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Archive for the ‘Contemporary Fiction’ Category

Title: Out of Reach

Author: Kendall Talbot

Genre: Romance, Suspense, Adventure

Opens: Lily Bennett reached into the satchel at her side and placed her hand on the leather-bound journal that had triggered her travelling more than three thousand miles out of her comfort zone.

Blurb: Lily saw the temple of Agulinta on television: a vast stone structure swallowed by the Yucatan jungle, rediscovered only now after hundreds of years. So why did the papers she found after her father’s death show the same mysterious carvings that puzzled archaeologists at Agulinta? Her search for answers pulls her to Mexico’s southern border, where the journey to the lost temple will take her through jungle and mountain, over waters home to crocodiles and drug runners, and into uncomfortably close quarters with a man whose need to wander has become a way of life. Australian Carter Logan’s work as a nature photographer has given him the excuse he needs to roam wherever his restless feet take him. But in all the time he’s travelled, he’s never been drawn to anyone the way he is to this determined, cagey young American. Lily’s perseverance through dirt, sweat, and danger to the heart of the ancient temple attracts him. But when the two of them are left alone and stranded in a vicious wilderness, their connection might prove the difference between life and death . . . if the secrets of the past don’t come between them first.

My thoughts: I discovered Kendall Talbot’s books in 2013 when I read her debut novel Lost in Kakadu which walked off with a swathe of awards. I have read quite a few of her books since and she has never let me down, so was thrilled to get my grubby little paws on her latest release.

I loved Carter and Lily – they were perfect for each other – and although they did not trust each other at first it was lovely seeing how the barriers gradually came down. Thanks to life on a dairy farm Lily had all the skills needed to survive in a jungle – she was not a helpless little miss at all.

…A laugh tumbled from his throat. “I really am lost in the jungle with Lara Croft.”…

The setting was wonderful, the jungle descriptions were so evocative that I could close my eyes and imagine myself there – except I had to open then again to keep on reading! Pesky monkeys, amazing wildlife, terrifying canyons to cross on rickety little rope bridges, and camping miles from the nearest settlement. But in paradise there is a snake – and this jungle paradise is no different. Not only a venomous snake that changed the agenda – but the human kind too – Drug dealers who don’t want witnesses. All too quickly the situation gets dire and Lily and Carter are running for their lives to get back to civilisation. But despite a death, danger, injuries and a chicken rescue mission there are a lot of light moments in the story to break the tension – and there is a lot of tension.

OUT OF REACH is action packed, Lily with her survival skills and Carter with the courage and strength make a perfect team. This is romantic action suspense at its best. Secrets are revealed, problems overcome and safety is eventually reached but not without more than a couple of ‘how the heck are they getting out of this’ moments.

The first in a series – I can’t wait until the next one is released.

For more about author Kendall Talbot – Click Here

A – Excellent Stuff – a real page turner and hard to put down. I carved out extra reading time just so I could finish it. This book got carted into the bathroom with me, read over meals, read at work, and/or kept me up late at night. If this author has more work, I will certainly read it.

With thanks to the Kensington Books and the author via Netgalley for my copy to read and review.

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Title: Us against You

Author: Fredrik Backman

Genre: Contemporary

Opens: “Have you ever seen a town fall? Ours did. We’ll end up saying that violence came to Beartown this summer, but that will be a lie, the violence was already here. Because sometimes hating each other is so easy that it seems incomprehensible that we ever do anything else.”

Blurb: After everything that the citizens of Beartown have gone through, they are struck yet another blow when they hear that their beloved local hockey team will soon be disbanded. What makes it worse is the obvious satisfaction that all the former Beartown players, who now play for a rival team in Hed, have. Amidst the mounting tension between the two rivals, a surprising newcomer is handpicked to be Beartown’s new hockey coach for the final game between the two rival towns. The new coach forms a new Beartown team around Amat, the fastest player you’ll ever see; Benji, the intense lone wolf; and Vidar, a born-to-be-bad troublemaker. But bringing this team together proves to be a challenge as old bonds are broken, new ones are formed, and the enmity with Hed grows more and more acute.

