining story.

Five Stars
*****

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Havoc – Xavier Neal

I thought that Nutshell would be my least liked book this year, which I read solely for the purpose of being able to cross off another initial from my challenge list. I distinctly disliked Nutshell, not enjoying the experience of reading it at all. But Nutshell had a few things going for it. It actually had a plot, for example. It was also written by someone who has appreciable skill at writing. Havoc, another book which was chosen solely because of the initial of the author, had neither of those saving graces. It was, frankly, the worst book I’ve read so far this year.

Havoc – Xavier Neal

23340845When Clint “Grim” Walker, started Operation: Save Haven Davenport, the beaten, bruised girl who fell into his life, he had no idea it would turn him into an unbalanced, enraged, insecure idiot.

The mission objectives seemed simple:
Make her feel safe in his home. Fail.
Protect her from the neighborhood playboy. Fail.
Shelter her from the ex girlfriend. Fail.
Not fall in love with her. Epic fail.

And while Clint could learn to live with those failures, there’s one he can’t. And that’s the objective that matters most. More than his side duties of making amends with his father, more than accepting motherly love from his meddling neighbor, and more than attempting to relate to his brother’s in arms off the field.

That objective is life or death.

I bought this book entirely because the author’s first name starts with an X. I spent no money on this book, because it’s currently free on Kindle. I still feel like I wasted money on this. The time I spent reading it was a waste of my time, and I wish I could have it back, to be honest. If X wasn’t such an unusual initial, I would have abandoned this book and found another instead, because I didn’t enjoy a single page of this. It is 312 pages of dross, and I wouldn’t recommend anyone go anywhere near it. Not even if it was the last book on earth.

Several of my issues with this book were issues which could be solved by a decent editor. It’s poorly structured – Clint’s backstory, Haven’s background, Clint’s fractured relationship with his father and the strange codependent neighbourly relationship he seems to have are all hinted at, but never explained, simply thrown in to make this feel like it’s a story which has depth. I’m assuming that these are more fully explained in later installments in the series, but there wasn’t enough in this intro to satisfy.

Secondly, it’s really, really poorly proofread and edited. Syntax issues run rife throughout the book. Synonyms and homonyms appear with regularity. Simple spelling mistakes litter the pages.

Thirdly, the structure of the book was set up so that it ended on a cliffhanger. This was obviously a tactical decision to get readers to buy the second in the series, but for me it was a complete failure. There was an absolute lack of development leading up to this moment, which meant that it fell totally flat for me. Who cares about what happened in the end of the book when you haven’t actually learned to care for the characters in the first 99%? Certainly not me.

Finally, the chapter structure – each chapter is headed with a countdown of number of days ’til deployment. I’m fine with books that have countdowns, and also fine with books that continue their storyline past the end of the countdown – Looking for Alaska and the Gone series all do this, and it’s very effective. However, finishing the book with 30-odd days still to go on the countdown was a bizarre decision which I couldn’t get on board with.

The three issues above could have been solved by a decent editor, however. So if they were the only issues, I might have been more willing to give this book a chance. But they’re actually minor quibbles when compared to my complaints about the actual book.

Firstly, Clint is an awful main character. He’s totally unbelievable and utterly dull. Tragic backstory meaning that he tries to shut off his feelings, and this is all changed by the appearance of a beautiful, damaged young woman. Yawn. Clint is supposed to be smart – he’s 21 and a Marine, for Christ’s sake. He’s heading for special ops. And yet he doesn’t seem to understand what feelings are, and wonders what it means when his stomach feels funny as Haven looks at him. Butterflies in his stomach is, apparently, something entirely unknown to him.

Beyond that, Clint is incredibly misogynistic. His assessment of women essentially falls into whores and Haven. Every female character who we see through his eyes is discussed only in terms of her physical attributes, her mode of dress, and her level of makeup. They’re also referred to as ‘females’ at all times. I actually stopped midway through this book to check if the author was a man or a woman, because I couldn’t believe that a woman writer would be able to stomach writing this way about her fellow women. And to my surprise, Xavier Neal is a woman, and yet still only seems capable of writing about other women as sex objects and cheap tarts.

