Platform Seven by Louise Doughty

Weird, atmospheric and unlike anything you’ve read before, this is a strange novel. It is from the point of view of a ghost, someone you know nothing about at the beginning, but revealed over the course of the novel. We discover first how she died, then we gradually are told the reasons why she is confined to Peterborough station, until she isn’t anymore. While she waits at the station she observes the comings and goings of the staff and the commuters as they go about their business. There is something odd about platform number severn though, something isn’t quite right, something there seems to draw the lonely and the sad.

Our ghost is kind of in love with one of the workers at the station, she follows him and suddenly is able to leave the station, after so much time of being trapped within station confines it is weird that she is able to waft out. This is the beginning of our ghost, who turns out to be Lisa Evans, discovering who she is and why she is there.

It is all so strange, the story is wafty just like our ghost, everything is opaque and vague. I found it was a little bit slow in the middle but it is certainly clever and something completely different to a standard crime novel. It’s melancholic feel is disturbing.  Thanks Netgalley and the Publishers for giving me access to this interesting novel.

You Will Be Safe Here by Damian Barr

I’m reposting this, not only because it comes out in paperback today, but also because I want lots and lots of people to read it. I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I finished it. I’ve recommended it to heaps of people and I have just lent my copy to someone on pain of death that they return it to me. Go and buy a copy. You will be glad you did. And just look at this beautiful cover!

I had no idea that concentration camps existed during the Boer Wars in South Africa, I had no idea that so many people had been mistreated and ruined at that time, people who were just living their lives and struggling in a harsh environment. In the first section of the book we meet Sarah, struggling to cope as she is interred with her young son into a concentration camp run by the British, her husband is off fighting and their farm has been razed to the ground as part of the scorched earth policy. Sarah is the first link in the chain of this story which travels through time in South Africa from then to 2015. The characters are all linked by family lines and their stories all show something of how the history of a country forms attitudes and social norms all the way through to now. Sarah’s diary of her time in Bloemfontein Camp is horrific, so much so that I wandered off to search for confirmation of the conditions and discovered the most ghastly photographs.

Many years later we meet Rayna and Irma and Willem, Sarah’s descendants in a new South Africa, where the laws have changed, where violence is increasing and where social order has been disrupted. Not everyone is comfortable with the new ways, the abolition of Apartheid and the changing expectations of how the black people are to be treated. The uncomfortable transition to equality is hard to read. The author has done a wonderful job of making you feel every side of the situation. He drew me into the characters world and made me understand their points of view, although it is uncomfortable reading at times, it is hard to deal with such views from this corner of the world. The creeping menace of the ever growing walls to keep the bad guys out, at the same time as keeping the world and your connection to it out.

Willem is so beautifully written, his fragility and sensitivity juxtaposed against his mother’s partner the awful Jans. Willem’s mother Irma, torn between the new bloke in her life and her son who she doesn’t really understand and whom to her mind seems to be lacking something. Thank goodness for Rayna, the grandmother who loves this sensitive boy sincerely, and who ultimately is his saviour. “Know, she didn’t know. No, she didn’t know. Know, if only she’d known.”

This book is a lot! There is so much depth, it has the most beautiful moments amongst the heartbreak and terror. Along the reading journey with this book, not only the terrible history of torture and struggle, I’ve thought about Willem and the others like him, struggling in a harsh society, the terror of their lives, the fear and the trying not to be noticed. The pain of knowing you don’t quite fit with everyone else and trying to disappear. All of this is written so beautifully. I’ll be thinking about this novel for a long time, my poor heart will need to recover.

Bravo Damian, you’ve written a gem of a book and I am so delighted about that as a reader and as a cheerleader.

Vox by Christina Dalcher

About quarter of the way into this I wondered if I could continue. The grimness was relentless, then I decided that the women were absolutely going to have to fight back. The way that they do it is extreme and gritty and downright nasty, but when you have been taken over, reduced to little more than a puppet, you’ve got to take action. Extreme action.

The very idea of silencing women, encircling their wrists with a bracelet which gives them a shock when they reach their limit of 100 words in a day is diabolical. To do it to baby girls is even worse, it means they can never learn to speak properly or express their feelings or wishes. Exactly what the President of the United States depicted in the novel, is after. There are a few moments of ‘what the?’ in this book. The power of the president to institute this much change over a tiny timeframe is not particularly realistic, however those of us who have watched and read The Handmaid’s Tale and felt the fear it induced will not be surprised that this could happen. It is terrifying and makes you understand how difficult it would be to stand up to the kind of indoctrination that ensues.

This would be an awesome book for a study alongside The Handmaid’s Tale. The science is interesting and the terror you feel at how easy it could be to use the cure for disease in reverse is very real.

The Hive by Barry Lyga and Morgan Baden, Jennifer Beals and Tom Jacobson

Crowd sourced social justice, I can see why the idea could occur but as this book shows vividly some things are just built with way too much scope for manipulation.

This is a brilliant contemporary story, already we have a world where you can be taken to task on social media for saying the wrong thing, for backing the wrong idea but The Hive, a government initiative of social justice takes it to a whole new level. The concept is great, lets let the people decide what is right and wrong, lets unleash their opinion and use social media to praise or punish them.