My Thoughts: Fredrik Backman has become one of my favourite writers, and joining him in a new book is always a pleasure. I reviewed Beartown (aka Scandal) last year and it made it to my top 10 list for 2017 – review is here – so I was very excited when I was asked to read this latest release. As with Beartown, US AGAINST YOU is a roller coaster ride of human emotions pinned around the build up to an ice hockey match – a real grudge match – but the focus is on the characters, and the town as a whole rather than a blow by blow description of the game. There is, of course, some descriptions – strategies, training and what have you – but the story of the people involved is the important part, not the sport.

Beartown is a place where hockey rules and is the reason for many people to justify their existence on this planet – to the extent that if hockey is taken away they are lost and adrift.

US AGAINST YOU is told from the point of view of wide range of characters – some of the characters are not reliable in their point of view, some who are manipulating things for their own gain, some characters have no hope and some who are seeing a light at the end of a tunnel and starting to make changes.

"Life is a bloody weird thing. We spend all our time trying to manage different aspects of it, yet we are still largely shaped by things that happen beyond our control. We will never forget this year, not the best of it, and not the worst. It will never stop influencing us. Some of us will move to different place, but most of us will stay. This isn’t an uncomplicated place, but when you grow up you realise that nowhere is"

Most of the characters from Beartown have returned and US AGAINST YOU picks up just after the traumatic events that occurred in the autumn and winter. It is now summer and the tension still hasn’t gone; the ‘blame games’ are still happening and there is an even bigger ‘us against you’ mood in the town. As he did in Beartown, Fredrik Backman tackles some very heavy current world issues such as peer pressure, homophobia, sexism, bullying, rape, and political skulduggery. The characters bloomed under his pen – both the innocent and the guilty.

At some point almost everyone makes a choice. Some of us don’t even notice it happening, most don’t get to plan it in advance, but there’s always a moment when we take one path instead of another, which has consequences for the rest of our lives. It determines the people we will become, in other people’s eyes as well as our own.

The Beartown Hockey Team manager – Peter Andersson – has had his whole world turn around after what happened to his daughter Maya. The only thing that got him through was his job – the team was his life. Now this has been taken from him and his life is falling apart and his marriage is on the rocks. Maya is still suffering from the fallout from her attack – her life is not a ‘happy every after’ even after the truth is made public. She depends on her best friend Ana more than ever. Maya’s young brother Leo is tired of being on the sidelines and being picked on – so he now decides enough is enough and takes action. Other characters who returned are Benji (I confess to him being my favourite) who has yet to come out of the closet; Amat and his best friend Bobo. All of these guys end up on the new team.

Adding to the mix are a some new characters – Richard, a politician who will confirm everything bad you thought about politicians and politics, and, shock horror in this women hating town (oh come on – of COURSE it is) a woman coach, Elizabeth Zackell, is hired to resurrect the Beartown hockey club. She is tough, skilled and utterly impartial as to how she treats the team members – a breath of fresh air as she treats all of her players equally instead of promoting one to the expense of the others. I loved her!!! There is also another new character Vidar, who is the new star goalie and a bit of a bad boy with a heart of gold type.

The first quarter of US AGAINST YOU is a little slow, as it is mainly setting the scene after the events of Beartown. Reminding the readers of the horrors that happened. Bringing the characters alive again on the pages, and filling us in on their current emotional statuses; some are not in a good place mentally. Then Fredrik Backman turns it up a notch and starts to layer up the new story at the same time as he gradually builds up the tension to the point where you know it is going to burst and the fallout won’t be pretty.

Confession time – while I loved reading the book and utterly recommend it to anyone who asked (note – is best to read Beartown first) – in my opinion it didn’t quite meet the dizzy heights of Beartown. I was surprised that there was even a second book as the story had seemed to be complete. I have heard that there is a third and final book in this series coming out next year, that Fredrik Backman had always planned on this to be a trilogy. It does make sense because this time I did actually feel that there were some loose ends which irked me. So I am looking forwards to visiting Beartown for one more time to learn its ultimate fate.

For more about author Fredrik Backman – Click Here

B – Great – I really enjoyed reading it and it is a book I will be recommending to all my friends who like this genre.

