Intruder by Christine Bongers

intrudersChristine Bongers’ new novel develops the plot device of an intruder, not into a mystery or suspense narrative, but to a coming-of-age story. Fourteen year old Kat is about to be intruded upon by people and situations she does not want. Her life has been on hold since the death of her mother but grief is a finite excuse. Kat needs to move on, find friends, take risks and most importantly trust again. The catalyst of a stranger in her bedroom is just the fright she needs to stop the navel gazing and start living.

If only Kat’s progression could be easy. She fights the introduction of a protector – a drooling loveable dog called Hercules.  She resists the overtures of the re-establishment of a relationship from her mother’s best friend, Edie, and she manages to halt the progress of a possible romance with a new boy across the park, Al. Kat’s selfishness, her deep grief, her sense of betrayal from both her father and Edie are still fresh wounds. These flaws are balanced with Kat’s snarky humour, her burgeoning understanding about how insular she has allowed herself to become, and her growing sense that it’s not always about her.

I love the gritty realism that defines this author’s writing. Chris doesn’t shy away from dog drools and farts. Kat screams when unhinged, yells thoughtlessly, and acts like an angry teenager who believes the world is against her. It’s both maddening and totally understandable. The other characters in the book are depicted through Kat’s eyes, so we slowly come to see their true qualities as Kat does. Jimmy, dad, musician, absent father turned desperate dad, trying to give Kat the space she needs, but quickly running out of patience. Al, dog lover, science geek with his own story to share, who tells Kat a few home truths she’s not ready to hear. And the enigmatic Edie, whose unusual habits start to make sense as pieces of Kat’s life puzzle fall into place.

Intruder is smart and funny, with authentic characters and poignant moments of insight and affection. Highly recommended.

Every breath by Ellie Marney

Every Breath is being touted as a new sexy thriller. Maybe that’s meant to draw young adults in, but I found it every-breathmuch more intelligent and witty than that. It uses references to Sherlock Holmes lore as a fun, irreverent way to establish the narrative as detective. I found the prologue also to be distracting and misleading, but once the story gets going, it’s exciting and fast-paced.

Rachel Watts and James Mycroft have lived two doors down from each other ever since Rachel’s family left their bankrupt farm. We are thrown in to this friendship four months in, and not slowed down by the details of how they became be friends. They just are, and we accept that. Mycroft is a genius with a damaged psyche and Rachel’s practical nature is the best thing for him.

When one of Mycroft’s friends is murdered, the pair stumble into solving the crime (although not so much with the stumble, but more because of the determination of a boy who has already seen too much death, and who needs to make order from chaos). Rachel is not sure what is the best way to go, and she oscillates between wanting to stay out of the mess, and wanting to learn more. The climax at the zoo has all the elements mystery lovers want:  danger, an evil psychopath and sacrifice.

This is tense, exciting and quite humorous. The romance doesn’t overwhelm the mystery, but it’s there, for which I am grateful. These two truly care for each other. It’s grand. And on the last page, there is a blurb for the next instalment. Double grand!

A version of this review originally posted on Goodreads. Read Sept 13 2013.

Highly recommended to those of you who love a murder mystery.

Code Name Verity Elizabeth Wein

I am sure you can tell by reading this blog the genres to which I am most attracted. Historical fiction? Not one of them. But every now and then, one develops a glowing vibe, so I track it down. Code Name Verity is one such historical title. It isn’t in the library yet, but be assured, I am on the hunt for it.

Initially, it was hard to get into. I found the narrator’s voice, although strong & quirky, disjointed and rambly. But it is worth persevering with because once the narrative becomes sure of itself, it flies and soars like a Lysander. Notice I am not using any names of characters, or specific details about the plot. It is best to come into this book with as few spoilers as possible.

But I can set the scene: It is 1940s Britian, right in the middle of WWII, & readers are quickly immersed in rich details of survival, secrecy and torture.

Although the two main characters are female, there is enough action and suspense to keep all you easily-bored males happy. But this is as much about friendship as it is about war.

Ultimately, Code Name Verity is heart-breaking and heart-warming. It simultaneously choked me up in tears while gathering me up in a generous embrace. Excellent writing, authentic characters, & seamlessly integrated historical components. For me to really enjoy historical fiction, I have to not feel like I am being pulled out of the story  to give me endless commentary on events or actions.

Look out for it over the coming days.

Read May 25. Shorter review originally posted over at Goodreads.

Shine by Lauren Myracle

 This book does not fit neatly into any of my shelves. It defies and challenges categories. I put it into the romance, not because of Cat & Jason, but because of the beautifully developed friendship between Cat and her best friend, Patrick. Told in flashback, it is extremely sad to see that Cat has shut herself off from him for the past 3 years. All that wasted time!

While Patrick’s beating remains the central mystery of the story, it is evident that the author also wants to highlight the impact of small town poverty and intolerance on individuals. It’s a searing insight – sad and desperate.

Cat’s growing realisation of the need ‘to say yes to the world insted of no’ develops realistically.