Besides being ignorant and sexist, Clint is also deeply problematic in terms of his behaviour. A fractured relationship with his father gives him some explanation for his uncommunicative and surly nature, but his tendency towards violence and inexplicable hatred of his own best friends didn’t endear me to him as a character.

Haven is no better. Presented only as a traumatised, vulnerable, perfect young woman, she becomes, a mere 20 days into the book, a desperate sex kitten, eager to please and seduce Clint, with no sign of the apparent years of physical, sexual, and psychological torment wreaked on her before she reached the age of  adulthood. A few weeks with Clint and she’s eager to rip his clothes off – but not in a way which might suggest that she’s bearing scars, the way many victims of child sexual abuse display hypersexuality. No, Haven is apparently healed, and it was all Clint’s doing.

Clint and Haven’s relationship is deeply unbelievable. Clint, the unfeeling, unthinking, emotionless military man, apparently turns into goo at the mere sight of this woman, and is able to forge a deep and lasting love connection with her – before he even knows her name. He constantly refers to her as his ‘angel’, before he knows anything about her, and treats her as some almost-divine presence, more than human, and failing entirely to understand or appreciate her very human needs.

Haven’s part in this relationship? Well, who knows. Passively silent, she plays almost no role in this book, except to conveniently get into trouble when it’s needed, so that Clint can ‘develop’ somewhat.

Plot-wise, I got no satisfaction out of this book. It’s not the story of the slow recovery of a woman who escaped a traumatic past. It’s not a love story of two damaged people finding each other and helping each other to heal. It’s not a revenge story. It’s not anything. It’s a crapheap of loose plot threads that are dangled and unresolved, clearly setting up for a second book, but without any appeal to drag me onto the next installment.

Avoid avoid avoid.

Generally, even when I absolutely hated a book, I can appreciate that someone else might like it. I cannot think why anyone would ever want to read this book. There are so much better romances out there. There are better love stories out there. There are better abuse survivor stories out there. I’m sure there are better military romances out there (even though I’ve never read any). There are many books out there which can actually resolve their plotlines, rather than truncating the book to pull in readers.

Havoc was three hours of dross, and hours I’ll never get back. I cannot think of a single redeeming point about it, and wouldn’t recommend people read it even if they were paid to.

Goodreads won’t let me give no stars, so it has one star on there.

But here on my blog, I can rate whatever I want.

NO STARS.

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The Deviants – CJ Skuse

This was one of the stacks of books that I actually bought at YALC, and it has taken me several months to get around to reading it. I guess that’s what happens when you obtain forty new books in a single weekend because you have no self-control.

In any case, I was hooked on this tale of revenge – with the strapline ‘before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves’ had me certain that this psychological thriller was going to drag me in and refuse to let me go, and I was dead right!
The Deviants – CJ Skuse

23126437When you set out for revenge, dig two graves

Growing up in the sleepy English seaside town of Brynston, the fearless five – Ella, Max, Corey, Fallon and Zane – were always inseparable. Living up to their nickname, they were the adventurous, rowdy kids who lived for ghost stories and exploring the nearby islands off the coast. But when Max’s beloved older sister Jessica is killed, the friendship seems to die with her.

Now years later, only Max and Ella are in touch; still best friends and a couple since they were thirteen. Their lives are so intertwined Max’s dad even sponsors Ella’s training for the Commonwealth Games. But Ella is hiding things. Like why she hates going to Max’s house for Sunday dinner, and flinches whenever his family are near. Or the real reason she’s afraid to take their relationship to the next level.

When underdog Corey is bullied, the fearless five are brought back together again, teaming up to wreak havoc and revenge on those who have wronged them. But when the secrets they are keeping can no longer be kept quiet, will their fearlessness be enough to save them from themselves?

I very much enjoyed this book. Once again, reading it late at night, I was unwilling to put it down and go to sleep, as I wanted to see where the story went. Ella, traumatised and angry, is trying to come to terms with her past, and can only do that by going back to what happened when they were thirteen.

The anger and friendship in this book are almost palpable – they practically leap off the page at you, and Ella is a great main character. The supporting cast are almost all as strong as her, with the exception of Max, who feels like a plot device more than a person.

For the most part, the story was excellent, with good development, and some twists I didn’t see coming. Very enjoyable indeed.

