reading

Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss

ghostThe beginning of this book is so thoroughly creepy I was hooked from the first lines. A young girl tied to a stake about to be burned to death, everyone is watching and nobody is helping her. The tone changes immediately and you realise that you have been reading the ending and now you spend your time wondering how those horrific scenes will come about. Creeping menace, lots and lots of it, abound in this book!

Sil’s family are spending the summer in an experimental archeology exercise in Northumberland close to the moors and near to the ruins of Hadrian’s Wall. They are living life as it was in the bronze age. Wearing tunics, living in a primitive tent together, cooking over a fire and foraging for everything they eat. It is not fun at all. Sil’s dad is a domineering, bully of a man. Her mum is meek and mouselike. She is beaten and submissive to her husband. Sil has become used to doing exactly what her dad requires because it is easier and she is less likely to end up with bruises. The way that Sarah Moss has written him is so good, you really feel his simmering anger! Along with Sil and her family, there are 3 university students and their professor who are living the ancient lifestyle with them as part of their studies. One of the students is a young woman who becomes close to Sil and who, partly inadvertently, leads Sil astray and into danger.

This is a small book with a great big story. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It is a book which would appeal to reluctant readers due to the instant entry into the action and the easy vocabulary. It is very well written and I’m going to be buying copies for school. I would recommend it for junior high school age students. Although it is set in Britain near the ruins of Hadrian’s Wall I think that young people anywhere would relate to it.

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

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I Had Such Friends by Meg Gatland-Veness

friendsThis one is right up there for me. It is the kind of voice I love and I’d personally call this a cross-over novel, one that works for adults and YA. It is set in a small Australian town where people play footy, surf and the culture of bloke is at it’s peak. It is tough to stand out in this place. You fit or you don’t. If you don’t you’ll be picked on and persecuted and made to pay. Hamish is a poor, skinny kid who has nothing cool about him. The story takes place over Hamish’s last year of high school. His only friend, Martin, whom he really doesn’t like but you’ve got to talk to someone, is even more hideously uncool. Hamish has been stuck with him by default even though he can’t stand him.

At the start we are told that Charlie one of the schools most popular guys has been killed in a car crash which also involved the utterly gorgeous Annie, the school sweetheart, most beautiful creature who ever walked the earth. Annie has survived and emerged sad and lonely. Hamish has worshiped her from afar but always known that he has no chance with her. She and Charlie are the school elite, but now Charlie is dead and everything is different. Change is on the way, one day Peter the school bad kid, gives Hamish a ride home from school and everything starts to happen. Peter and Hamish become the kind of friends who don’t talk about anything but spend time together and gradually gradually they begin to build a relationship. At the same time Hamish and Annie are becoming girlfriend and boyfriend and Hamish has gone from untouchable to being in demand. But all is not what it seems.

This book is about relationships, attitudes, sexual tension and racism. You have so much in here! I loved Peter, I loved him so much more than Hamish and what happens to him is horrific. I loved so much about this book but I admit that it isn’t perfect. There are some problems with the writing in places. And I really had a problem with Annie, she seems to be almost unnecessary to the story other than a bit player. I loved the relationship with Hamish and his parents and could totally see that playing out. I thought the sex was really well written too. There are problems but overall I thoroughly loved the story and the way that the scenes felt so realistic. I loved Hamish struggling to keep up with Peter at the beach with the way he pondered lying to his parents.

I’d love to see this book in lots of small town libraries, it is shocking and I think quite realistic in the way the casual homophobia is visited upon teenagers. It is certainly not a hopeful book. The actions of the teenagers and their rage against Peter and Hamish is horrific to read. It makes you understand why country Australians race to the big cities to reinvent themselves as gay people. I know this happens in every country! I read this at the time that I watched Hannah Gadsby and her Nannette show and possibly that is why is resonated so strongly with me.

I’m going to be buying and recommending this book. Possibly with a tighter review than this, as I’ve got a bit statementy here!

If you are a fan of Jasper Jones and books by Scot Gardner then this book is going to work for you.

Thanks to Netgalley for access to this book.

