Monthly Archives: May 2012

THE BOY IN THE SUITCASE by Lene Kaaberbol & Agnete Friis

Nina Borg goes to the help of an old friend, Karin, and ends up collecting a suitcase from a locker at Copenhagen train station. Inside she finds a drugged toddler and shortly afterwards the murdered body of her friend. Nina goes on the run, trying to find out who the boy is and his  story, whilst also keeping them both safe. As a hero, Nina has been described by some reviewers as a more appealing version of Lisbeth Salander (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). I disagree. She is very different but equally interesting in her own right. Her character drives the story to its climax and the classic denouement of a good crime novel. The other characters are strong too –  multi dimensional and with each twist and turn we learn more about the roles they have played in the boy in the suitcase’s fate and their motivations. His mother’s story is particularly powerful and themes such as racism, trafficking and the cross over between underworld and apparent respectability are introduced subtly and sensitively. An intense psychological thriller THE BOY IN THE SUITCASE is a brilliant page turner – and an intelligent one too.


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HOW TO BE LOST by Amanda Eyre Ward

Caroline Winters’ life is a bit of a mess. She drinks too much, has a dead-end job and isn’t too good at relationships. So when she discovers a cutting from a newspaper that offers a clue to the whereabouts of her sister Ellie, who disappeared 15 years ago, Caroline decides to up sticks and try to find her. This book is the story of what happens as she travels across America and makes contact with a woman she thinks might be her long-lost sister. It also maps the way the family unravelled after Ellie disappeared and how the events of the past have shaped who Caroline, her mother and her other sister are today. There is another thread running through the book too, the significance of which we do not discover until close to the end.  Amanda Eyre Ward captures beautifully the every day detail and undercurrents of the relationships between Caroline and the other members of the Winters family, revealing that it’s not just Ellie who is lost.  Unmet expectations, disappointment and a clashing past and future have affected all the Winters family but as HOW TO BE LOST  reaches its conclusion they are offered a chance to leave the secrets and hurt of the past behind. It’s a lovely book – tender, darkly funny at times and I was rooting for Caroline in particular throughout.

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This trilogy for teenagers is set in a future where much of the world is underwater because of climate change related floods. Giant sky-cities on stilts have grown up where the citizens eat artificial food, breathe artificial air and spend much of their lives in a cyber reality. But the cities can’t accommodate everyone, so refugee boat people and treenesters cling onto life at the foot of the towering cities for the rich and privileged. Mara’s family leave their tiny sliver of remaining Scottish  island when it becomes clear the sea will soon leave them with nowhere to live. They set sail for a sky city she has heard about via the now virtually defunct “whizz” – the internet –  and so begins an epic hunt for a new home. There is some brilliant environmental stuff in here, including how people survive on what others consider rubbish and how technological solutions often just result in pale imitations of the natural way that has been destroyed.  Most powerful though is the extent to which inequality has shaped the future in which Mara lives. My biggest fear about climate change is the social divides it will create – how some people will be OK and the majority won’t. These books imagine what the world might be like if that is true. But they also imagine characters like Mara, driven and passionate, who will resist, fight for justice and challenge those who take power and use it only to benefit themselves. All Bertanga’s characters are well-developed, she throws in some interesting moral dilemmas and it’s great that she is making an abstract issue like climate change very real. This trilogy is a love story, an adventure, a fantasy and the story of a revolution. I’d have loved it when I was a teenager and loved it now too!

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ANGELMAKER by Nick Harkaway

Genius! I am tempted to leave it at that but then I wouldn’t get the opportunity to mention the golden bees that are unleashed unwittingly upon the world by hero Joe Spork. Or the psychopathic lunatic trying to be God. Or the submarine Cuparah that is saved from an attack by the brilliant Frankie who creates a brand new ice hull. Or the Apprehension Engine and the calibrating drum hidden in a death clock. Or the luscious Polly who is much more than Joe’s side kick. Or Edie’s sacrifice for love, the nuns, Lovelace the train, the spies, the war elephants, the hidden underground routes that traverse London, the codes, Bastion the pug with false eyes or all the science and engineering.

This is not as laugh out loud funny as THE GONE AWAY WORLD, Harkaway’s first novel, and in fact it has some very dark moments, including some prolonged torture. But it is just as mad – almost as mad as the idea that governments will join forces with evil dictators if they think it will serve their ends. Or that people deserve the truth. A political, action packed adventure to save the world this is a book I am sure I will read again and again.

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