Thursday, 29 April 2010

Wasted by Nicola Morgan

I bought this one because I follow Nicola's blog, and she seemed so excited about this book's publication, I wanted to see what it was all about. It's a YA novel. Sadly I am not a YA, and therefore am not its intended audience. Also I now realised that I didn't actually realise what a YA novel really is. I suppose I thought it meant roughly the same as a crossover novel, ie one meant for kids but which also appeals to adults, like the Harry Potter series. But no, Wasted is an entirely different thing. It's aimed, I would say, at older teenagers. Fifteen and upwards. I think I'd have loved it when I was seventeen.

Actually I should rephrase that. I think I would first have loved it aged seventeen. I'm 44 now, and loved it anyway. When I bought it, I thought I'd pass it on to my kids. My older son (now 15) might like it in couple of years time (though there are no battling Romans or exploding orcs in it, so his tastes will need to broaden first). My younger son (now 12) is definitely too young for some of the themes.

That's what surprised me most about this book - the underage drinking, getting into clubs on false ids, spiked drinks, knife crime, alcoholism. Yes, all this goes on in real life. Yes, I guess all kids of the target audience range will be aware, to a greater or lesser extent, of all this. But I was surprised these things make it into books aimed at teens. (That's why I said I realise now I didn't know what YA fiction really was. When I was that age, there was no such genre. When you grew out of Enid Blyton and Arthur Ransome, you read your mum's Catherine Cooksons and Shirley Conrans, or your dad's Arthur C Clarks. Well, that's what I did anyway. It was that or my brother's Commando comics.)

Anyway the novel's been an education to me, in many ways. So what did I think of it?

Well, as I said, I loved it. Great voice. I would have said I don't like third person present tense, but it's absolutely right for this book. The language is simple and slightly staccato, but the prose is so well-formed it pulls you along quickly. The viewpoint is omniscient, we are hovering over the action, knowing everyone's thoughts, being given hints all through that tiny actions and decisions the characters make now are going to have unguessable and far-reaching consequences for them.

Because that's what the book's about - chance and luck, and infinite possible futures.

The time frame of the book is those halcyon days at the end of the summer term, when you've finished your last exams and are therefore free to do what you like. Jess joins a band and falls in love with Jack. Jack's obsessed with tossing a coin to make decisions, to make a sacrifice to fate in order to ward off bad luck. There's a gang of tarty girls who've got it in for the pair of them. Some bad stuff happens. Some bad stuff nearly happens. As the novel progresses, two versions of some chapters are given, to show how tiny differences can have huge effects on events. At the end the reader is invited to toss a coin to decide the final outcome. (I got heads. Sorry, Jack.)

It's a very unusual book, in terms of the voice, the theme and the structure. I hope it does very well.

Monday, 26 April 2010

The Missing

By Juliet Bates (Linen Press)

I bought The Missing following a review by Sally Zigmond, which led me to the Linen Press website. I also read a piece by Linen Press publisher Lynn Michell in which I was appalled to find that she makes a LOSS on every book sold via Amazon. Well I knew small presses made a lot less through Amazon than by selling direct, but to make a loss!?! I resolved to always buy small press books direct from the publisher, and also to try to buy about half my books from small presses in future.

Anyway, what about the book? It appealed to me because of the mystery element - who was this woman who may or may not be Anastasia, daughter of the Tsar? I've recently read another book about the end of the Russian royal family so was familiar with the events. But The Missing is an altogether different book, with themes of missing persons (of course!), and missing memories. How we rewrite our memories to fit with what we want to believe, now.

Journalist Frances is in Paris, trying to track down a woman named Ania believed by some to be Anastasia. But she's also trying to track down her past, her mother who walked out when she was six. And is she trying to find herself as well? There are stories within the story here - different versions of Ania's history given by different characters, and different takes on episodes in Frances's past as well.

Throughout the prose is beautiful, descriptive and melancholy. It carried me along in a gentle and seductive way, and I enjoyed the book immensely.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Hope Against Hope

Hope Against Hope By Sally Zigmond

Romping Victorian drama - two sisters separated by circumstances at the dawn of the Victorian era, when railways were the New Best Thing. We follow their fortunes in Harrogate and Paris, and eventually they're reunited.

Lovely memorable characters. Great plot. And Harrogate itself becomes a character - I love it when the setting becomes alive like this, without reams of description. It was a page-turner, a book for the beach. I should have left it for my summer holidays but couldn't.

I like historical fiction and am drawn to literary historical novels more than the family saga type. This one fell cleverly somewhere in between.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Affinity - Sarah Waters

I'm a big fan of Sarah Waters' books. I love historical fiction, and her World War II book, The Night Watch, was one of the best books I've ever read. So when I spotted Affinity while browsing idly in WHSmith one day I decided to treat myself.

I wasn't disappointed. While it didn't knock The Night Watch off my top spot, it was hugely enjoyable and hard to put down. I found myself curled up out of the wind, beside a stream which fed into Buttermere lake, reading it last week. Was annoyed when the rest of the family wanted to get on with the walk.

It's a spooky tale of a Victorian spinster who becomes involved with a woman in Millbank prison. The woman's been convicted of assault - she's a spirit medium and something went wrong at one of her sittings, a girl got hurt and her patron died of a heart attack. As the story progresses and the spinster becomes more and more involved with the convict, you have to decide whether the ghostly happenings are real or fraudulent. You're sucked into liking the convict character, so you want to believe her, but is she for real?