Near the end, about eighty to ninety percent of the way through, there’s an abrupt change in tone and tense, which jarred with me. Although, once I had gotten used to it, it was still a very powerful section of the book, the transition between the two sections was, I felt, poorly done.

Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed The Deviants, and will look out for more from this author in the future!

Four Stars
****

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The Truth and Lies of Ella Black – Emily Barr

35608668I read this one months ago, as it was a YALC proof, and I was quite excited about it. But I ended up sorely disappointed, and didn’t want to review it for a while, as I really wanted to think about whether the disappointment was merited.
It’s been a good few weeks now, and Ella Black has sat in the back of my mind. It’s now available on Amazon, and the hard copy will be available in January of next year, but I don’t think I’ll be recommending this one very heavily.

The Truth and Lies of Ella Black – Emily Barr

Ella Black seems to live the life most other seventeen-year-olds would kill for . . .

Until one day, telling her nothing, her parents whisk her off to Rio de Janeiro. Determined to find out why, Ella takes her chance and searches through their things.

And realises her life has been a lie.

Her mother and father aren’t hers at all. Unable to comprehend the truth, Ella runs away, to the one place they’ll never think to look – the favelas.

But there she learns a terrible secret – the truth about her real parents and their past. And the truth about a mother, desperate for a daughter taken from her seventeen years ago . . .

So the proof copy of this that I got presented a totally different story to what was in the blurb which is now on Amazon. The back of the proof copy talks about Ella’s alternate person in her head, Bella, bad Ella, and the things she makes Ella do. But the majority of the story is actually what’s set out in the blurb here, that Ella is mysteriously whisked off to Rio, and when she discovers a dark secret about her past, she runs away.

This is set against the backdrop of a love story so improbable as to be farcical, and Ella’s journey of discovering who she is and how she can find her place in the world. Plus, of course, the truth of who her birth parents were.
There was so much going on in this book, and I didn’t really connect with any of it. If the story had been about Ella coming to terms with who she is as a person and what ‘Bella’ does, then I might’ve been more of a fan of it. Equally, if the story had been about Ella and how she dealt with the revelations about her past and what her parents had kept from her, I might’ve been a fan of that. Thirdly, if the story had been about Ella falling in love in Rio and how she deals with how far away that is from her home, and everything she’s known, I could’ve liked that story too. But this was a mish-mash of all three of those things, and I wasn’t really able to connect with any of them.

There were some admirable parts of this book, though. There was a really funny scene with a waiter in Brazil, while Ella apologised for not being able to speak Spanish, and the cover art is absolutely beautiful.

But I couldn’t get on board with the melodrama at the end of the book, I didn’t believe the love story, I wasn’t impressed with Ella’s resolution of her relationship with her parents, and I left this book feeling pretty flat.
Not as terrible as this review makes it sound, I did find The Truth and Lies of Ella Black to be perfectly acceptable to read, but certainly not something I’d be raving about or recommending over other wonderful books from this year’s YALC.

Three Stars
***

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Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
A Librivox full cast recording.

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Pride and Prejudice is a novel by Jane Austen, first published in 1813. The story follows the main character Elizabeth Bennet as she deals with issues of manners, upbringing, morality, education and marriage in the society of the landed gentry of early 19th-century England. Elizabeth is the second of five daughters of a country gentleman, living near the fictional town of Meryton in Hertfordshire, near London.
In this reading, Librivox volunteers lend their voices to dramatize Jane Austen’s classic and well-loved novel.

A few weeks ago, I spent a weekend in the Lake District with seven friends, where we ate great food, saw fabulous scenery, played a lot of games, and watched several films. One of those films was Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I thoroughly enjoyed the film, but definitely felt like I was missing out by not having actually read the source material, Pride and Prejudice. So I downloaded the Librivox full cast recording of Pride and Prejudice while I was watching the film, and started listening to it a few days later.

