The Ocean at the End of the Lane

ocean end of lane

Neil Gaiman is mostly known for his wonderfully dark, Stephen Kingesq children’s novels, but he does dip his quill into the realm of adult fiction and it’s just as atmospheric and haunting. In his current novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, he delves into an adults’ recollection of his childhood. The narrator is a seven year old boy whose name we never learn, while reading the book I didn’t notice the absence of a name, it wasn’t until I finished that I went looking; maybe I missed it. Obviously this was deliberate and I wondered whether Gaiman was either trying to say it was insignificant or, more likely, that the character was unsure who he was.

Through a magically symbolic story, Gaiman explores how our memories of our childhood are perceived differently as an adult and how we are affected by them. The blend of fantasy and realism had me wondering if the boy’s imagination created an unreal world so he could deal with the real problems of his father’s infidelity and a family where he didn’t quite fit.

What I enjoyed most about this novel was Gaiman’s attention to the details of a child’s relationship and observations to the world around him and his interactions with his family. This excerpt shows his ability to capture a world through a child’s eye:

“Adults follow paths. Children explore. Adults are content to walk the same way, hundreds of times or thousands; perhaps it never occurs to adults to step off the paths, to creep beneath rhododendrons, to find the spaces between fences”

The Company Of Liars

Company of Liars

 

How I came to possess this book was one of those surreal moments. I stood in the secondhand bookstore amongst the dusty shelves and tattered books, my eyes were glazing over, inundated with choice, but seeing nothing. I ran my hand along the binds until it stopped at one book jutting out amongst the nondescript tomes. I turned the book over and read the many encouraging reviews from, surprisingly, reputable sources.

“An infectious tale of medieval intrigue” -The Herald

“A ghostly yarn…. A richly evocative page-turner” – Daily Express

Finding this book was pure serendipity. It was published in 2006. How did those eight years pass and I did not hear of this novel? I’m not going to go through the whole story, but I will give you the dust-jacket blurb as it says it best.

Blurb

  • A scarred trader in holy relics  A conjurer. A musician and his apprentice. A one-armed storyteller. A young couple on the run. A midwife. And a rune-reading girl. A group of misfits bands together to escape the plague. But in their midst lurks a curse darker and more malign than the pestilence they flee.

The backdrop is England in the midst of the black-death plague, but it is the minor stimulus that brings our nine main characters together. These characters have so much life they are running off the page sitting in my lounge room having a cuppa and conversation; they are that vivid. The story is richly matted with medieval historical facts and the supernatural. Maitland blends these elements so seamlessly that you start to question the history of medieval superstition and wondering whether magic may have truly been afoot.

If you have not read this book go out and buy it now, NOW!!

Company of Liars By Karen Maitland

Publisher: Penguin

 

Independent Novels

Today I’m reviewing two independent novels at request from the authors. I think it’s important to encourage and support this industry, but I will only give a fair evaluation and will not promote any writing that I feel is of poor quality. That said I was very happy to read and recommend both of these books, which are available at a very reasonable price on Amazon.

 

Real Heroes Cry by Kieran Gould-Dowen

Amazon Blurb:

How would you react if you had superpowers forced upon you? More importantly, who decides if that reaction is good or evil?

Standing in a deserted field in rural Hereford, Dom watches alongside his brother Elliot and best friend Zara as meteors crash from the sky. Thrown into the destruction and to his death by Elliot, Dom awakens not just alive but reborn. Confused by his new superpowers, in particular the power over all matter, he soon gets labelled a super villain and sent on the run. With both his evil brother playing the role of superhero perfectly and the new mysterious organisation GEU hunting him and Zara down for crimes Dom was framed for, he is forced to make a choice: die an unknown hero or play the monster to protect those he loves.
Leading his new family of “ghosts” and fighting for the girl he loves, this is a story you won’t just fall in love with, but you will become obsessed with. Forget everything you know about superhero stories, it is time to see how a real hero lives.

