Nowhere Girl by Ruth Dugdall

Nowhere GirlSet in Luxembourg, this story centres upon a missing teenager and what turns out to be a wider network of exploited and abused young people. All this happens right under the noses of everyday citizens too caught up in their own affairs or too disinterested to pay it any attention.

The abducted teenager (Ellie) goes missing at a fairground and there is a powerful image of her younger sister watching the empty carriages on the big wheel turning one by one, feeling more and more afraid.

Soon after, in a truck heading north, we meet Amina and Jodie, two Muslim girls hoping to find safety and a better standard of living. Amina’s experience of the new landscape in contrast to her life on the farm is beautifully described. She is open to new experiences but can’t help but wonder at the Christian spires which, to her, look like daggers as compared to the comforting curve of mosque roves.

The book has three more important female characters. One is Cate Austin, a recurrent character in Dugdall’s novels. As an ex-probation officer with a police detective boyfriend, she becomes more and more involved with the case. There is also Ellie’s mother and her high school teacher.

The ground is laid for a fascinating, twisty-turny tale with some delicious surprises – especially in terms of Ellie’s mother who isn’t at all the character I thought she was at the start of the novel.

Even so, recently I reviewed Humber Boy B (Ruth’s previous novel), and I thought it was far superior to this.

I enjoyed Nowhere Girl with its clean, effective prose however, at times, I found the characters and their actions unconvincing. Ellie’s terrible treatment at the hands of her kidnappers doesn’t seem to tie up with what happens later; Cate’s interference with an on-going police investigation seems incredibly stupid and naïve and I think most heroin addicts would snatch at a £20 note quick as blinking.

Overall, though, if you enjoy crime drama and want something a bit out of the ordinary, this could be the book for you.

Three and a half bites

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

Mai Black
I’ve always loved being surrounded by books, running my finger along the spines or sitting back, gazing at all the titles and authors, reliving those wonderful characters and places, often more vivid than real life.

Many of my books are historical or fantastical in nature but I enjoy anything that looks deep into the human psyche.

My favourites are David Gemmells’ Troy Series, The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger and A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson.

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

OnChesilBeach[1]

Set in 1962, the first chapter of this book introduces a young couple arriving in Dorset for their honeymoon.

Both virgins, they are fearful as to what is expected of them in the bedroom. Edward is desperately hoping the sexual act will be achieved ‘without absurdity’ whereas Florence experiences a ‘visceral dread.’

Reflecting the couples internal struggles, the vegetation around the hotel is ‘sensuous and tropical’ as if mocking them for their virginal naïveté.

At first, small steps are made. Together they eat a melon in less than two minutes and Florence manages to flirtatiously eat a sticky cherry but later, when Edward kisses her, she recoils in automatic distaste.

Leaving Florence to her disgust and panic, we are taken back in time to gain a fuller understanding of the characters, their lives and their falling in love. I didn’t particularly enjoy these sections of the novel but they had the effect of building up my anticipation. By the end, I was desperate to know the outcome.

At the end of this perfectly structured novel, we return to the present time to discover that Florence has left their bedroom and fled to the stark freedom of Chesil Beach where she is huddled against the cold, wracked with despair and guilt.

This is a book to be read slowly. The prose is so elegant, it is almost poetry and you only have to look at the front cover to guess how beautifully the settings are described.

It is no accident that it is set in 1962 as it comes just before the sexual revolution. As such it is a fascinating study of how sexual relationships have changed in the last fifty years.

This is a very powerful book which I know will stay with me for a very long time.

Five bites.

 

 

 

Mai Black
I’ve always loved being surrounded by books, running my finger along the spines or sitting back, gazing at all the titles and authors, reliving those wonderful characters and places, often more vivid than real life.

Many of my books are historical or fantastical in nature but I enjoy anything that looks deep into the human psyche.

My favourites are David Gemmells’ Troy Series, The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger and A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson.

Hannibal by Thomas Harris

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This is the sequel to The Silence of The Lambs. If you enjoyed the film but haven’t read the book, I highly recommend it and as for Hannibal? If Silence of the Lambs is ‘liver, fava beans and a good chianti’, this book is ‘liver, Beluga caviar and Champagne.’

The opening scene has FBI agent Clarice Starling leading a drug raid in a busy fish market. Realising the risk to human life is too great, she tries to call it off but her hand is forced by the local male-led police force desperate to show themselves her superiors. As a result, five people die and she is afforded the blame.

Whilst Clarice endeavours to do her duty as a member of the FBI, Lecter has been living it up in cultural splendour. We catch up with him in Florence where he has made a comfortable nest for himself, filling in for the recently disappeared curator of the Capponi Library.