Librivox is a fabulous site, with classic, out of copyright books, read by volunteers and then made freely available to anybody who wants to download them. The list of volunteers reading for Pride and Prejudice was extensive, and the coordination and time dedicated to this recording must have been extensive. I was hugely impressed with how well it was put together, and thoroughly enjoyed not only the story, but also the listening experience. With the exception of one character, who set my teeth on edge, the entire experience was hugely immersive, and thoroughly entertaining. Cast list as follows:

Mrs. Bennet: Beth Thomas
Mr. Bennet: Andy Minter
Jane Bennet: Elizabeth Klett
Elizabeth Bennet: Arielle Lipshaw
Mary Bennet: Tina Danh
Catherine “Kitty” Bennet: GabrielleC
Lydia Bennet: BumbleVee
Mr. Bingley: John Fricker
Mr. Darcy: Peter Bishop
Charlotte Lucas: Laurie Anne Walden
Young Mr. Lucas: Beth Thomas
Sir William Lucas: Robert Scheid
Miss Caroline Bingley: Liz Bennington
Mrs. Hurst: Elizabeth Barr
Mr. Hurst: Barry Eads
Mr. Collins: mb
Mr. Wickham: Algy Pug
Denny: David Richardson
Mrs. Gardiner: TriciaG
Mr. Gardiner: David Lawrence
Maria Lucas: Maria Therese
Lady Catherine de Bourgh: Mil Nichols
Colonel Fitzwilliam: Ric F
Mrs. Reynolds: Esther
Mrs. Hill: Nadine Eckert-Boulet
Butler: Barry Eads
Mrs. Phillips: debolee

The story itself, of course, is a classic, telling the tale of (mostly) the two eldest Bennet daughters as they navigate society and seek husbands for themselves. Elizabeth and Darcy were particularly well-acted, and sweet, reserved Jane elicited every sympathy I had to give as she and Mr Bingley traversed their relationship together.

With Mr Bennet’s witty observations and Mrs Bennet’s overexcited reactions to everything, Elizabeth’s headstrong assumptions and Darcy’s sullen disposition, the only thing this book was missing was a gratuitous lake scene.

And zombies. I reckon it might’ve been better with zombies.

Four Stars
****

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Windfall – Jennifer E Smith

I haven’t read a Jennifer E Smith in a few years, not since 2014, and I wasn’t wildly impressed with that. But Windfall, which I picked up at YALC after a great night out at a pub quiz with the author, was really so excellent, I will definitely look out for the rest of Jennifer E Smith’s back list.

34373364Alice doesn’t believe in luck—at least, not the good kind. But she does believe in love, and for some time now, she’s been pining for her best friend, Teddy. On his eighteenth birthday—just when it seems they might be on the brink of something—she buys him a lottery ticket on a lark. To their astonishment, he wins $140 million, and in an instant, everything changes.

At first, it seems like a dream come true, especially since the two of them are no strangers to misfortune. As a kid, Alice won the worst kind of lottery possible when her parents died just over a year apart from each other. And Teddy’s father abandoned his family not long after that, leaving them to grapple with his gambling debts. Through it all, Teddy and Alice have leaned on each other. But now, as they negotiate the ripple effects of Teddy’s newfound wealth, a gulf opens between them. And soon, the money starts to feel like more of a curse than a windfall.

As they try to find their way back to each other, Alice learns more about herself than she ever could have imagined . . . and about the unexpected ways in which luck and love sometimes intersect.

There was so much that was great about this book. Two main characters who had a wonderful friendship and years of history behind them. The incredible windfall that is a hundreds of million dollar win on the lottery. The pain and pleasure of a first love, and that friends-to-lovers journey that can be so hard to navigate.

There wasn’t really anything I didn’t like about this book. Teddy was so believable as the down on his luck guy who has an incredible lottery win, and it goes straight to his head. Alice, struggling to come to terms with her past and who she is now as an adult. Leo, the cousin who’s more like a sibling to Alice. And Alice’s wonderful, wonderful aunt and uncle, how they took her in, loved her, raised her, and Alice’s acceptance of her place in the family.

Against the backdrop of lavish overspending from Teddy, there was so much going on in this book, but it never felt crowded or unbelievable (other than the lottery win, but come on, someone has to win sometimes!). Alice’s relationship with her aunt and uncle and cousin, her knowledge of herself, and her feelings for Teddy were all so well-drawn that I really struggled to put this book down (except when I was so drunk the words were wobbling on the page).

Having read The Statistical Improbability, I thought it was a mid-range contemporary romance, but Windfall is a big step up from that, with great characters, and a great story!

