Friday, 27 January 2017

The Pale Dreamer by Samantha Shannon

Publication date: 6th December 2016
Published by: Bloomsbury
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy (YA)

This is a review of the kindle version

Publication synopsis
In the perilous heart of Scion London, a dangerous and valuable poltergeist is on the loose – and it must be caught before chaos erupts on the streets of the capital. Here, the clairvoyant underworld plays by its own rules, and rival gangs will stop at nothing to win such a magnificent prize.

Sixteen-year-old Paige Mahoney is working for Jaxon Hall, the most notorious mime-lord in the city. He thinks she is hiding a powerful gift, but it refuses to surface. Maybe this is the opportunity she needs to secure her position in his gang, the Seven Seals…

My Review
The Pale Dreamer is the prequel to The Bone Season, the first in a seven-part fantasy series of books about clairvoyants set in a futuristic alternate reality.  The second book, The Mime Order is soon to be reviewed on the blog, and the third book, The Song Rising, is due to be released in early March.

This novella takes us to the very beginning when Paige was first recruited by Jaxon Hall.  She is still unaware of the power of her gift and is trying hard to make an impression and be taken seriously. When she is given her first assignment, to help capture a poltergeist, she gets an opportunity to demonstrate her worth.

The story served to fill in some of the gaps from the previous books, giving us a better understanding of Paige and her relationship with some of the other gang members under Jaxon's leadership.

I enjoyed the book and I am quite excited about the next instalment (The Song Rising).  So much so that I recently re-read The Mime Order.  I was rather disappointed with it when I first read it but, on the second read, I saw it with a new pair of eyes and I gained so much more out of it - which demonstrates that I do get it wrong sometimes! One thing I was right about was that multiple visits to these books offer a better understanding of the series as a whole, and, in that sense it is a gift that keeps on giving.

Friday, 20 January 2017

Crime Fiction: Sophie Hannah's Hurting Distance (Culver Valley series, book 2)

Publication date: 23 August 2007
Published by: Stodder & Houghton

This is the second of the Culver Valley series, set in fictional Spilling, in North England. I reviewed the first in the series, Little Face, on 4th November 2016.

Hurting Distance follows a similar format to the first book, i.e., the narration alternates between the first person perspective of the person who reported the crime, Naomi Jenkins, and the third person perspective, focusing on one of the plain-clothes police officers - in this case DS Charlotte (Charlie) Zailer.

Naomi is having an affair with a married man, Robert Haworth, whom she has met once a week at the same time and place for the past 2 years.  When he does not arrive for their scheduled meeting she becomes worried.  After a few days without any word she goes to his house to look for him.  She creeps up to the house and looks through the window.  What she sees causes her to pull back and is followed by a panic attack.  She hurries to her car and on the way is confronted by Robert's wife, Juliet, who tells her she will never see him again and that she (Naomi) will be better off.  What she has seen in the window and what she has been told by Juliet causes her to report that her lover is missing and (she suspects) is in terrible danger...

Sophie Hannah's crime stories are quite complex.  I would describe this one as elaborate (and, dare I say, far-fetched).  As the story unfolds events become inextricably linked and, as the narrator points out, 'there are no coincidences'.  Once again the lines between the personal and professional lives of the police investigating the crime are blurred.

Spilling CID is very much a fictional one; one that would make a good TV soap. The officers are mostly superfluous and instead Naomi assumes the role of the principal investigator, while the DS and her DCs spend far too much of their time being either self-absorbed or overly absorbed in the lives of each other.  There is a DC with prenuptial moodiness, there is a DC who is preoccupied with juggling his marriage with his 'extracurricular' affairs, and then there is Charlie, whose response to Simon's rejection moves a gear up (from mortifying to humiliating).  Simon is the only one who seems focused on the job, and that is not easily done, thanks to Charlie.  There are occasions, on the job,  when Charlie's behaviour is unprofessional (e.g. sharing information about the case with people she should not), unethical (e.g. showing a complete lack of sensitivity for the victim of the crime, and not caring about the risk of putting the victim in harms way) and incompetence (e.g. events that cause her car to be stolen). 

An extended plot is emerging (one that is likely to span many novels) that is centered around the relationship between Charlie and Simon.

