Saturday 15 May 2010

Bad Faith by Gillian Philip * * * * *

It's almost like getting 2 books for the price of one with Bad Faith.
First, there's a murder mystery. Cass finds a dead body, thinks she knows who the murderer is and hides the body, meanwhile more of her friends and family present themselves as potential murderers - it seems the whole town has a reason to have killed this man.
But also, from the very first page, we are plunged into an alternate, but all too believable, dystopian world. A loosely disguised Scotland is under the dictatorship of Ma Baxter, "President, First Minister and Mother of the Nation", backed by the One Church, where thoughts and actions are policed by the mob rule of religious militias and dissent punished speedily. The murdered man is one of Ma Baxter's most influential supporters, Bishop Todd Lamont, leader of the One Church, whose past crimes are now catching up with him.

The story is told from the point of view of teenager Cass and her world is revealed gradually as she discovers the corpse, the hidden family secrets and how far it is or isn't possible to rebel against the regime. With a privileged and somewhat protected position in this society her view is different to that of her boyfriend Ming who takes it for granted that his secularist parents have been arrested - again! and this time may not be coming home.
An excellent thought-provoking book that deserves more than just a teenage readership. It works well at both levels - as whodunnit and chilling vision. The characters are real, believable people - from Cass's faith-questioning father, her over-protective brother to the religious gangs out to intimidate any who step out of line.
If you liked The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood or even Brave New World by Aldous Huxley give this a try.

Sunday 9 May 2010

Triskellion 2: The Burning by Will Peterson - Five *

When I first saw online adverts for the latest Triskellion I was fascinated. It sounded good - in fact it sounded brilliant - but I had never heard anything of it and this was book 2. I could not see how, if it was that good, it had got by me. By careful wrangling I managed to get my hands on a copy of book 2 and added it to my reading pile. It nearly took over the reading pile as I made the mistake of reading the first chapter at elevenses on the day it arrived! However I dutifully finished the excellent read I had in progress while reading the odd chapter of 'The Burning' when it was the first book to hand.

We follow on from book 1 (obviously) with Rachel and Adam, along with their mother, Kate, flying from Triskellion in a helicopter believing they are being taken home. To their horror they are taken to the HOPE projects buildings for 'protection' where they are drugged and investigated like lab mice to find out what is special about them.

They escape from the project with the help of Gabriel and set about their fast moving and action packed adventures. Pursued by the project they travel from country to country finding they are not always welcome and not pursued only by the HOPE project. As they flee Gabriel shows new and ruthless facets to his powers and abilities and encourages them to explore their own abilities and develop their powers. During their adventures they meet new friends who have special powers as well and a trail of death and destruction follows them from country to country - but mostly not of their making.

The book deals with death, not only of the baddies but also friends and loved ones, but on occasion that death is truly horrific and is captured excellently and horrifically. Maybe the horror wouldn't affect kids as much, but then I hate bees. Oh yes there are bees in the story too.

This book is truly excellent and I am baffled that it is a book aimed at children. Am I one big kid? Maybe I am and I have read a lot of children's/young adults books lately. Some of those books feel like children's books, some feel like young adults and some, like The Burning, feel like they would be enjoyed by adults just as much. I have to say Triskellion has all the makings of a film or films and that would be sad. Why? Because the book reads like TV episodes and I could imagine sitting down to watch episodes of Triskellion, with my daughter, at a Saturday tea time. However TV is the poor brother of Film so I imagine it will become a film first. Ne'er mind.

If you like adventure, then read this book. It isn't about fantasy, but it is a form of fantasy. If you liked 'The Champions', 'Knight Rider', 'Billion Dollar Man' or even 'Harry Potter' then read this. I suppose my next job is to try to wrangle the next book, for which there is a prologue taster in the back!

At nearly 500 pages it's not a train journey read, but by it for the train and you can finish it later in that meeting you were going to.

A similar read would be Mortlock by Jon Mayhew.

Thursday 6 May 2010

Wasted by Nicola Morgan * * * * *

Jess longs to be a singer, to go to music college if her near-alcoholic mother will allow.
Jack has a band in need of a singer, but also a dangerous obsession with chance and luck, building his life around a misunderstood, accidentally overheard conversation.

By chance, they meet.

But Jack has reached a point where he can no longer make decisions for himself, he has come to rely too much on the toss of a coin to choose for him and finally when the flip of a coin WILL decide his future will he hesitate too long?

