Monthly Archives: August 2013

BLINDSIGHTED by Karin Slaughter

I don’t want anyone I like to read this book. It made me feel the way I did around 25 years ago when I watched Silence of the Lambs for the first – and last – time. Sad, despairing of human nature and wondering how anyone could even think of such atrocious, evil, violent, cruel things, let alone do them. Nobody needs such images in their heads and this book is full of them. An undeniably well written thriller it’s nevertheless one I wish I hadn’t picked up off the shelf of the holiday villa. Drained and shaken by this tale of the hunt for a sexual serial killer I won’t be reading Slaughter’s follow up, for which there’s a teaser first chapter included here – this time the subject is abused children.

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EVEN STEVEN by John Gilstrap

You know how it is; there’s never quite enough space in your luggage for all the books you want to take so you end up reading the tatty eared paperbacks others have left on the shelves of your holiday home. Invariably they are either romantic drivel (think Danielle Steel) or other kinds of drivel (think Jeffrey Archer or Andy McNabb) and only a handful will be the kind of drivel that counts as guilty pleasure. Even Steven falls into the third rare category and there’s really very little to say except it’s tense, thrilling, exciting and instantly forgettable. Oh and a child gets kidnapped then safely returned to its mother so that made me cry – in sadness then later with happiness. The end.

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THE EVIL SEED by Joanne Harris

This was Harris’ first novel, recently reprinted and it contains many of her trademarks – gothic horror, evil magic, dark desires and obsession. Told by two voices it’s the haunting tale of a woman who bewitches and devours unsuspecting men. When she comes into the life of Alice’s ex-boyfriend Joe, Alice assumes her reaction is just jealousy but then discovers the paintings and diaries of a previous victim. Drawn into the mystery woman’s lives, past and present, Alice realises that the only way to stop history endlessly repeating itself she must kill the bloodthirsty seductress. From its Cambridge setting full of alleys, sinister fairgrounds, weirs, madhouses and decaying churchyards, to the Romantic references such as Ophelia, THE EVIL SEED is atmospheric, nightmarish and sensual. At times the writing is clumsy and the merging of the voices from past and present at the end doesn’t work especially well, but it seems Harris’ skill as a brilliant storyteller is one she possessed from the outset.

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A PRIVATE PLACE by Amanda Craig

The idea that children can be cruel is taken to extremes in this scathing and vicious portrayal of an overly liberal boarding school in which woolly teachers are as culpable as their bullying, materialistic charges. Knotshead’s founder believed that a beautiful natural environment would allow students’ inherent goodness and talents to shine through. However the pastoral idyll of which he dreamed is in fact more of a nightmare, with sexual assault, bribery, misogyny, power struggles, violence, corruption, lies and double standards rife. A PRIVATE PLACE follows a handful of pupils as they try to survive a school year – either by trying to climb the Knots hierarchical ladder of popularity or resigning themselves to ongoing reject status. As the unpopular headmaster’s sister in law, Alice has an especially difficult time of it but things start to improve when she meets arrogant American Winthrop and surprises herself by falling in love. As the pair confront the Knotswood orthodoxy they ironically gain a degree of acceptance but there’s an inevitability that the whole thing will end badly. And so it does, with the school literally and metaphorically swept away in a tide of sexual scandal, murder and political infighting amongst the staff. As a work of satire A PRIVATE PLACE is very successful but I was left frustrated that it didn’t amount to something more. There’s much about Alice, for example, that reminds me of myself at that age – especially the determination to be different, to reject defensively as a way to avoid rejection – but she’s pretty insufferable (perhaps I was too!) and as readers we are deliberately prompted to think about what has made her so. In common with most of the younger characters in the novel, she epitomises the raging nature vs nurture debate that is at the heart of the Knotswood philosophy. It’s pretty clear what the author thinks and to avoid any doubt this edition ends with a brief note about her own experiences of being bullied in a liberal boarding school. She makes her point well and all the evidence is there before the reader and yet as a response this book doesn’t really rise to the occasion, perhaps because at times it seems a bit too clever for its own good. So overall my verdict is that whilst undoubtedly unsettling and dark, A PRIVATE PLACE doesn’t quite live up to its full potential.

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THE BAT by Jo Nesbo

The first of the Harry Hole series, THE BAT tells how the detective caught his first serial killer in Australia, thereby earning himself a degree of fame and a certain reputation back in his native Norway, whilst also paving the way for his being called on when suspected serial killers strike in future. Much of the clever police work here is actually done by an aboriginal officer who befriends Harry and becomes something of a mentor and its clear how his advice, approach and attitude have shaped the detective we know from the later novels. We also learn a bit more of Harry’s personal backstory, including about the alcoholism that is such a strong feature of the character Nesbo has created. The case starts with the murder of a young Norwegian woman and is focused on Sydney’s underworld, including prostitutes and drug dealers. A drag queen, a great white shark and various aboriginal tales also make an appearance. Not quite as smart as other Harry Hole stories – I guessed whodunit relatively early on – THE BAT is, nevertheless, a great read and perfect for the beach!

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DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth

“We believe in ordinary acts of bravery, in the courage that drives one person to stand up for another” – Dauntless manifesto.
Yet more dystopian fiction for teens – this time set in a city where the population is divided into factions according to their personality traits. Amity for the peacemakers, Candour for the honest, Erudite for the knowledge seekers, Dauntless for the brave and Abnegation the Selfless. At 16 each individual must take a personality test and use the results to choose the faction which will become their home and family. Most stay in the faction where they have been raised but some transfer including Beatrice and her brother Caleb, the children of one of Abnegation’s Leaders. As Beatrice – who rechristens herself Tris – undergoes the training and assessment that will hopefully allow her to become a fully fledged member of her new faction she struggles to understand what she was told at her personality test, to reach her own definition of what is meant by bravery and with the discovery of secrets about her family and her new friends. As Tris’s suspicions that the founding principles of each faction are being abused by those intent on seizing power are confirmed, she has to fight for her life and to save those she loves, drawing on the qualities that mark her out as a Divergent and therefore not truly at home in any faction. Brutal at times, sensitive at others, this will make a cracking film (and no doubt someone has already snapped up those rights!) and I can’t wait for the sequel: Insurgent.

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BRIDE OF NEW FRANCE by Suzanne Desrochers

This was recommended to me as the perfect historical read when I was trying new genres during the eclectic book challenge. Set in 17th century Paris then moving to New France – ie Canada – it charts the story of one of many filles du roi, women and girls sent by the king to be wives and mothers so that the colony can be populated with French citizens. The women, some fleeing rural poverty for the chance of a better life, some orphans like Laure, the central character, some simply destitute or deemed mad, have little or no say in the matter. Laure herself has been raised as a bijou, trained for life as a seamstress and to dream of perhaps one day catching the eye of a duke. But a single act of boldness marks her out as a troublemaker and from that moment onwards she struggles to accept her new destiny. That same boldness gets Laure into more trouble as the tale unfolds but also gives her the edge she needs to survive the months long voyage from Paris, the death of her only friend, the hardship of life in a Canadian settlement, an unhappy marriage, an affair with a so called savage and having to give up a new born child. There’s a real richness of historical detail in the novel that I enjoyed enormously and Laure is an intriguing and credible heroine. The fact that I was disappointed when the book finished what felt a bit abruptly is testimony to how much it drew me in – ultimately historical or more modern I love a good story and this one definitely fits the bill.

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