With thanks to the Atria Books, and the author via Netgalley for my copy to read and review.

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Title: Wildwood

Author: Elinor Florence

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Opens: I turned my back for a minute, and she was gone.

Blurb: Broke and desperate, Molly accepts the ironclad condition laid down in her great-aunt’s will: in order to receive her inheritance, Molly must spend one year in an abandoned, off-the-grid farmhouse in the remote backwoods of northern Alberta. If she does, she will be able to sell the farm and fund her four-year-old daughter’s badly needed medical treatment. With grim determination, Molly teaches herself basic homesteading skills. But her greatest perils come from the brutal wilderness itself, from blizzards to grizzly bears. Will she and her child survive the savage winter?

My Thoughts:

If you are looking for a whizz bang, thrill a minute story then WILDWOOD is not going to be for you. However, if you are looking for a story that draws you in from the very first page and gradually immerses you in a struggle for survival – then Bingo! You’ve found your book.

The main character is single mum Molly Bannister and she is at the end of her tether, as she has lost her job and unable to pay her rent so facing eviction. Out of the blue she gets a letter from a lawyer informing her she has inherited her great-aunt’s abandoned, off-the-grid farmhouse in the remote backwoods of northern Alberta. The farmhouse was abandoned when her great-aunt voluntarily admitted herself to a nursing home when she came down with Alzheimer’s – neighbours have been keeping an eye on it for years and it is exactly as she left it – fully furnished and sound. In order to fully take ownership of it Molly must live there for a year. Molly accepts the challenge with the plan of selling the house and land and move back to the USA once the year was over. Her daughter, Bridget, suffers from select mutism so she wants the money to pay for her daughter’s treatment.

What a contrast for this city dweller – Canadians drive on the ‘wrong’ side of the road and the cabin has no running water, no electricity and an outdoors drop toilet. With just $400 a month to live on, along with a 2 hour drive to Jupiter to get the money and supplies, Molly finds that cooking, cleaning, heating the house, washing their clothes and keeping clean in the back of beyond to be a huge challenge.

Fortunately she is not totally alone, out in the wilds neighbours look out for each other rather than ignore each other and she soon gets to make friends – and her great-aunt has left books behind. Including her diary about her first year homesteading in the cabin. Reading how her ancestor coped in the past – helped Molly survive in the present. There are other connections – including the fact her great-aunt had a close friend, Annie, who was a medicine woman from the local Cree community and now Annie’s granddaughter, Winona, is friends with Molly. This is a wonderful thread within the story.

The descriptions of the settings – the house, the land, the cold, the wild forests and animals are astounding and certainly gave me a sense of place. The characters just came alive on the pages and there is so much growth in the characters of Molly, Bridget and Winona. The author, Elinor Florence, also managed to subtly introduce some of the issues facing the farmers out there – not just the bitter winters, short growing season and isolation; but fraud, mining exploration and fracking.

For more about the author – Click Here

B – Great – I really enjoyed reading it and it is a book I will be recommending to all my friends who like this genre.

With thanks to Dundurn Publishers and the author via Netgalley for my copy to read and review.

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Title: Beartown (Please note: an alternative title for this book is ‘The Scandal’)

Author: Fredrik Backman

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Opens: Late one evening, toward the end of March, a teenager picked up a double-barrelled shotgun, walked into the forest, put the gun to someone else’s forehead, and pulled the trigger. This is the story of how we got there.

Blurb: People say Beartown is finished. A tiny Swedish community nestled deep in the forest, it is slowly losing ground to the ever encroaching trees. But down by the lake stands an old ice rink, built generations ago by the working men who founded this town. And in that ice rink is the reason people in Beartown believe tomorrow will be better than today. Their junior ice hockey team is about to compete in the national semi-finals, and they actually have a shot at winning. All the hopes and dreams of this place now rest on the shoulders of a handful of teenage boys. Being responsible for the hopes of an entire town is a heavy burden, and the semi-final match is the catalyst for a violent act that will leave a young girl traumatized and a town in turmoil.