Hard to read, but worth it.

Drink, Slay, Love by Sarah Beth Durst

 

Drink, Slay, Love’s premise is clearly laid out in its title. This book does not take itself too seriously. And that’s what makes it a great read.

The main character, Pearl, is set up effectively in the first couple of pages as a thoughtless, amoral vampire, using people for her own hunger. Once the unicorm stabs her through the heart, her subsequent change is enormous. To start having a conscience, to feel empathy with her food source is extremely hard for Pearl, but good fun for us to watch.

However much fun it is, there are still serious scenes here that mean Drink, Slay, Love also works as an action packed suspenseful novel. Pearl is trying to juggle a whole number of issues… the temptation to bite her new friends, keeping her vampire family happy by providing them with potential victims and most of all, not making the King of the Vampires angry because people don’t survive long around him when he is. Even if they are immortal vampires.

I found this to be highly entertaining. Read February 4th.

The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman


Oh my. Do not read this book if you want swoony and superficial. Do read it if you are hankering more for complex dense plot lines that are a mixture of ‘da Vinci Code’ & ‘Northern Lights’. Do read it if your idea of a heroine is intelligent, loyal and courageous. But also real and flawed and damaged.

Nora jumps off the page with such a clear voice. Wasserman does not pander to the trends of today’s paranormal genre. This is not an easy read. She makes readers work for their rewards. The narrative builds slowly, developing the four central characters with warmth & love. And more than a little bit of death and danger. There is detail in everything. And so much of it sad: parents too caught up in their own grief to recognise what their children need; lovers too caught up in their own world to worry about friends & depressing school stuff which deadens teenagers’ souls.

But there’s so much good stuff too: Latin translations. A time slip back to the late 1500s where alchemists and philosophers sought more than God’s benevolent love. A connection across the centuries between two girls, both responding to destinies forced upon them. It’s epic, it’s tragic, and ultimately, it’s awesome.

I did struggle I admit, but 150 pages from the end, I did not want to stop. This is a book for patient, deep-thinkers, who want to be immersed in mysteries of life & death, and of God.

Read Feb 13th. Review originally posted at Goodreads.

 

Across the Universe by Beth Revis

universeRead January 14 2011

I can’t get anybody to read this! And I don’t understand why. Ok, I get that the cover might give the idea that is it a romance, but it’s not. And the title might make you think it’s adapted from a musical film set in the 60s of the same name, but it’s not based on that. And I get you may not be not into sci fi novels that include spaceships, and flying off to unexplored planets, but I hope that you wouldn’t stop you from giving it a go.

Although  you could classify this as a sci fi novel, it can also be slotted into other genre categories as well – it’s a murder mystery, it’s a dystopian and it’s story about family. The two main characters alternate as narrators. Amy has been frozen in a cyro chamber and believes she will be there for 300 years while the space craft travels to a new planet. Elder is a boy who is being groomed to lead the people to ensure the flight protects its vulnerable passengers and gets them safely to their destination.

When Amy is rudely and dangerous awaken, a series of incidents force her and Elder to attempt to work out who is murdering many of the future inhabitants. So, there is tension and drama. But it’s also a classy exploration of the meaning and purpose of art and creativity in people’s lives. It also forces readers to think about other large issues, such as the importance of telling the truth, and the the role of genetic modification in human lives.

There is so much to this book. Here is the author’s website. And here is a website about the book. It contains a fancy graphic of the spacecraft and other fun links. Worth exploring.

There is a clever twist at the end. I wonder if you can predict it.

The Double Life of Cassiel Roadhouse by Jenny Valentine

double-life-of-cassiel-roadnightRead January 12, 2011.

This is the third Jenny Valentine book I have purchased for the library. If you have read either one of the other two: Finding Violet Park (2007) or Broken Soup (2008), you will also enjoy her new one.

Valentine is an English author, and this is reflected in the landscapes and settings of the novels. Whereas previous novels have been strongly grounded in urban centres, The Double Life of Cassiel Roadnight moves into a more rural setting. This change has helped to create and heighten the sense of mystery that is an integral part of the narrative.

When we meet the narrator, we don’t know his name. We know he is homeless and has been for several years, on the run. Out of desperation, he stops in at a hostel, and it is there that we see him take on Cassiel Roadnight’s identity. And from here that the mystery begins.

Who is our narrator? Who is Cassiel? As with most of Valentine’s stories, the answer is unpredictable and the reveal is clever and quite thrilling. The suspense and mystery might be the elements that attract readers, but what makes this a cut above other books is the exploration of family and societal structures. It’s also an indictment on moral issues such as greed, the welfare system and parental responsbility. Valentine never labours over the themes. They are always integrated neatly into the narrative, but readers are forced to consider the implications of decisons and actions.

The other thing to remember about Valentine’s novels is that they are uplifting and optimistic, so that bodes well for the plight of young Cassiel, who isn’t Cassiel, or he is?

Highly recommended.