The Anchoress by Robyn Cadwallader

anchorHave you ever seen a more beautiful cover on a book? (It is far more beautiful in person than it looks in the image on here.) The cover is what attracted me to this in the first place, but it is a tale of medieval times and I really like reading about that period of history. I’m so pleased I picked it up. Inside that lush cover is a story of sacrifice. Sarah, a young girl reeling from the grief of her sister’s death and the lascivious advances of the son of the local Lord, decides to become The Anchoress and devote her life to God. The Anchoress lives in a tiny room attached to the church, nobody can see her and her meals, such as they are, are passed through a tiny window to her by her serving maid. She is completely alone in her tiny stone hewn room. Her only contact with the outside is with the visiting priest who is responsible for her and her servants and the occasional visit from a woman or child from the village.

Sarah spends her time praying and doing devotions, her life is quiet and serene but even within the confines of her tiny space there is much to think about and ponder. Sarah has removed herself from the world, yet worldly concerns encroach upon the space. Concerns she discusses with her priest, Father Ranaulf, a serious man who is employed at the priory to write manuscripts. His conversations with Sarah worry him, her concerns for things beyond her walls bother him, he is not a worldly man and he finds her confessions troublesome.

Sarah is tormented by Thomas, who inherits the Manor, he cannot let her go and he instructs Father Ranaulf to make a manuscript on the life of St Margaret. This becomes the rubbing point for her life, her fascination with the life of Margaret, she meditates upon her life and finds so many things disturbing prompting her to have thoughts which challenge her ideas of purity and provoking more questions to the uncomfortable Father Ranaulf.

The book has a meditative feel. As Sarah thinks and prays and gradually comes to terms with her existence, she becomes braver and more able to defend her views while at the same time being so very vulnerable to the whim of the Lord of the Manor. Life progresses very slowly and the outside world intrudes into her world in many ways. This is beautifully written and so beautifully drawn. It is a lovely book.(less)

 

Red Birds by Mohammed Hanif

redbirdsThis book, with it’s flashes of brilliance and thorough weirdness is hard for me to rate. It is the kind of book that Booker judges love. Clever, ridiculously funny in parts while it’s utter grimness makes it not amusing in the slightest. There is no doubt that the author is a master of metaphor and the writing is engaging, particularly in the beginning and end but I found myself having to re-read parts to figure out whose voice I was reading.

Ellie is a pilot whose plane has come down in the desert while he is on a bombing run. He is starving, dying of thirst and reflecting on his relationship with Cath his wife while he slowly runs out of life. Mutt is a dog, fed up with the treatment he receives, he has headed out into the desert to die and comes across Ellie much to his annoyance. Next up is Momo, a teenage boy who arrives to collect Mutt and who is convinced that Ellie is stealing his dog. Ellie eventually convinces Momo to give him a ride to his village which turns out to the be the refugee camp that he was supposed to be bombing in the first place. So far so funny! But it is the kind of funny which is tinged with tragedy, threat and sorrow. The characters you meet will each have so many sadnesses as they deal with the realities of life under threat by the very armed force that supposedly keeps them safe. It is lies upon lies and weirdness galore.

I loved the final chapters of this book but the middle section was like a metaphysical journey where I was never quite sure what I was reading. I guess that was intentional, this book takes you on a journey into a world seldom seen, these people are forgotten in so many ways.

I didn’t love this book but I think it is clever and interesting and I’m glad I chose it. It is a reminder that war is much bigger than the battle at the frontline.

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

A Superior Spectre by Angela Meyer

spectreParts of this book I just loved completely, other parts I found myself skimming through. It is such an interesting mix of historical fiction (the parts I loved) and science fiction (the parts I had problems with) and the meshing of these two so distinct storylines was well done but at times too confusing and strange. It certainly is well written, almost lyrically written in parts. The observations of nature and the wildness of Scotland through the eyes of Leonora were stunning, the book is worthwhile just for this. And, you can hear that there is a but coming.