My Thoughts: Although the events before, during and after an ice hockey match are the bones that the story is pinned on – the focus is NOT ice hockey. For which I was truly thankful because I know nothing about the game – other than it looks very dangerous! No, the book’s focus is on the individual characters that are directly involved, and also on the emotions of the township as a whole – this quote sums it up:

“…Hate can be a deeply stimulating emotion. The world becomes easier to understand and much less terrifying if you divide everything and everyone into friends and enemies, we and they, good and evil. The easiest way to unite a group isn’t through love, because love is hard, it makes demands. Hate is simple. So the first thing that happens in a conflict is that we choose a side, because that’s easier than trying to hold two thoughts in our heads at the same time. The second thing that happens is that we seek out facts that confirm what we want to believe – comforting facts, ones that permit life to go on as normal. The third is that we dehumanize our enemy…”

There is a diverse cast of characters and their different viewpoints are each recorded meticulously. Being a small isolated town in a remote area of Sweden the community of Beartown is tightly knit – they all know each other, and pull together to survive. The upcoming ice hockey match is currently the sole focus of the town, with the expected win to potentially turn the town fortunes around.

So, summed up, the hopes of the whole town all ride on the shoulder of one young star player. So when after a pre-match party he is accused of rape the focus of Beartown turns onto his alleged victim; she now becomes the only thing standing between Beartown finally declining and it’s rebirth as a society. You can imagine that sympathy is not a common thought towards her. The resulting furore becomes a catalyst for a very traumatic time for the community. With accusations and counter accusations flying; lies, innuendo and rumours being taken as fact – the citizens of Beartown almost immediately start to show their true colours and the lines are drawn. But what is more important – an ice hockey match or a human being? Friends become enemies, and enemies team up in a common cause. The many different actions taken are slowly woven together as each action causes a reaction that ripple-effects across the town and adds to the progress of the story. I became utterly engrossed as the story gradually unfolded.

Beartown was an emotional rollercoaster for me as my reactions to the events and conversations triggered my mood to swing from happy to angry to upset and back to happy again – sometimes in the same chapter! Often, the actions of the characters surprised me in how they reacted, especially when it was different to how I thought they should react. Beartown tackles some heavy issues – peer pressure, homophobia, rape culture and hero worship of sportsmen and women. All very current themes faced daily by different societies around the world.

An edge of the seat story – and, as I have said, an emotional rollercoaster that left me panting in exhaustion at the end.

For more about the author – Click Here

A – Excellent Stuff – a real page turner and hard to put down. I carved out extra reading time just so I could finish it. This book got carted into the bathroom with me, read over meals, read at work, and/or kept me up late at night. If this author has more work, I will certainly read it.

With thanks to Atria Books and the author via Netgalley for my copy to read and review.

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Title: Flesh and Bone and Water

Author: Luiza Sauma

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Opens: Andre, a few days ago I looked you up on the internet for the first time.

Blurb: Brazilian-born doctor André Cabral is living in London when one day he receives a letter from his home country, which he left nearly thirty years ago. A letter he keeps in his pocket for weeks, but tells no one about. The letter prompts André to remember the days of his youth – torrid afternoons on Ipanema beach with his listless teenage friends, parties in elegant Rio apartments, his after-school job at his father’s plastic surgery practice and, above all, his secret infatuation with the daughter of his family’s maid, the intoxicating Luana.

My Thoughts: The main theme of this book is about race and class distinctions in Brazil. There is a distinctive difference between the haves and the have nots – and Andre was certainly a rich white ‘have,’ while Luana is the poor dark-skinned ‘have not’. For me Andre was a typical spoiled rich boy, used to having his own way but bored with the aimlessness of parties and living behind the walls of his gated community. As he looks for a diversion his adolescent lust falls on the beautiful Luana who cooks and cleans for the household and has her own small room off the kitchen.

As a character, Andre didn’t excite me – he had no depth. I understand he is supposed to be a selfish and shallow young man – but even that characterisation fell short for me. I think Luana had more character than Andre and while the relationship meant more to her, it was certainly only ever a distraction from boredom for Andre – he was in love with the idea of being in love. I am surprised he became a doctor as he had no empathy whatsoever, and his comments about his patients show great disrespect. I found the flow of the story to be disjointed, and very slow in parts. In fact it took me a while to get into the story. I really never came to care about Andre, he was totally self-obsessed, cared for no-one. I did however care for Luana and I felt sorry for her as she felt true love for a young man incapable of giving any back.