Review:

The beginning of the novel is a little disjointed and confusing, but once the main characters of Dom and Zara are introduced it settles into a smooth rhythm that evolves into an engrossing novel. There is strong character arc development as we see the protagonist, Dom develop from a carefree teenager into a leader. I was enthralled by this novel and found its plot gripping; in a X-men meets The Fantastic Four sense. The book sits firmly in it’s YA genre and I look forward to the future novels in this series.

 

Order of Ascalon by Daniel J. Franks

Amazon Blurb:

A magical mystery adventure that takes you around the world…
After a group of drunken yobs mug sixteen-year-old Peter Butler one evening, he discovers that he has ancient magical powers, which will change the course of his life. Powers that will embroil him in the oldest conflict in human history, fought by influential and deadly secret organisations. Embarking on a daring magical adventure around the world, deciphering clues that lead him to long lost and powerful artefacts, hidden in famous landmarks, the Illuminati hunt him. The Arcanium need him. Governments want him!

Review:

Daniel J. Franks delivers a fantasy novel that catapults the reader head on into the world of intrigue, magic and adventure. Even the most reluctant reader would enjoy the fast paced rollercoaster ride that Franks takes to the reader. The writing is succinct and taut and the pace is reminiscent of a Matthew Riley novel. This is a light- hearted adventure that I recommend for the demographic of pre to early teens. This is the first book in the series and I’m sure it will develop a strong fan base.

Once

once image

The book Once by Morris Gleitzman came to me by way of my son. He was given a copy for his 11th birthday and he said I could read it first because it was on my must –read list. The book is set in Nazi occupied Poland in 1942 and we follow the story of a young boy named Felix. We meet Felix at a catholic orphanage, which he had been living at for the past 3years and 8months. He and his parents are Jewish so they sent him there to keep him safe, although Felix believes he is there while his parents sort through a difficult time with their bookshop.

After witnessing Nazis’ burning books at the orphanage, Felix decides to leave the orphanage and find his parents to help them save their books. We journey with Felix as his childhood innocence slowly dissolves and his eyes are opened to the atrocity of the holocaust around him. This book grabs your heart and doesn’t let go. It squeezes and tugs at every page. It is relentless and exhaustive. I truly loved this book, but as my son is a sensitive 11year old he may need to wait a little longer to read such painful truths. There are three more books in the series After, Now and Then.
Once by Morris Gleitzmann
Once I escaped from an orphanage to find Mum and Dad.

Once I saved a girl called Zelda from a burning house.

Once I made a Nazi with toothache laugh.

My name is Felix.

This is my story.

Everybody deserves to have something good in their life.

At least once.

The Maze Runner

maze runner image

With the release of the movie and the box set of James Dashner’s series, I thought now was a good time to review The Maze Runner.
This is another novel set in a post apocalyptic world i.e. Hunger games, Divergent, The Forest of Hands and Teeth etc.
So how does it fare with the onslaught? Quite well.
Our Protagonist. Thomas wakes in a boxlike lift with no memory, in a place called the Glade. Living in the Glade are boys who arrived the same way over the past two years. The Glade is surrounded by a maze, which the boys believe holds the answer to getting home.
The atmosphere is reminiscent of Lord of the Flies, where hierarchies among the boys are developed and leaders are established. As the boys enter the ever-changing maze the themes of trust, loyalty and bravery are brought to the forefront.
Thomas shows himself to be a natural leader, but this is thrown into turmoil when a girl Teresa enters the maze and memories start to surface.
What Dashner does well is create tension and suspense. The reader is kept guessing, Where are they? What is this place? What is its purpose? Who controls the maze? Eventually, these questions are answered in the subsequent books. But I did not find the answers satisfying. I enjoyed The Maze Runner, but the other books left me flat and disappointed.

Bitter Greens

BitterGreens2

The reinventing of a classic fairytale is nothing new, it’s as old as the spoken word, but in recent years there has been a rush on this trend. To do this successfully the talent lies in making each story its own. The book and author who has done this with finesse and expertise is Bitter Green’s by Kate Forsyth.  In the reworking of the fable, Rapunzel, Forsyth has made a version that’s an intriguing blend of history and fairytale.