Hurting Distance is not without merit, since it explores sexism, misogyny and hate crime in its darkest form.   However, like most of the populist crime fiction novels I have read, I am beginning to get the impression that the Spilling CID series is rather light, contrived and lacking rigor.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Sense & Sensibility (The Austen Project no. 1) by Joanna Trollope

Publication date: 29th October 2013
Published by: Harper

Publisher's synopsis
John Dashwood promised his dying father that he would take care of his half sisters. But his wife, Fanny, has no desire to share their newly inherited estate with Belle Dashwood's daughters. When she descends upon Norland Park with her Romanian nanny and her mood boards, the three Dashwood girls-Elinor, Marianne, and Margaret-are suddenly faced with the cruelties of life without their father, their home, or their money.

As they come to terms with life without the status of their country house, the protection of the family name, or the comfort of an inheritance, Elinor and Marianne are confronted by the cold hard reality of a world where people's attitudes can change as drastically as their circumstances.

With her sparkling wit, Joanna Trollope casts a clever, satirical eye on the tales of Elinor and Marianne Dashwood. Reimagining Sense and Sensibility in a fresh, modern new light, she spins the novel's romance, bonnets, and betrothals into a wonderfully witty coming-of-age story about the stuff that really makes the world go around. For when it comes to money, some things never change. . . .

My review:

Joanna Trollope's modern day version of Sense & Sensibility has a plot that runs parallel to the original, while being a story in it's own right.  It is cleverly constructed and completely believable, which is quite an achievement considering the period and setting of the original source material. I would say this book is (so far) the most successful of the project in that regard.

Belle Dashwood had become far too comfortable with a life of luxury without contributing in any way, so when her common-law husband dies and she is left homeless and penniless, she is in denial.  It falls on her eldest daughter, Elinor, to do what is necessary to try to secure a home, to clothe and feed the family.  She does so at personal sacrifice, all the while nursing a broken heart.

This novel cannot help but read like chick-lit, albeit intelligent and sophisticated chick-lit (a sub-genre I am convinced evolved from the Jane Austen novel).  This is something I would say it has in common with all but one of the Austen project publications so far. Val McDermids' Northanger Abbey is the exception as it reads more like a coming of age tale. 

More Austen Project reviews

Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid (no.2)

Emma by Alexander McCall-Smith (no 3)

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld (n0.4)

Friday, 6 January 2017

Crime Fiction: Megan Abbot's You Will Know Me

Publication date: 28 July 2016
Published by: Picador
Genre: Psychological Thriller

Publisher's synopsis
Katie and her husband Eric have made their daughter Devon the centre of their world. Talented, determined, a rising gymnastics star, Devon is the focus of her parents' lives and the lynchpin of their marriage. There is nothing they wouldn't do for her.
When a violent hit-and-run accident sends shockwaves through their close-knit community, Katie is immediately concerned for her daughter. She and Eric have worked so hard to protect Devon from anything that might distract or hurt her. That's what every parent wants for their child, after all. Even if they don't realize how much you've sacrificed for them. Even if they are keeping secrets from you . . .

My Review

You Will Know Me was published last summer and is currently out in hardback and kindle version.  It will no doubt be on the bookstands of major airport newsagents once it becomes available in paperback form and dubbed the next Gone Girl or the next Girl on the Train. What these books all have in common is that they are domestic psychological thrillers although I use the word 'thriller' loosely.

You Will Know Me is about a couple, Katie and Eric, with a daughter, Devon, who is a talented gymnast.  Her coach advises them that she has the potential to become an elite athlete and presents a plan to groom her for the Olympics.

Both parents, but Eric, in particular, become overly fixated on Devon's future and willing to do whatever it takes to ensure her success.  They have a younger son, who tends to get overlooked in the pursuit of the dream.  The family becomes part of a tight-knit community of parents with children who are gymnasts - none of whom are as talented as Devon.  The novel delves into the world of gymnastics and we gain an insight into the competitiveness and the various challenges it presents both financially and emotionally - challenges that directly effect all members of the family.

A mystery emerges when we learn that certain members of the family may be connected to the victim of the hit-and-run accident in ways that are both shocking and potentially suggestive of culpability in his death.  Unfortunately, the story did not work for me because I was neither thrilled nor intrigued, which presumably is supposed to be the point.