Four Stars
****

 

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There’s Someone Inside Your House – Stephanie Perkins

The second horror I’m reviewing in a row, I picked up a proof copy of this at YALC. I read the first three chapters, then got bored and put it down. Despite trying to pick it up again several times, it wasn’t until the week it was released that I actually got around to reading this slasher romance. I don’t really feel like I had missed out though.

There’s Someone Inside Your House – Stephanie Perkins

15797848Scream meets YA in this hotly-anticipated new novel from the bestselling author of Anna and the French Kiss.

One-by-one, the students of Osborne High are dying in a series of gruesome murders, each with increasing and grotesque flair. As the terror grows closer and the hunt intensifies for the killer, the dark secrets among them must finally be confronted.

International bestselling author Stephanie Perkins returns with a fresh take on the classic teen slasher story that’s fun, quick-witted, and completely impossible to put down.

The final line of the blurb states that this book is impossible to put down. I definitely did not find that to be the case. In fact, I put it down so many times, I wasn’t sure I was ever going to finish it, and was slightly afraid it might end up on my abandoned shelf – one of very few to do that! But I did eventually slog my way through it, and wasn’t exactly regretful after that I had left it so long.

I think my problem with this book was that it was, in essence, a love story. A story of new girl Makani finding her tribe in high school, finding love, and accepting who she is, her past, and that her friends love her. It just so happened that while this was going on, a teenaged psychopath was running around bumping off her classmates.

The opening chapter of this book starts with the first murder. I think what made this story feel so disjointed to me was that the victims of the murders were usually introduced only moments before their death. This left absolutely no time for the reader to get to know them, develop any feelings about them, or really care that they had been the victim of a grisly crime. On top of that, the slasher themselves was so poorly developed that even after their identity and motivation were revealed, the foregoing murders still seemed pointless.

When I read The Rest of Us Just Live Here, I quite enjoyed the little synopses at the start of each chapter of what the Chosen Ones were up to. This was largely because it wasn’t entirely relevant to the plot, but it provided a fun little diversion, and an interesting addition to the wider context of the story I was interested in.

The murder scenes interspersed throughout There’s Someone Inside Your House felt a little like those start of chapter snippets, except this time around, they were supposed to be a major part of the plot. In fact, the most major part of the plot.

So as I said earlier, this is a romance, in truth. It just happens to have a paper-thin covering of a slasher fic on top. If you want horror, read horror. If you want romance, read Perkins’ other books. I would strongly advise you give this particular effort a miss.

Two Stars
**

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The Taste of Blue Light – Lydia Ruffles

There were so many books that I got at YALC, I’m still trying to work my way through all of them.  I picked up a copy of The Taste of Blue Light after a workshop with the author, where we used art postcards, clippings from magazines, and other things to create short works. It was great, really interesting, and walking away clutching the bright red proof copy of The Taste of Blue Light left me looking forward to reading it.

The Taste of Blue Light – Lydia Ruffles

32596689An incandescent, soul-searching story about a broken young woman’s search for a truth buried so deep it threatens to consume her, body and mind.

‘Since I blacked out, the slightest thing seems to aggravate my brain and fill it with fire’

These are the things Lux knows:
She is an Artist.
She is lucky.
She is broken.

These are the things she doesn’t know:
What happened over the summer.
Why she ended up in hospital.
Why her memories are etched in red.

‘The nightmares tend to linger long after your screams have woken you up …’

Desperate to uncover the truth, Lux’s time is running out. If she cannot piece together the events of the summer and regain control of her fractured mind, she will be taken away from everything and everyone she holds dear.

If her dreams don’t swallow her first.

Lux was a hard character to like in this book. Traumatised by some unknown event at a party, she’s desperately trying to find the old Lux, and go back to what she was before.

I read most of this in a single night. After starting it when I was in the Lake District for the weekend, I only got about a chapter in, then put it to one side. A few weeks later, when I picked it up again, I devoured it.

I was drawn in by the imagery of this book. At once savage and beautiful, from the opening sentence, this book just grabs you and refuses to let go. Lux is completely traumatised, and doesn’t know why or how or what happened to make her like this. She’s lost the time between going to a party and waking up in a hospital bed, and is desperate to get it back.

