Thursday, 16 August 2012


I took Chuck Wendig's Blackbirds with me on a train journey that started at 5.55am and finished at 11.45am.  Instead of catching up on sleep, like any normal person, I was hooked from the first page and couldn't put this amazing novel down, tiredness be dammed.
Miriam Black is something of a nomad.  An opportunist, she doesn't connect to people, but for a good reason: when she makes touches another persons skin she sees how they die.  Unfortunately most people don't die in their sleep with their family surrounding them, but in violent or unexpected ways.  Having tried to defy fate in the past, but not making any difference, Miriam has given up trying to change what has to happen.  That is until she hitches a ride from truck driver Louis, and after seeing the traumatic events that lead to his death she realises that she is somehow involved and tries to get as far away from him as possible. 

What follows is a fast paced, tumultuous journey leading to the inevitable.  I was astounded at how much I loved Blackbirds.  There was something that felt different about it, and is perhaps the first book I've read where the text matched the impressive cover.  I enjoyed it so much I've been telling everyone I know to read it, and I practically shoved it in my mum's hands as soon as I got home so she could see what a unique book this is.
  The structure of the novel is amazing, I never felt bored, or that the story stalled at any point.  I thought that Wendig was clever by including interludes that revealed more of Miriam's past, and alluded to when her visions began, without having to halt the main plot with tons of exposition.
Miriam herself is an astounding and complicated and a brilliantly mouthy character as are the other strange people that she encounters on the road.  I honestly cannot wait until the sequel, Mockingbird, is released later this year.

New Acquisitions

Ordered some books with my birthday vouchers at the weekend, and they arrived in the post today.  I love post!  Especially when it isn't a bank statement that tells me I have no money at all or my student loan statement that tells me I owe a lot of money to the man.

Fated and Cursed, both by Benedict Jacka, are supposed to be written in the same vein as Rivers of London and The Dresden Files so I'm assuming I may fall in love with them. 
  My risky choice is Chris F. Holm's Dead Harvest.  The blurb describes it as 'a stunning mix of urban fantasy and noir-dark crime' which is something a bit different for me, but what really hooked me was the cover.  It is beautiful, and I am a very shallow book reader.
  Will report back at a later date as to how all three fared reading wise...

Whispers Underground

I was really impressed with Ben Aaronovitch's first book, Rivers of London, but not so much by the second offering, Moon Over Soho.  However, I was prepared to forgive a 'sophmore slump' and hoped that Whispers Under Ground would be a return to form.

It's December, and Peter Gant is investigating the death of a young American artist who was found at Baker Street tube station.  With Inspector Nightingale busy, the case leads Peter to into the hidden depths of the London Underground, with an FBI agent hot on his heels.  

As always, Aaronovitch's knowledge of London is impressive, as is the way he weaves said knowledge into the story seamlessly.  However, I didn't feel that much happened or engaged with Peter's investigation until the last hundred pages.  In some instances it felt that Aaronovitch was shunning the magic aspect of the series for a more conventional set up.  I had been told by another reader that more was revealed about the faceless man, but this was not the case.  Or at least not in a substantial way that would make me eager for the next instalment.  Perhaps when Aaronovitch has a plan for the series and knows where it will end the stories will improve and he will exploit their full potential.  Nonetheless, Whispers Under Ground is a very well written, witty and informative piece of fiction and well worth a read. 

Wednesday, 15 August 2012


We know you are here, our brothers and sisters . . .
Pressia barely remembers the Detonations or much about life during the Before. In her sleeping cabinet behind the rubble of an old barbershop where she lives with her grandfather, she thinks about what is lost-how the world went from amusement parks, movie theaters, birthday parties, fathers and mothers . . . to ash and dust, scars, permanent burns, and fused, damaged bodies. And now, at an age when everyone is required to turn themselves over to the militia to either be trained as a soldier or, if they are too damaged and weak, to be used as live targets, Pressia can no longer pretend to be small. Pressia is on the run.
Burn a Pure and Breathe the Ash . . .
There are those who escaped the apocalypse unmarked. Pures. They are tucked safely inside the Dome that protects their healthy, superior bodies. Yet Partridge, whose father is one of the most influential men in the Dome, feels isolated and lonely. Different. He thinks about loss-maybe just because his family is broken; his father is emotionally distant; his brother killed himself; and his mother never made it inside their shelter. Or maybe it's his claustrophobia: his feeling that this Dome has become a swaddling of intensely rigid order. So when a slipped phrase suggests his mother might still be alive, Partridge risks his life to leave the Dome to find her.
When Pressia meets Partridge, their worlds shatter all over again.
Jullianna Baggot has created a speculative young-adult novel that doesn't lack in imaginative content.  While at times dialogue may jar, and aspects of the plot fall into familiar YA territory, there is still plenty of features within the text that redeem Pure and set it apart from other offerings in the sub genre.