This is a debut novel and it shows a lot of promise, Luiza Sauma’s descriptions of Brazil and the various activities – parties, beach days and family get-togethers for example – came alive on the pages. But on paper the relationship between the young Andre and Luana didn’t seem to evoke the passion that the older Andre seemed to focus on looking back, so because of this the main premise of the story missed the mark for me.

For more about the author – Click Here

C – Above average – was very readable and I really liked it but was easily able to put it down and walk away for a while.

With thanks to Penguin UK Publishers and the author via Netgalley for my copy to read and review.

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Title: The Life of a Banana

Author: PP Wong

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Opens:

“Just be glad that cat is in a better place. If this were Guangdong, she’d be in a peasant’s belly by now.”

Blurb: Xing Li is what some Chinese people call a banana – yellow on the outside and white on the inside. Although born and raised in London, she never feels like she fits in. When her mother dies, her older brother and she are orphans so they have to move in with their grandmother and mentally ill uncle. Not the warm and comforting grandmother most people have. This one is strict and vicious.

My Thoughts: Xing Li’s world has been taken from her and she has to fend for herself. Not only are things harsh at home – but life is brutal at her new school – horrifyingly so. The school is very prestigious and Xing Li is not only Asian she speaks with a cockney accent at well. Certainly not a worthy person in the eyes of the other students who are absolutely cruel. Xing Li is bullied and vilified almost to the nth degree and her only support is Jay, a part Chinese, part Jamaican boy who is also bullied but is more resilient.

As the book opens Xing Li has very little life experience, having been sheltered from the nastiness in the world by her mother. With her mother gone, and a grandmother who is almost as bad as the kids at her new school, Xing Li has to grow up quickly and learn to fend for herself. I have to admit though, I actually didn’t warm to her as a character although I sympathised with her predicament. I felt the bullying was a bit unbelievable, not the fact that bullying happens, but the level of the bullying that occurred; and the fact all this widespread activity was never discovered or noticed by staff at the school. And yes, I know bullying can happen at schools and fall through the cracks, but not in this type of situation – large scale – massed events. Unnoticed bullying is usually small scale – done when alone or there are no adult witnesses. No less traumatic but harder to prove and report. If the events were as bad as described in the story this would NOT have gone unnoticed.

Having said this, the story is important because if you don’t fit the norms of a society – the prevailing ethnicity, religion, disability etc – then you are very much likely to be suffering some type of bullying because of your difference. This, I think, is what the book is trying to get across. You may not recognise someone is a victim of bullying or abuse because you can’t tell by looking at them. I was also angry when Xing Li excused her grandmother’s punishments, yes this is abuse too, because her grandmother only wanted the best for her and had had a hard life herself. That’s ok then – grandmother was abused so it’s alright for her to abuse me – love you grandma! Now that right there is the attitude of a victim. And maybe I missed something, because this book has received rave reviews and was long listed for The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, but I’m not sure how effective the message of the nastiness of bullying is going to be as overall it is a very depressing story – with little to no hope, and an ending which left me asking more questions than giving me answers.

For more about the author – Click Here

C – Above average – was very readable and I really liked it but was easily able to put it down and walk away for a while.

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Title: My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises (AKA – My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry)

Author: Fredrik Backman

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Quote: Every seven-year-old deserves a superhero…

Blurb: Granny has been telling fairy tales for as long as Elsa can remember. In the beginning they were only to make Elsa go to sleep, and to get her to practise granny’s secret language, but lately the stories have another dimension as well. Something Elsa can’t quite put her finger on…’

Elsa is seven years old and different. Her grandmother is seventy-seven years old and crazy. Standing on the balcony firing paintball guns at men who want to talk about Jesus crazy. She is also Elsa’s best, and only, friend. At night Elsa dreams about to her grandmother’s stories, to the Land of Almost-Awake and the Kingdom of Miamas. There, everybody is different and nobody needs to be normal.