Lecter’s delight in the sensory world, education and culture is in stark contrast to the calculating commercialism, sexual aggression, political manipulation and back-stabbing career-climbing of Starling’s existence. He makes the most of his freedom whilst every other character seems desperate to live in cages of their own construction.

And so the monster from the Silence of the Lambs becomes the hero of the sequel. The genius stroke was to line him up against Mason Verger – a man who delights in drinking martinis made from the tears of children. But Mason is not a comic book super-villain. We understand his vindictiveness which was bred into him at an early age. We may even forgive him some of his nauseating cruelty.

The book’s structure is beautifully drawn and the shifts in time, character perspective and tense are breath-taking. Also, I love the descriptions of Florence the concept of building a memory palace and the uncanniness of the final chapter where the reader is pulled in and out of the story.

If you love a good thriller and are possessed of an open, enquiring mind, odds are you ‘ll love it.

Five bites.

 

 

 

Mai Black
I’ve always loved being surrounded by books, running my finger along the spines or sitting back, gazing at all the titles and authors, reliving those wonderful characters and places, often more vivid than real life.

Many of my books are historical or fantastical in nature but I enjoy anything that looks deep into the human psyche.

My favourites are David Gemmells’ Troy Series, The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger and A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson.

Stonebird by Mike Revell

cover of Mike Revell's Stonebird
Click the picture to by from Amazon or support your local independent book shop by buying it from them!
After moving to a new house, the main character, Liam, stumbles upon an old church. Within it he finds a strange gargoyle exuding an unnatural warmth and power. The mysteries of the gargoyle are never fully explained but, in trying to solve them, we are taken into the fragile mind of Liam’s grandmother, the memories of his engaging story-telling teacher and to Paris on the outbreak of World War Two,

I found the situation with Liam’s grandmother to be particularly interesting. He has few memories of her and feels almost no connection as she is suffering with severe dementia and, on visits to the home, seldom recognises who he is. He explains this to himself by imagining she has a demon living inside her. Later, Liam finds a diary she wrote as a child where she says her favourite colour is yellow, how she loves having midnight feasts and gets annoyed by her mother’s singing. There is another revelation too – a much darker one – that leaves Liam terrified of what his own future holds.

Whilst reading this book, I was reminded of Morris Gleitzman’s Two Weeks with the Queen which deals with the issue of cancer from a child’s perspective. Both authors had the bravery to tackle heavyweight subjects and, no doubt, have helped many people deal with similar problems in their own lives.

Stonebird is written in the voice of Liam and he sounds very natural as a young person, dealing more in actions and thoughts than description. Even so, the author sneaks in a few poetic phrases, made all the stronger by the fact that they only occur once every few pages. One of my favourites is:

‘Moonlight fills the room with thin shadows. They drift and twitch on the walls.’

Another is:-

‘Behind the gate, the church reaches up as if trying to grab the clouds.’

The author writes in present tense which gave me the impression that I was standing very close to the main character. Despite the difficulty of writing this way, Revell manages to maintain a very fluid sense of time and space.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys modern children’s literature which explores the blurring of real-life and fantasy.

Four bites.

 

Mai Black
I’ve always loved being surrounded by books, running my finger along the spines or sitting back, gazing at all the titles and authors, reliving those wonderful characters and places, often more vivid than real life.

Many of my books are historical or fantastical in nature but I enjoy anything that looks deep into the human psyche.

My favourites are David Gemmells’ Troy Series, The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger and A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson.

Stonebird by Mike Revell

 

 

 

After moving to a new house, the main character, Liam, stumbles upon an old church. Within it he finds a strange gargoyle exuding an unnatural warmth and power. The mysteries of the gargoyle are never fully explained but, in trying to solve them, we are taken into the fragile mind of Liam’s grandmother, the memories of his engaging story-telling teacher and to Paris on the outbreak of World War Two,

I found the situation with Liam’s grandmother to be particularly interesting. He has few memories of her and feels almost no connection as she is suffering with severe dementia and, on visits to the home, seldom recognises who he is. He explains this to himself by imagining she has a demon living inside her. Later, Liam finds a diary she wrote as a child where she says her favourite colour is yellow, how she loves having midnight feasts and gets annoyed by her mother’s singing. There is another revelation too – a much darker one – that leaves Liam terrified of what his own future holds.

Whilst reading this book, I was reminded of Morris Gleitzman’s Two Weeks with the Queen which deals with the issue of cancer from a child’s perspective. Both authors had the bravery to tackle heavyweight subjects and, no doubt, have helped many people deal with similar problems in their own lives.