So, you’ve got Jeff who has scurried off to the west of Scotland to die, he takes with him an automaton who will take care of him he believes, he also has a device which enables him to live life through the eyes and mind of another person, he should only enter their life 3 times but of course, he can’t help himself and he spends a lot of time being Leonora, a young woman who lives on a farm with her father. You have an alternating story line, firstly through Jeff’s eyes as he examines his life, loves and losses. Then you have Jeff, living Leonora’s life, her beginning of fondness for the Laid, the relationship of her father and his new wife and Leonora’s struggle as she is swept away to Edinburgh to the care of her thoroughly weird aunt.

There is a lot going on. And remember you’ve got alternating paragraphs. It almost feels like you have two side by side novels, which I guess was the goal. I wonder if this rather good author tried to do a bit much. Having said that it is engaging, the tech is clever and well thought out. Maybe it is Jeff, I just couldn’t care about him. He seems like a pillock and I always find it hard to read a character I don’t like. On the other hand I loved Leonora, I hated what Jeff was doing to her and I was really invested in her survival.

All in all it is complicated and at times totally fabulous, I’ve dithered about writing this review and how many stars I’d give it, I’d love to hear someone else’s opinion of it, I see the reviews below are very mixed, and I guess that might make it a really good novel, people are polarised, for me it is half way there.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for this book.

Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman

thunder

Well, thank goodness for that! It would have been so upsetting if this novel hadn’t lived up to the first in the series. The ending sets us up brilliantly for a third and gives us a new hero, but that is getting ahead of things.


The story picks up with Rowan reinventing himself from Scythe to justice maker, he is taking the bad out of the Scythes. Expunging the bad and keeping the good. This is of course totally outside the rules and he is in hiding. Citra is now a fully fledged Scythe and is working alongside Marie, her humane approach to killing is not efficient and she is under pressure to work faster. She gives people time to prepare for death and there is an argument that she should be working more efficiently. Back from the dead is Goddard, evil as ever, he wants control of all the Scythes and sets about making that happen. Citra is a threat to him, so he is out to get her.

This story is full of great twists and turns, unexpected characters from the past and with an ending which sets you up nicely for the next one. I don’t know anybody who hasn’t loved these books and I think this is an author who is so reliable that you can trust him to take you on an exciting and thrilling ride. That is certainly the case with this book. As we powered towards the end, the tension was full on!

My boys are fighting to get their hands on this and I’m going to need lots of copies. A very good read.

The Weight of a Thousand Feathers by Brian Conaghan

feathersOh this is such a charged book. So many things to think about and process. Bobby Seed is a 17 year old boy dealing with far too much. There is his mum, dying of MS, his handful of a younger brother Dan who doesn’t really understand what is happening to their mum and Bel, friendzoned when she doesn’t want to be and helping Bobby shoulder responsibility out of the goodness of her heart. All this responsibility is wearing for Bobby, a mum who can’t look after either him or his brother and all the drama of daily teenage life, it is boring, it is relentless, it sucks and it is only going to get worse as his mum gets worse.

Then Bobby is encouraged to go to a group for those caring for an ill parent and whammo, there he meets Lou, exotic, sexy as all get out and equipped with a vintage Vespa. And Lou likes Bobby, starts hanging with him and because they have shared experience and plenty in common it seems they might have something more than friendship looming. But, Lou is tricky, he tells stories, is he to be trusted? As things move along, mum getting worse, Dan being Dan, Bel always there and Bobby’s guilt getting larger and larger, it all gets so incredibly complicated. Lou is possibly more than he seems. A crisis point is reached when mum asks Bobby to help her die.

This is a slow, thoughtful novel. It is full of Bobby’s angst at the terrible situation he finds himself in. This huge responsibility, weighted with love for Dan and his mum, his grief and his heartache. Interwoven are his thoughts on his emerging sexuality and confusion at the way Lou treats him and all the weirdness surrounding the way Lou acts. I loved the character of Bel, so kind, tolerant and so willing to help so that she doesn’t have to deal with her own terrible homelife.

This would be a wonderful novel for students to study, so full of moral complexity and full of heart. You root for Bobby, you want him and Dan to be ok. This novel is one which will make you think and feel. I’ll definitely be buying it for our library.