What stood out for me was that Baggot doesn't talk down to her YA audience.  She explains about the possibility of a nuclear war, and provides an option of what the aftermath could be like, but the only problem with Pure is that there is too much talking and not enough action. Maybe, as part of a trilogy, the second instalment will be more action led now that the damaged world both inside and out of the Dome has been established.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

The Girl You Left Behind

 A poignant tale of love and perseverance in the face of adversity, The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes is a wonderful exploration into the strength of two women separated by nearly a century.

Late 1916, the small French village St Peronne has been occupied by the Germans.  Sisters Sophie and Helene, the owners of the town's hotel Le Coq Rouge, have been asked by the new Kommandant to provide evening meals for the German troupes.  Prone to small acts of defiance, Sophie is initially wary of the Kommandant and his motives, especially when he becomes fascinated with a portrait of her that had been painted by her husband Edouard.  Over time, and after many instances of the Kommandant's unexpected kindness towards Sophie and her family, they forge an unlikely, and dangerous, friendship.  Once news of her husbands imprisonment reaches her, Sophie realises that she must use her strange relationship with the Kommandant to her advantage.

Fast Forward to 2006 and Liv Halston is living alone in London, still grieving for her husband David who died four years ago.  When drowning her sorrows on the anniversary of David's death she meets Paul, unaware of his job as an investigator for a company that successfully reclaims pieces of art that had been stolen during war time.  Unfortunately, Paul has recently been commissioned by the Lefevre Family to track down Sophie's portrait, or as it is now known 'The Girl You Left Behind', which happens to hang on a wall in Liv's bedroom.  Not wanting to give the painting she treasures up, Liv enters a battle that pushes not only her finances to the limit, but forces every aspect of her her life into near destruction.

Even though The Girl You Left Behind sometimes fell into chick-lit by numbers territory, I still think it will appeal to both fans and sceptics of the genre. Moyes concocted intriguing characters and placed them in unenviable situations that were fascinating to read, and learn more, about.  In Sophie and Liv, Moyes has created two strong, stubborn, women.  Both of their unfortunate circumstances force them to rely on men who have questionable motives, and it is their stubborn nature, along with their faith, that keeps them going even when everything looks certain to end in heartbreak.  To that point, even the reader's faith is tested: Will Liv get to keep the painting?  What happened to Sophie all those years ago?

The Girl You Left Behind is certainly not faced paced.  However, it benefits from being slowly read and savoured.  Moyes has a wonderful ability to portray very distinct emotions through her prose.  Even though I didn't really get a sense of place from her descriptions, I knew at every turn exactly what her characters were feeling and this added an extra dimension to the story.  A brilliant read from start to finish, I would certainly be interested in reading more of Moyes work.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Trust Your Eyes

Thomas Kilbride has been obsessed with maps since he was a child.  Now an adult, he studies an Internet map site called whirl360 in an attempt to memorise every street in the world.  One evening, while studying a street in Manhattan, he notices something unusual in an apartment window: a woman with a plastic bag over her head, being suffocated.  He tells his brother, Ray, what he has seen but the only problem is that Thomas is a diagnosed schizophrenic who rarely leaves his room, let alone the house. Is he telling the truth? Or is this a delusion that can be easily explained?

Linwood Barclay's Trust Your Eyes is best described as a 'Pandora's Box'.  Not content with the central mystery Barclay quickly establishes plenty of grey areas concerning, an incident in Thomas' childhood and the sudden death of Kilbride boys' father, plus the mysterious phone calls that only Thomas is privy to. 

There are plot twists galore: some expected, some not.  At certain points I found this disorientating, as I did the non linear elements, but I was compelled by a story that bordered on the ridiculous, and could fall apart at any moment, to keep reading.  The success of Trust Your Eyes hinges on the use of smoke and mirrors.  Barclay adeptly keeps you wondering how much of Thomas' world is real by misdirecting the reader with plenty of time changes and narrator switches.  These offered insight into different aspects of the plot, but my only criticism is that these portions of the book revealed uninspired and cliched character histories and present actions.  The only two exceptions were Thomas, who felt less of a caricature, and had complexity, as did his brother Ray.  Barclay wonderfully portrayed Ray's struggle of trying to look after and communicate with his brother, while dealing with his own issues.

A great, thrilling, holiday read, but if you're a quick reader I think Trust Your Eyes would probably be a satisfying companion on a long-haul flight.