It is through Forsyth’s extensive research that we are transported to the court of the Sun King, Louis XIV in France where we follow Charlotte-Rose de la Force, one of the first writers of the story Rapunzel. Charlotte is banished to a convent for her scandalous behaviour. (Charlotte- Rose de la Force is such a fascinating person that everyone should follow this book with one of the biographies of her life). It is here that Charlotte meets a nun called Seraphina who tells her the tale of a young girl, with long red hair, named Margerita (Rapunzel) who is sold by her father to a Selena Leonelli for some bitter greens. Selena, also known as the La Strega Bella, is the muse for the renaissance artist Tiziano. Kate Forsyth’s writing is like delicate lacework  interweaving the stories of these women. Their lives are entwined through common threads of desire, love and obsession. We voyeuristically watch these characters through the hobbled streets of 16th century Venice and the grand palace of Versaille to the sparse convent of 17th century France. It is an intriguing journey of magic, tragedy, loss and consequences. Enjoy!

NB This book was published early last year, but with Kate’s soon to be released Dancing on Knives I thought I’d review her book, which is most dear to me.

Jump

index

At the end of last year, a book was released that had me page turning faster than the bionic woman on steroids. This book was “Jump” by Sean Williams, book one in the “Twinmaker” series. Set in our future world where the characters are using a teleportation device called a d-mat. The teen generation are consuming this technology like candy without a thought to it’s possible consequences until the protagonist, Clare’s, world  is spun out of control when her friend Libby’s life is threatened. Clare’s life is turned into a rollercoaster ride and this is where the book shines, Williams knows how to move the novel along at a gripping pace. We see Clare’s character grow as her eyes are opened to a larger more sinister world than her previous carefree life.

The book plunges headlong into all the teen dramas without moral judgment. It delves into the dilemmas of friendship, loyalty and, superficiality and comments on the future use of technology and social media.

I felt at times that Sean Williams lacked subtly in exploring these themes, I like my themes whispered not screamed, but his twisting and suspenseful plot kept me intrigued to the very end. There are two more books in the series; I do hope we see more character development, as I need to care. I do like Clare, but everyone else is slightly superficial.
NB. In the US the books title is Twinmaker

index

The Rosie Project

the-rosie-project-graeme-simsion

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion is the story of Don Tillman and his quest to find the perfect wife using an exhaustive questionnaire. Don is an echo of Sheldon, from “The Big Bang Theory”, so I imagine you can see the difficulty in his task (picture a science professor geek with extremely inadequate social skills). Simsion has formed the character of Don with such expertise that we, the reader, come to appreciate and understand him in all his awkwardness.

The underlying theme of the book is that we are all different, yet all the same, all anyone wants is to be loved and valued. Simsion’s skill is in the humour, it moves the story along at an enjoyable pace.

This is one of those books that produce spontaneous laughter if you don’t want to be known as the crazy, laughing, train, person, it‘s probably best to save your reading for home. Option two is you celebrate your inner crazy and let people see the Dustjacket, and, they’ll think what a good book that must be. Think of it as spreading The Rosie Project word. The movie rights have been optioned, and this book will convert fabulously into a film, and I’m buying a ticket.

The Bone Season

Bone-Season-Samantha-Shannon-bloomsbury-cover
Sometimes you need a doctorate to keep your finger on the pulse of the publishing world.New books, new authors, emerging every minute, it can do your head in. When the latest, hottest thing is buzzed about, I get excited and worried. I know I’m going to read it, but I worry whether I’ve succumbed to the hype. This brings me to the much hyped book “The Bone Season” by Samantha Shannon, likened, of course, to J.K Rowlings. Publishers are very quick to put this on a sleeve, but just this once what if it’s justified. i mean she did get an eight book publishing deal – amazing!
So what was it like?
It’s a dystopian world set in London and Oxford, England in the year 2025, with an alternative history. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and like any “good read” I was sad when it ended. The book did have some obstacles. The beginning is a bit of a slog, it takes some concentration to get through Samantha Shannons comprehensive world building, but once I locked it in my brain, i was fine. I just hope I don’t have to wait too long for the second book as my brain tends to leak and that stored information may have left and formed it’s own alternative universe elsewhere.