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The Shock of the Fall

The Shock of the Fall - Nathan Filer The Shock of the Fall is a gripping account of a young man's attempts to work through grief and mental illness. Teresa Majury of Lovely Treez Reads reviews the 2013 Costa book award winner. Full review at Wordhorse http://www.wordhorse.co.uk/review-the-shock-of-the-fall-by-nathan-filer.html#.UyG0p16vL-I

The Book Thief

The Book Thief - Markus Zusak Since it first came out in 2006 The Book Thief has divided its readers. It's like Marmite – you either hate it or love it. And those that hate it do so with a great deal of vitriol, which I’ve never quite understood... Full review at Wordhorse http://www.wordhorse.co.uk/review-the-book-thief-by-markus-zusak.html

The Foundling Boy

The Foundling Boy - Michel Déon, Julian Evans This epic coming-of-age story set in prewar Europe is considered a modern literary classic. It has been translated into English for the first time since its publication in France in 1975... Full review at Wordhorse http://www.wordhorse.co.uk/review-the-foundling-boy-by-michel-deon.html#.Ux9MbF50rVQ


Wool Omnibus (Silo, #1) (Wool, #1-5) - Hugh Howey A compelling read, Wool is set in a post-apocalyptic future in which humanity survives in a vast underground silo.

This is an unusual book in that it takes quite a long time to establish who the main protagonist is. The reason behind the odd structure is that it started life as a short story, released in the summer of 2011 via Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing platform. When audience appetite created demand for further instalments, author Hugh Howey wrote and released the rest of the story in four successive instalments — and gave up his day job at a bookshop. Thus, issues with the novel are often down to the manner in which it was put together. For instance, the romantic lead is not nearly as well drawn as the other main characters and seemed to appear out of nowhere. That said, it is a fascinating way of working, more akin to the serialised fiction popular in the Victorian era.

The reader's attention is absorbed in unlocking the mysteries of the silo — a vast underground structure comprised of 150 levels. The decayed world outside can only be seen via a screen that transmits an image of a ruined landscape. In the silo the ultimate punishment takes the form of 'cleaning', in which the condemned are sent out to the toxic air to clean the camera sensors before they collapse and die. One of the book's many mysteries is: why do people agree to clean? In this aspect, Howey is a great storyteller. He knows just how to tempt and bait the reader to keep them turning the page.

The plot races forward, maintaining the reader's interest until the very end. Yet, the world building in Wool feels spare when compared to the richness of fictional worlds in works such as Christopher Priest's The Inverted World or Arthur C Clarke's The City and the Stars — which tackle similar themes. This takes away from the reading experience, since the narrative of Wool is built around its setting. More sensory details and a broader sense of the silo's history and culture would have given the novel greater depth. For instance, the children’s books that appear to be the only literature passed down to the subterranean inhabitants would surely have created strong emotional associations and vivid memories, which one of the characters could have shared with the reader.

Despite its flaws, Wool is a thrilling story full of plot twists, in which the protagonist is a tough-as-nails young woman called Juliette. No wonder Ridley Scott has bought up the film rights.

The Night Rainbow: A Novel

The Night Rainbow - Claire  King Claire King's debut novel, The Night Rainbow, is a beautiful book. Set in the French countryside, it is a poignant and gripping story written from the point of view of five-year-old girl whose mother is too grief-stricken to properly care for her. Read full review at Wordhorse. http://www.wordhorse.co.uk/review-the-night-rainbow-by-claire-king.html#.Ux9QAl6YFSM

Madame Bovary (Oxford World's Classics)

Madame Bovary - Mark Overstall, Malcolm Bowie, Margaret Mauldon, Gustave Flaubert In Flaubert's novel, domestic mediocrity drives his heroine to 'dreams of luxury'. The novels centers on the heroine's disillusionment at not having a higher status in society and being trapped in an unsophisticated provincial town. Emma Bovary rebels but never strives to separate herself from society. Emma doesn't mind being a wife; she just wants to be the wife of someone important and wealthy who moves in high society. But, convention means that she cannot escape her marriage without being cast out of good society. Death presents an escape, and seems to offer her a way to fulfill her romantic fantasies. Yet, her death is painful and grotesque, which could be interpreted as the heroine's punishment for flouting social norms.

Incidentally, my first introduction to this French novel was Posy Simmonds' graphic novel titled 'Gemma Bovary' — a wonderful parody of Flaubert's tragic tale.


The Far Time Incident (The Incident Series, #1)

The Far Time Incident (The Incident Series, #1) - Neve Maslakovic The basic plot of The Far Time Incident involves the mysterious disappearance of Professor Mooney from the Time Travel Lab at a Minnesota University while on a solo expedition. Foul play is suspected and Julia Olsen, assistant to the dean of science is assigned to help Campus Security Chief Nate Kirkland. The pair soon find themselves caught up in their own time-travel adventure, in ancient Pompei within sight of a rumbling Vesuvius.

The premise of The Far Time Incident is hugely promising, and the ideas of history protecting itself and of ghost zones are well thought out, but the story is devoid of emotion and the plot is not at all thrilling. I liked that the first-person narrator, Julia Olsen, is an ordinary person who leads a normal, unexciting life. I felt that the writer was aiming for humour with her choice of main character but just did not commit to building on the subtle ironic tone she establishes at the start of the book.

After waiting far too long for the action to start, I began to get the impression that the author was stalling, as if unsure of how to move the plot forward. That is the major problem with this novel. It never really gets going. Even when the action starts, it isn't that exiting — a definite prerequisite for a time travel novel I think. A second plot involving a family of former slaves who need help to find out who has ransacked their Garum store doesn't really work. Aside from not being very exciting, the reader already has a lot of characters to keep up with, all of whom are become increasingly sketchy and vague as the story progresses.

There is a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, and a great deal of dull dialogue peppered with historical did-you-knows from the academic characters. Since this is a whodunnit, I understand the author felt she needed to include a wide cast of characters to keep the reader guessing as to who the culprit is. The problem is, Maslakovic is never able to explore a character in depth or build on the relationships between the main characters because she is too busy keeping the reader updated on each of their whereabouts. Instead, I would have liked to see the author build on the conflict existing between English Professor Helen Presnik and her ex-husband Dr. Mooney.

I wanted to feel like I had been transported into the past but the author's sketchy descriptions of the pre-erruption Pompei were not convincing enough. More sensory detail and well-drawn descriptions of the local inhabitants going about their daily life were needed.

Maslakovic's novel appears to be heavily influenced by the Nebula Award-winning Doomsday Book by Connie Willis. Like Willis' sci-fi novel, this is a time-travel thriller that kicks off in a university setting, its troupe of characters all academics. The novel suffers greatly by being so easily compared to Doomsday Book, in that it lacks the excitement, tension and humour that Willis is so adept at conjuring in her book.