But actually, Lux doesn’t really… engage with the people trying to help her. She ends up alienating her parents and her friends, as well as the faculty around her, as she fights to regain her old self, but doesn’t really know how to go about it. Although it was frustrating for me to experience that with her, it felt very real – I can totally imagine being the same way, trying desperately to solve a mystery but having no idea how to go about it.

I did have a few complaints about The Taste of Blue Light, though. The title and synopsis made it sound like it would deal with synaesthesia, and it really didn’t. Also, Lux’s school, Richdeane, was entirely implausible, in that they teach only Art and Art subjects. There are mandatory subjects for GCSE in the UK, aren’t there? I suspect that English and Maths are two of them… so I was pulled out of the book by that.

Finally, although on first reading I was blown away by the reveal of what happened to Lux to make her nightmares turn red, the more I thought about it, the less impressed I was with it. It came completely out of the blue. I mean absolutely out of nowhere. It wasn’t flagged anywhere what the traumatic event might be, and in fact, there was a fair amount of misdirection. So when it was revealed, it felt kind of jarring. Then the latter parts of the book, as Lux deals with the revelations that ensue, felt so unlike the first parts of the book as to be quite disconcerting.

Loads of potential here, and a hugely interesting story, but didn’t quite hit the mark for me.

Three Stars
***

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Hekla’s Children – James Brogden

I saw Titan books tweeting about this book months ago, and thought it looked Hekla good. This awful pun was belaboured and I used it every time I mentioned or thought about this book. A few weeks ago, it was only 99p on Kindle, so I bought it, intending to read it when I got the chance. That chance was late last week, when I had some free time and my phone in my hands, and I got sucked into the story of vanishing children, a mysterious evil, and Nathan Brookes, guilty teacher, potential hero?

Hekla’s Children – James Brogden

30724961A decade ago, teacher Nathan Brookes saw four of his students walk up a hill and vanish. Only one returned: Olivia, starved, terrified, and with no memory of where she’d been. Questioned by the police but released for lack of evidence, Nathan spent the years trying to forget.

When a body is found in the same ancient woodland where they disappeared, it is first believed to be one of the missing children, but is soon identified as a Bronze Age warrior, nothing more than an archaeological curiosity. Yet Nathan starts to have horrific visions of the students, alive but trapped. Then Olivia reappears, desperate that the warrior’s body be returned to the earth. For he is the only thing keeping a terrible evil at bay.

I didn’t know what I was expecting when I went into this book, other than that it was YA. But actually, as it turns out, Hekla’s Children isn’t YA at all, and I don’t know where I got that idea. Nathan Brookes, the main character, is in his late twenties/early thirties throughout the book, and the four children who disappeared end up being sort of… out of time.

That said, though, not being YA is by no means a criticism of this book. It’s excellent. Nathan’s confusion and guilt over the disappearance of the children he was supposed to be supervising has pushed him to abandon his career as a teacher, and eke out a miserable living as an instructor at an Outdoor Education Centre, which he’s not sure he likes, but provides him with accommodation and a living. When a mysterious Bronze Age body is unearthed near where those four children disappeared, Nathan feels an irresistible urge to return to the ‘scene of the crime’ as it were, and investigate – or atone for his inattention, which resulted in the disappearance of his charges.

With a cast of characters both complex and unpredictable, relationships between the children and adults that are finely drawn and utterly believable, and a storyline that kept me entirely hooked, this book is a magnificent roller-coaster ride.

Intertwining history with fantasy, and grabbing me by the hand and dragging me into the mysterious world of Un, this book had wonderful layers to it, steeped in British history and folklore. Some touching moments, especially with the parents of one of the missing children, added a depth to the horror which balanced it out nicely for me.

Finishing in the wee small hours of the morning, I was left satisfied but also unsettled – definitely an author I’ll look out for more from.

*A note: On Goodreads, many of the reviews of this complain that it’s not enough of a horror, and too much of a fantasy. I went into it expecting a fantasy, so was pleasantly surprised by the dark undertones as well, since I thought they were pleasingly drawn, but that’s possibly a matter of both my taste and what I was expecting from the book.

Four Stars
****

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