Cassie’s dad was a brilliant IT guy, he was cutting edge brilliant and the government used his knowledge to make the beginnings of The Hive. But the very thing he helped to build is now turning on his beloved daughter after his death. Cassie knows her way around a computer, she knows how to hack but even this cannot protect her from the rage of people voting against her in The Hive. Her ratings skyrocket and she is being hunted to the death. Cassie can’t believe that this is what her Dad would have wanted, he was a good man, it must be something else and she is determined to find out the truth behind The Hive and the people who run it. She is in this danger because she tweeted a comment about The President’s daughter which has raised the ire of him as well as, it seems, everyone in America. She is going to be held to account for her comment and that might even mean that she is killed.

Cassie is rescued by an unlikely source, but can she trust him? Can she trust anyone? She is on the run and if it weren’t for extreme resourcefulness and clear thinking she’d be already dead. Something is going on, something very sinister and Cassie is going to have to sort it out but also keep herself safe.

This is a great book. The action is relentless and the pace doesn’t let up throughout. Cassie is a great character, resourceful as anything but even with that you find yourself yelling at her to take more care. She is reckless and sometimes that gets her deeper in trouble than ever. This is a great addition to any school library, your geeky kids are going to totally relate to a heroine who has the power to change the world.

Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for giving me access to this fantastic read.

The Infinite Noise by Lauren Shippen

The Bright Sessions #1

If you like books about unlikely friendships which lead on to unlikely relationships then this book is for you. It is an interesting look at what happens when someone deeply feels the emotions of the people around him, he’s an empath, which in many ways makes him vulnerable to the ever changing moods of people he encounters. It also gives him a clear understanding of the struggles of those who have difficulty expressing their feelings. I like it when there is a character like Caleb who seems to be the popular guy, the football hero, the guy with all the friends and seeming to have it all together, who turns out to be deep in the depths of inner turmoil. I like the journey a character like this goes on. Yes, you can pick where Caleb and the lovely Adam are going to end up, but it is the way that they get there which is lovely. This is sensitively written, funny in parts and will make you have all of the feels, from outrage through to heart meltyness.

I have never listened to the Bright Sessions Podcast but this book is enough to send me on a mission to listen. 

This is a must have for secondary school libraries, it doesn’t matter that the setting is the USA, this book is universal and will have lots of appeal, especially in a diverse collection. It doesn’t move fast, it is a slow thoughtful read but beautifully done. 

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for giving me access to this great book.

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

Ann Patchett is one of my absolute favourite authors. I love her gentle but pointed prose and I look forward with eager anticipation for every new book. This book did not disappoint, the tone is so perfect and she drew me in from the first sentences. It is always such a relief when an author you love delivers you another book that you love.

This is the story of a brother and sister, their mother has ‘run away to India’ as they are told when they are children. Danny and Maeve are left with their father, Cyril, in a magnificent house, a house which has remained largely untouched after the previous owners died, the house has personality, it is glass and from the street you can see all the way through it, nobody else in their town has a house anything like this mansion, but a lovely house doesn’t necessarily mean a happy home. The children live there with their largely absent father and the housekeepers and cook who look after them as if they were their own. Maeve is considerably older than Danny and assumes the role of his protector and this continues all their lives. It is this relationship which makes the book so special. When Cyril brings home Andrea his wife to be, she immediately takes against the children, her jealousy and rage permeate the house, poison the atmosphere and when she comes to move in she arrives with two daughters that Maeve and Danny had no idea to expect. Why didn’t Andrea mention at any point that she had two small daughters? Why has Cyril chosen such an unsuitable person to marry? Why is Andrea so incredibly spiteful to these perfectly pleasant children? The story unravels these mysteries and the stories of all of the characters.

I loved these people, I became incredibly caught up in their lives, this is the gift Ann Patchett passes to her readers, an involvement in their stories and a deep feeling of attachment for these people, some of whom are difficult and prickly, but as you unravel the complex web you come to understand their struggles and trials. 

This is sitting right up there with my top books of the year. I’m off to buy myself a paper copy because this is a book to keep and to go back to. And I’m sure on the next reading I’ll have a little sob in the same place that I did this first reading. Sigh. Lovely. Sigh.

Thanks to Netgalley and Bloomsbury for giving me access to this treasure.

The Lying Game by Ruth Ware

There is something about the Ruth Ware style that really appeals to me. I like the atmosphere she creates, the way her characters interact and I think she nails the quiet mystery perfectly. As a boarding school girl myself, I was intrigued from the beginning of this one. The different personalities of the old friends, the way that they met, the ongoing relationship they have, tied by a terrible trauma which happened during their time at school. 

When they are summoned back to the scene of the traumatic event, the friends drop everything in their lives to be there, terrifically worried that their secret might have been discovered. The villagers are suspicious of them, sinister things start to happen and an atmosphere of tension and pent up grievances is palpable. 

This is what Ruth Ware does so well, takes simple scenarios and makes them full of tension and has you on the edge of your reading chair, gripped! I stayed up late at night to finish this book and it was satisfying and as there is a new book from this author out in the world now, I’m excited to read that one too!