The story opens with Jess sitting in a waiting room, idly tossing a coin and finishes with the reader being asked to toss a coin to decide the ending, along the way exploring the extent to which chance and luck influence out lives. At several points in the plot we are given 2 versions of events - shown how little things, such stopping to answer the phone or not, waiting for a car to pass before crossing the road or running in front of it, can make a big difference in how events unfold - the seconds difference between near- miss and an accident - and also how the characters may feel they've been lucky when they actually were unlucky.
Whichever way the final flipped coin lands, this marks a point from which the characters must make their own decisions, take charge of their lives and not leave it to chance.

This was one of those rare books that I found really difficult to put down. I was tempted to try to finish it in one sitting though was worried that by dashing at it I would actually spoil it. I DID spin a coin for the ending (heads), though read both, of course.
Since finishing Wasted, I've found myself thinking more about the 'supporting' characters; - about how Jess's mother also, in her own way, had left her life to chance instead of taking control and shaping it herself; and about Jack's twice widowed father, who suffers so much tragedy yet appears to come through it a well-balanced, content individual.
Truly an amazing book that really makes you wonder about the little chances that life turns on. A story about love, fate and the danger of leaving things to chance. The writing style allows/encourages the reader to sit back and see Jess and Jack's story from a distance, to see the options open and close around them, but also, I felt, to think about other good or bad luck stories one has heard or experienced - such as the day when having just joined a dual carriageway the car behind us somersaulted into the air - if we'd been travelling a little slower would we have been in its path? or the tale of my father's friend in the Navy during WW2 who was several times transferred from ships that were hit and sunk shortly afterwards.

Although targeted at a Young Adult readership, I feel this book would appeal to a much wider range - I absolutely enjoyed it (sadly, no where near Young Adult age) and my 12 year old daughter, having read the first chapter, is anxiously waiting to read the rest.
This is an incredibly compelling read, one I thoroughly enjoyed and one which above all made me stop and think.

Tuesday 4 May 2010

Castle of Shadows by Ellen Renner * * * *

Charlie is an unusual princess - since her mother vanished one night 5 years ago, she's been left very much alone - her father has retreated into his own private world, the castle staff rarely pay her any attention. She has grown up to be an adventurous tomboy with the whole of the castle as her playground.
The chance finding of a letter written by her mother fills Charlie with an unstoppable need to solve the mystery of her mother's disappearance.
Along the way she makes new friends and discovers the secrets of old ones.

This is a book filled with lots of excitement and many twists and turns of plot as Charlie and her new friend, Toby, try to uncover the truth. Charlie is a determined princess insistent on playing her part in unravelling the mystery, even when it may lead to danger. There are many thrilling, suspense-filled moments as the quest leads Charlie and Toby through underground tunnels or fleeing for their lives across the castle rooftops. A book that will appeal to girls with a liking for adventurous, action- packed reading.

One slight niggle with this book - the synopsis led me to somehow expect an adventure set in a more magical fairytale land - of weird and wonderful creatures maybe - rather than the not quite Victorian setting it has. This isn't something that detracts from the book but it just wasn't quite what I anticipated.

Sunday 2 May 2010

Almost True by Keren David * * * * *

Almost True is the sequel to Keren David's debut novel When I Was Joe but oddly I haven't read that. I was trying to get hold of a copy when Almost True arrived on my doorstep - a prize from the online book launch party thrown at Nayusreadingcorner for When I Was Joe, when the actual one had to be cancelled due to snow. So now I was faced with a dilemma - wait an unknown time for the postman to deliver Joe or read the sequel first. I was going to wait, which is after all the sensible thing to do, BUT I idly picked up Almost True, quickly skimmed the first few pages and decided I didn't want to wait but would read it straight away.

From that point on, the very first page, I was hooked.

Following a fatal stabbing, Ty and his family have been given new identities by the police, but this does not mean they are safe. Forced to move on, Ty is hidden with relatives he never knew he had but, torn between wanting to see his girlfriend and being terrified he's confided in her too much, he doesn't know who to trust and where to turn.

Almost True is an immensely enjoyable read - so gripping that I didn't want to put it down and sat up till 2am to finish it! I was pleased to find that it DID work as a stand-alone novel. There are enough references within it to sketch out the 'plot so far' but not enough to stop me from wanting to read "When I Was Joe" - after all there's a lot more to a novel than an outline of events and how they culminate.

Almost True is filled with believable characters, from 'wannabe cool' teenagers to middle-aged, middle class, with well-captured dialogue. The reader is carried along by events - action-packed, tense or funny - while the plot twists and turns -and really taken inside Ty's head as he tries to sort his friends from the villains, finding who to trust and ultimately discovering that he must come to terms with his past in order to have any future.

An exceptional read for teenagers and any adults who don't need to have psychos in their thrillers.