Monthly Archives: February 2013

THE LAND OF DECORATION by Grace McLeen

Judith and her devoutly religious Dad don’t have an easy life, what with the bullying at school, the memory of Judith’s mum’s death and the various rules about what God does and doesn’t allow. So when Judith discovers that she can perform miracles by making things happen in the model world she has built from rubbish that then happen in real life too, she’s determined to tackle some of their biggest problems. But the unintended consequences seem to be even bigger problems and before long Judith feels totally out of control. What’s more God has forbidden her from telling anyone what’s happening and is turning into quite a bully himself. This is heartrending stuff, especially the chapter where Judith lists all the reasons why she knows her father doesn’t love her, which is picked up towards the end of the novel as she battles to do the right thing. And it’s not until the end that we know for sure Judith’s miraculous powers are not ‘real’ but the voices in her head most certainly are – turning out to be a problem she cannot solve alone. A superficial reading of The Land of Decoration might put religion in the dock but there’s so much more going on, including the long terms impacts of grief exacerbated by a chronic lack of communication. When her father loses his job and very publicly starts to fall apart, there’s a stark contrast with the quieter collapse that Judith is experiencing but ultimately both learn they don’t have to cope alone – and that they are incredibly important to one another.

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THE UNINVITED by Liz Jensen

Hesketh collects paint charts and uses origami as a way to manage his Asperger’s syndrome. His logical and analytical skills make him the ideal employee of Phipps & Wexman, expert trouble shooters in the face of corporate PR shocks. So when whistleblowers at a series of multinational firms expose apparent corruption and malpractice, Hesketh is sent in to work his magic. When those whistleblowers all commit suicide, Hesketh cannot help but start to look for patterns and then for links with a worrying global outbreak of seemingly unexplained violent attacks on adults by young children. During his investigation  he sees and hears things that his mind tells him simply cannot be happening – and when his ex-partner’s son attacks his mother, Hesketh realises that figuring out what’s going is critical to his personal as well as his work life. The premise of this novel didn’t quite chime with me but Hesketh is a fantastic creation and all he did and said rang true. His quirkiness complements the story rather than being it, which differs from books like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend and which I really liked. I also liked Jensen’s writing about the way that societies break down and the role that individuals can play to help or hinder this, a theme also present in The Rapture. Not my favourite book of hers but definitely worth a read.

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CARRY THE ONE by Carol Anshaw

Carry The One opens with a road accident as wedding guests drive home that triggers the unraveling of much that has gone before and haunts all those who witness it, often for the good. Siblings Alice, Carmen and Nick  are the main protagonists and the ups and downs of their careers, love lives and familial relationships are charted, with each chapter a window onto different stages of their lives, casting light onto tragedy and joy in equal measure. All three and credible and in Carmen in particular I found a character who made me question some the decisions I have made in my own life. Carry The One also takes in momentous events such as September 11th, dealing with it in the way I have always hoped a novel one day would yet couldn’t have identified until I read this one. If books have a message, this one’s would probably be about the importance of letting go of the things we cannot change and assuming responsibility for those we can. It’s beautifully written, American to the core, witty as well as painful to read at times, and one of those novels that I know will sit forgotten on my bookshelves to be rediscovered with pleasure like an old friend.

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FAIR EXCHANGE by Michele Roberts

The interwoven stories of various characters, including Mary Wollstonecraft, two of her former pupils, and William Wordsworth, this is really a study of gender equality in relationships in the 19th century. With revolutionary France as the backdrop, there’s also a wider political context that allows a range of novel – for the time-  living arrangements and ideas to be explored, all of which tend to leave women doing all the hard work, in practice even if not in principle, and especially if there are children involved. Much of this is to do with the drudgery of domestic life, the relentlessness of which Roberts depicts very convincingly. She’s also very skilled at unpicking the different reasons we are attracted to people, the selfish aspects of love as well as the sacrifices we can make, and at why some kinds of love endure more than others. There’s an unexpected twist at the end of this book that brought on the tears, but even without this it’s a wonderful read – the kind of book that creeps up on you gently rather than grabs you immediately and is somehow more memorable as a result.

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PURE by Julianna Baggott

At first this feels like a lot of other dystopian science fiction written for teenagers – from the gangs of feral children and genetically modified assassins, to the underground resistance movement and the presence of one special child that is destined to change the future. But some really clever twists and turns ensure it’s far from standard fare and Baggott’s development of some of these typical elements takes them to a whole new and incredibly sinister dimension.

Most people live in a dusty desolate anarchic world outside the Dome, fused with the items that were close by when the Detonations hit. In Pressia’s case this means her hand is actually a doll’s head, whilst Bradwell has birds’ wings fluttering across his shoulders. Inside is inhabited by the pure, whose lives are run with a military precision that cannot erode the memories of those they have been told perished in the Detonations. When Pressia turns 16 her life is turned upside down, as is that of the pure Partridge, whose father is one of the most senior figures in the Dome.  When the teenagers’ paths cross each discovers secrets from the past that appear to put them on a collision course with the Dome authorities, but to what extent is this a future that’s actually been carefully mapped out for them?

Like most fiction written for young adults, this is a rapid read and the gripping story meant I devoured it in the space of one weekend. There’s two more installments due ….and a film franchise too no doubt. Can’t wait.

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BAD MONKEYS by Matt Ruff

Jane is part of an organisation that fights evil but she has a tendency to break the rules – enough to keep getting her into trouble but not quite enough to get her kicked out completely.  Until, that is, she kills a colleague who is not on the hit list, gets arrested and tells her story to a shrink. As that story unfolds we find out that nothing is quite as it seems and are forced to ask is Jane mad? lying? or deliberately confusing us? From wanted posters that spy on you to ant farms that mimic the real world, Bad Monkeys bends your mind. And when the good Jane meets bad Jane things get really interesting. Thankfully, despite the basic premise of the good guys fighting the bad, it’s not overly simplistic from a moral perspective. Although the ultimate conclusion is that the evil are born that way, Ruff poses some interesting questions about whether that means all choices are pre-determined and the nature of redemption. There are more twists and turns here than you can shake a leg at and, for a fast-moving thriller, the main characters possess considerable depth – with that in itself part of a final completely unexpected twist. Clever, crazy and completely original, Bad Monkeys is a class act. It’s also crying out to be made into a film….

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