Stonebird is written in the voice of Liam and he sounds very natural as a young person, dealing more in actions and thoughts than description. Even so, the author sneaks in a few poetic phrases, made all the stronger by the fact that they only occur once every few pages. One of my favourites is:

‘Moonlight fills the room with thin shadows. They drift and twitch on the walls.’

Another is:-

‘Behind the gate, the church reaches up as if trying to grab the clouds.’

The author writes in present tense which gave me the impression that I was standing very close to the main character. Despite the difficulty of writing this way, Revell manages to maintain a very fluid sense of time and space.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys modern children’s literature which explores the blurring of real-life and fantasy.

Four bites.

 

Mai Black
I’ve always loved being surrounded by books, running my finger along the spines or sitting back, gazing at all the titles and authors, reliving those wonderful characters and places, often more vivid than real life.

Many of my books are historical or fantastical in nature but I enjoy anything that looks deep into the human psyche.

My favourites are David Gemmells’ Troy Series, The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger and A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson.

Humber Boy B by Ruth Dugdall

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Click to buy this from Amazon or order it from your local bookshop.
This novel is told from the perspective of three characters.

The first is Ben who, as a child, threw another boy off the top of Humber Bridge. We join him as he released from prison and attempts to reintegrate into society.

Second, is the murdered child’s mother who launches a Facebook campaign to help find Ben’s new secret identity.

Third, is Cate Austen who is Ben’s probation officer.

We are also given flashbacks to the day of the crime.

It is an ambitious structure but Dugdall absolutely pulls it off. At no point did I feel confused or frustrated but each chapter had enough unanswered questions and plot-twists to keep me guessing.

I particularly liked the introduction of ‘Silent Friend’. Their means of communication (anonymous messages on Facebook) makes them peculiarly believable and sinister.

The ending is both satisfying and surprising. There is a wonderful twist which, unlike some crime-thrillers, is not forced but flows naturally from the rest of the novel.

Highly recommended.  Five Bites.

Mai Black
I’ve always loved being surrounded by books, running my finger along the spines or sitting back, gazing at all the titles and authors, reliving those wonderful characters and places, often more vivid than real life.

Many of my books are historical or fantastical in nature but I enjoy anything that looks deep into the human psyche.

My favourites are David Gemmells’ Troy Series, The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger and A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson.

Lord of the Silver Bow by David Gemmell

Lord of The Silver Bow
Click here to get a copy from Amazon.

If you enjoy historical fiction, I highly recommend this book which is the first in a trilogy by David Gemmell. It is set in Ancient Greece and Asia Minor (now Turkey) during the build up to The Trojan War. The story follows the fortunes of a young boy called Xander who, on his first time aboard a boat, gets caught up in the most dramatic story of Ancient times.

Through Xander’s eyes we can marvel at the golden city of Troy and are introduced to our main characters: Helikaon, Argurios and the Lady Andromache. All three are paragons of virtue, courage and honour, but they have their faults and weaknesses, being all the more likeable for it.

In this book, Xander is very naïve, tossed on the currents of life as well as literally tossed on the currents of the sea. He doesn’t play a huge role in the rest of the trilogy but he bookends the tale, again taking a lead role in the final chapters of Fall of Kings and, in his small way, he shows more courage and heroism than most of the leading characters.

These books are my favourites of anything I have ever read. This first one is now lovingly bandaged with sellotape as I’ve read it so often. I adore the settings and the drama but what draws me back again and again is the characterisation and the emotion which comes as a result. Still, I have to read chapter thirty-five through a blur of tears.

Through Gemmell’s writing, within the space of a couple of lines, I have felt a strong empathy with a murderous pirate, a greedy merchant and a deadly assassin as well as the more likeable characters.

One of my favourite characters is Odysseus. In traditional Greek tales he is a handsome God-like hero. This Odysseus is overweight and extremely ugly. He is, however, a wonderful story-teller and through his tales we learn how he created his own myth as well as providing much of the supernatural mythology of Ancient Greece.

Owing to its huge cast, I found myself getting a bit confused the first time I read this, particularly in the first few chapters. If that happens to you, please persevere, then hopefully you’ll come to love this wonderful series as much as me.

A no brainer – five bites. Or am I allowed to give it six?

Mai Black
I’ve always loved being surrounded by books, running my finger along the spines or sitting back, gazing at all the titles and authors, reliving those wonderful characters and places, often more vivid than real life.

Many of my books are historical or fantastical in nature but I enjoy anything that looks deep into the human psyche.

My favourites are David Gemmells’ Troy Series, The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger and A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson.

