Friday, 21 March 2014

Book Review: That Dark Remembered Day by Tom Vowler

It's 2012 and Stephen should be happy, he lives near the sea with a loving wife and child and has fulfilling job as a university technician. In fact he's angry, angry enough to risk losing his job when in a moment of madness he loses his temper. Now on suspension he is spending more and more time drinking in the pub. Then comes the phone call telling him his mother is ill and asking him to return to the place he has tried to forget. Something awful happened in Stephen's past, something that tore his family and town apart and changed several lives forever. Now he has to go back and face his memories and people who may not be ready to forgive.
In 1982 Mary hopes she is moving towards her dream life, her  run down house and outbuildings need several repairs but in time she hopes they will be able to take on paying guests and live an increasingly self-sufficient lifestyle. Her teenage son Stephen is in his last year at school and has his first girlfriend, her daughter Jenny is about to start secondary school. They're just waiting for Richard, her husband to finish his last few days in the army. Then Argentina invades the Falkland Islands...
That Dark Remembered Day is an absorbing story of secrets and loss, lies and forgiveness. Beginning with Stephen's present day difficulties, the story switches to the past where first through Mary and later Richard we are led gradually but inevitably to the tragedy of that devastating day in 1983.  This is an often anguishing read, the sense of isolation, both the physical and mental is almost palpable. I was lost in its pages unable to stop reading until the early hours of the morning. It's still early in the year but I know come December this will be on my list of the best books I've read in 2014. A disturbing but utterly compelling read.
My grateful thanks to the author and publishers for my copy received through Netgalley in return for my honest review.

That Dark Remembered Day is published by Headline.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Bobby Ether and the Academy by R Scott Boyer

A boy loses his parents, discovers he has unexplained powers and is whisked off to a mysterious academy where he'll be taught how to use his gift. Sounds familiar? Thankfully despite the obvious initial similarities Bobby Ether isn't another Harry Potter and the Academy is most definitely not Hogwarts.
Bobby isn't magic, we quickly learn at the start of the book that there is no such thing as magic. Instead a few people are able to control energy and use it to work for them - or against others. Bobby discovers by accident that he has this rare gift and what follows is a thrilling and well-crafted adventure.
There are the ubiquitous friends and enemies at the Academy of course, the most likeable and engaging being the eight year old genius Jinx, brother to Ashley, who swiftly becomes Bobby's nemesis, and son of the Headmistress of the Academy. The children in the story are for the most part pretty simplistic in this first novel of the series and it's obvious as to which side they're on but I imagine there will be further character developments as the series progresses. The adults I found to be more interesting with some ambiguity around their morals and motives. I did guess some of the plot twists although not enough to spoil my enjoyment of the book. The mix of Eastern mysticism with scientific advancements and some pleasingly dark and sinister moments plus a superb cliffhanger made for a book I would recommend, particularly to older children and young adults but even as a not so young adult I am looking forward to the sequel to Bobby Ether and the Academy.
Thanks to the author for my free copy received through Netgalley in return for my honest review.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Book Review: Benediction by Kent Haruf

Benediction, recently shortlisted for the Folio Prize, is the third Plainsong novel but true to form I haven't yet read the other two. Fortunately this doesn't matter because it's not a sequel rather a look at some of the other residents of Holt, a quiet country town in Colorado. In particular it follows the last few months of Dad Lewis who at the start of the book is diagnosed with terminal cancer, his wife Mary and their adult daughter, Lorraine. Next door Berta May is adapting to life with her eight year old granddaughter following the death of the girl's mother and Willa, an elderly widow and her unmarried daughter Alene are good friends to both families. The town also has a new preacher, Reverend Lyle, a man whose heartfelt but contentious beliefs will divide the town and his own family.
The writing here is sparse and stripped bare of metaphors. Adjectives are plain and functional. Haruf has even foregone speech marks meaning prose and speech blend into one. This I must admit took a little getting used to but it's actually a very effective device for these quiet voiced people, they are as much a part of the landscape as the dirt tracks and open fields that surround them. The characters themselves are somehow straightforward and complicated at the same time, they are regular people, with regular lives and regular deaths, flawed individuals living in a repressive small town where narrow-mindedness and fear can lead to sudden violence yet still there can be gentle acts of compassion. Haruf never judges his characters nor tells us how to feel, they are what they are;  loyal, scared, bitter, dogmatic, angry, moral, obligated and kind. It's a book that is more complex than its deceptively simple prose would at first have you believe, a reminder both of the footprints left by each individual and yet the relentless continuity of life.  I enjoyed it immensely and look forward to reading the first two books, Plainsong and Eventide soon.
Thanks to the author and publishers for my free copy of Benediction through Netgalley in return for my honest review.

Benediction is published in the UK by Picador.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Book Review: Glow by Ned Beauman

This is a tricky review to write because I'm not really sure how I felt about the book. Glow tells the story of Raf, a young man from south London. Raf fed up with his lot, he has a sleep disorder - non-24-hour sleep/wake syndrome causing his circadian rhythm to be out of sync with the rest of the world, meaning he can't keep a regular job, has recently split from his girlfriend and is living on the fringes of society. He spends his time working on computer programmes, looking after a guard dog for a pirate radio station and searching out the latest street drugs. Then his boss disappears and Raf turns investigator.
What follows is an international tale that involves dodgy multinational companies, missing Burmese people, a mysterious girl, silent white vans, the drug Glow and lots of foxes. It manages somehow to be entirely believable whilst also seeming completely ludicrous; the book covers in-depth pharmaceutical chemistry, the sudden industrialisation of a remote village thanks to the arrival of a mining company and even the internal conflict in Burma, meaning the story whilst not always easy to follow always feels confidently erudite.  The oft-used metaphors are sharply observed too,
"At first dilapidation would reveal the differences, but later it would begin to elide them: the two worlds would diverge and then converge, in the way that two half-siblings might look the same as kids, different as adults and the same again as skeletons."
However, somehow it never really grasped me and I'm not entirely sure why. I liked Raf, enjoyed the writing and generally found it an intriguing plot. I just never felt the tension, it struck me as thriller without the thrills. I was waiting for the heart-racing moment and although it came close it didn't quite deliver. I liked it but I never had that "I need to find out what happens next" feeling and I could go a few days without wanting to pick it up.
Ultimately I guess it's a bit like the old Blind Date days when a couple would meet and really get on but there was no romance. I did enjoy Glow but for me it just didn't have that spark. I'm sure many people will feel differently though and I hope it gets the readers and acclaim it deserves.
I received my copy of Glow from Netgalley in return for my honest review.

Glow will be published in the UK on May 8th 2014 by Hodder & Stoughton.