So when Elsa’s grandmother dies and leaves behind a series of letters apologizing to people she has upset, it marks the beginning of Elsa’s greatest adventure. Her grandmother’s letters lead her to other rooms in her apartment block full of drunks, monsters, attack dogs, and totally ordinary old crones – but also to the truth about fairytales, kingdoms and a grandmother like no other.

My Thoughts: MY GRANDMOTHER SENDS HER REGARDS AND APOLOGISES is written from the point of view of a 7 year old girl. A very advanced 7 year old girl, precocious even; many of my reading friends commented that the story does not read how a ‘normal’ 7 year old would speak – it didn’t bother me at all – I am suspecting Elsa is extra ordinary and may be either a genius or on the Autistic spectrum, possibly both! In the end it did not distract from the story rather it added another element.

Elsa’s parents are divorced and her mother is pregnant with her new husband, George. And her father is remarried and lives with his new wife and her children. Elsa is understandably concerned about her place within the two family units, wondering if the new children in her parents’ lives will push her out, she turns to her grandmother for the undivided attention that she so desperately needs. You see Elsa has problems – because she is advanced and openly reads Harry Potter books, Spider man comics and knows how to search Wikipedia, the other kids her age at school bully her terribly. Her parents don’t get it – thinks she is the one who is causing the trouble, only her grandmother understands and attempts to give Elsa the tools she needs to get through this emotionally turbulent time of her life. Her grandmother introduces her to the five magical kingdoms in the Land-of-Almost-Awake, each with a special logic and sphere for heroic action. The five kingdoms are so complex that I got lost once or twice trying to work out what was going on. There are storytellers from Miamas, the dream hunters from Mirevas, the sorrow-keepers from Miploris, the musicians from Mimovas, and the warriors of Mibatalos. These kingdoms were where Elsa could retreat in her mind as she tried to use them to explain the events that are happening around her.

Then, near the beginning of the book, her grandmother dies, and just before this happens she gives Elsa an envelope and asks her to deliver the letter to the person it is addressed to and that the person won’t accept it but Elsa has to insist and say “…granny sends her regards and says she’s sorry…” So begins the rest of the story, as Elsa starts out on her quest that has its basis in both the real world and the fantasy world of the five kingdoms. The first letter leads her to a Wurse (a giant of a dog that has to be hidden), and then the Monster (a man with cleanliness phobia and says little) and then with their help she moves on to many other characters that dwell in the five kingdoms – and in the apartment block that Elsa lives in.

“…Elsa decides they should begin by taking the bus, like normal knights on normal quests in more or less normal fairytales when there aren’t any horses or cloud animals available. But when all the other people at the bus stop starts eyeing The Monster and the wurse and nervously shuffling as far away from them as it’s possible to be without ending up at the next bus stop, she realises it’s not going to be quite so straightforward.

On boarding the bus it becomes immediately clear that wurses are not at all partial to travelling on public transport. After it had snuffled about and stepped on people’s toes and overturned bags with its tail and accidently dribbled a bit on a seat a little too close to The Monster for The Monster to feel entirely comfortable, Elsa decides to forget the whole thing, and then all three of them get off. Exactly one stop later…”

The quest becomes more dangerous and Elsa has to rely on the recipients of the letters to help her – and one will even lay down their life for her. Oh I cried buckets over that. The supporting cast of characters all live, as I mentioned before, in the same apartment block and are all connected to each other through granny. Like the 5 kingdoms their connections and their background stories are complex but by the end of the book all the dots are joined and the healing can begin for everyone.

Funny, moving, occasionally confusing, MY GRANDMOTHER SENDS HER REGARDS AND APOLOGISES made me laugh, and it made me cry, and I certainly felt inspired by people who lend a hand when help is required. It is not a children’s book – don’t think that because the main character is 7 that it is aimed at children. It is definitely a grown-ups book.

For more about the author – Click Here (sorry it is in Swedish so you’ll have to translate it)

B – Great – I really enjoyed reading it and it is a book I will be recommending to all my friends who like this genre.

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