The Casual Vacancy by J K Rowling

The_Casual_Vacancy[1]  As a massive Harry Potter fan I wasn’t happy when The Casual Vacancy first came out. It was as if J K was deliberately trying to annoy those adults stupid enough to enjoy what are essentially books for children, by giving them a real-life tale with possibly the most boring title in existence.

And the subject matter too seemed incredibly dull. Politics, poverty and middle England are OK as subjects for novels but they are not what you expect after the gorgeous diversity of her wizarding world.

Refusing to pay the standard £7.99, it was only when I saw it on a charity bookshelf that I decided to give it a go.

The first thing that struck me was her excellent insight into the way people think as opposed to what they say. At the start of the novel, Barry Fairbrother a passionate supporter of the under-privileged drops dead of a brain aneurysm. Publically, hailed as a tragedy, behind closed doors, many people quietly celebrate.

As in Harry Potter, J K demonstrates her ability to create a wide-ranging cast of believable, diverse characters. Each one has their individual desires and fears. Another way to see the novel is to think of it in terms of adults and teens. Most of the adults are engaged in left-wing, right-wing politics, while the teenagers are desperately trying to find their place in the world whilst surviving on a day-by-day basis.

My favourite of the teens is Krystal. She lives with her drug-dependent mother and much-neglected younger brother in a council estate called ‘The Fields’. Krystal is angry, confrontational and rude. I admired the way she looked after her younger brother and I pitied her situation, but, I have to admit, I wouldn’t want her for a neighbour.

This book, more than any other, made me question how I honestly feel about other people and to what extent I try to help those in need. I wasn’t happy with my conclusions.

It’s not a fun read. I’d go as far as saying it’s depressing, but the last three pages are probably the best I’ve read anywhere in literature. Afterwards, I sat in a darkened room for a quarter of an hour, tears running down my face, before turning on the light to re-read the last scene.

So far, I’m loving the BBC version of the book. I’ve heard that the ending is going to be a little less bleak. Overall, I think it’s a good thing. But I really hope they don’t lose the power of that final scene. That would be a real tragedy.

Five bites.

Mai Black
I’ve always loved being surrounded by books, running my finger along the spines or sitting back, gazing at all the titles and authors, reliving those wonderful characters and places, often more vivid than real life.

Many of my books are historical or fantastical in nature but I enjoy anything that looks deep into the human psyche.

My favourites are David Gemmells’ Troy Series, The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger and A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson.

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

This book is widely available so you should be able to get it in your local book shop!
This book is widely available so you should be able to get it in your local book shop!
This novel is set in 17th century Amsterdam and tells the tale of Nella, a young woman from the country, who marries a city merchant called Johannes, a much older man who she has only met once.

Nella is excited to leave her home for Amsterdam but is shocked by the cold reception she receives. There is no loving husband to greet her, only his cruel, spiteful sister and two servants indifferent to her needs.

Even so, where some might wallow in self-pity, Nella determines to make something of her new life and to win over the members of this hostile new family.

The one act of kindness Nella’s husband bestows on her is to give her a doll’s house of immense value. Incredibly, the doll’s house is an exact replica of the one in which she is living. Initially irritated by the gift as something a man would buy for a child, not a wife, Nella sets about finding someone to help furnish it. This leads her to the mysterious miniaturist who has uncanny knowledge of the objects and people in the house. There follows a number of strange occurrences and Nella finds it hard to tell whether the doll’s house is reflecting real life, predicting it or helping to influence it.

This novel was voted Waterstones’ book of the year and I can understand its popularity. It is an original premise and the setting is effectively realised with a wonderful mix of sensory images and an insight into the dealing of merchants both in terms of commerce and social structure.

Also, the mystery of the Miniaturist is very original and introduced in a subtle, intriguing way. I was impressed by the variety of the characters and it was great to see so many strong female characters especially considering they were living in the seventeenth century.

For me, however, the last few chapters were a real disappointment. I couldn’t find any resolution to my questions about the miniaturist. Also, the characters and their interactions which had so intrigued me, in particular Nella and her sister-in-law Marin, seem to act so out of character that I stopped believing in them in people. They seemed more like puppets on a stage. Maybe that’s the point…

Even so, I was left with a rather hollow feeling inside when I reached the last page. For that reason, I can only give it –

Three and a half bites.

Mai Black
I’ve always loved being surrounded by books, running my finger along the spines or sitting back, gazing at all the titles and authors, reliving those wonderful characters and places, often more vivid than real life.

Many of my books are historical or fantastical in nature but I enjoy anything that looks deep into the human psyche.

My favourites are David Gemmells’ Troy Series, The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger and A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson.