Saturday, 1 December 2012

The Radleys - Matt Haig

How well do you know your neighbours?  Well, as it would turn out, none of the Radley's neighbours knew the people along the street as well as they thought they did.  Tell tale clues, such as family dogs howling in distress whenever one of the Radley children tried to pet them, closed curtains on a sunny day, unnaturally pale skin and a diet high in rare meat., were missed.  True the Radley boy, Rowan was stigmatised as a freak  at school, but then that was likely to happen to anybody who was a little bit different.

But however much Peter and Helen Radley tried to follow the rules laid out in the Abstainer's Handbook, tension was always simmering just below the surface of family life and the pressures of not letting the kids know who or what they really are were steadily building towards boiling point.  This fragile balance was bound to be broken at some point and when daughter Clara was overwhelmed by adolescent hormonal rage when she was attacked by a boy from her school at a teenage party all hell was let loose. Literally.

Helen and Peter's pretence that they are a normal family was finally blown wide open and Peter had to act decisively to save his daughter.  But now the explanations had to begin and the truth faced, they were vampires not humans, and their children had to be told.for their own protection.  But there were more secrets  lurking in the background than the fact that they were a family of vampires, and when desperation leads to Peter's non-abstaining, hard living brother Will Radley being asked to help them, there is even more at stake than being revealed as blood sucking monsters.

Little do they know that Will has stirred up so much trouble and talk that he has lost the protection of the vampire community and is now a legitimate target for the secret police unit that hunts down and eliminates renegade vampires.  Little do they know that Eve, the girl at school that Rowan Radley has fallen head over heels for, lost her mother to a vampire attack and that the killer was none other than Will Radley.

So while Peter and Helen try to do everything they can to protect their precious daughter from the consequences of her blood-fuelled outburst, they are unaware that there are other dangers closing in on them.  Will Eve's frightened, grief-stricken father succeed in his plans to destroy Will Radley and the vampire family?  Will the police take reprisals against the family in the quest to take out Will Radley?

The explosive that threatens the very foundation of Peter and Helen's marriage will have to be faced before they can move forward and build a new future.  But who will survive?  How will the kid's take the news that they really are freaks? And will there be any happy ever afters?

After all the Hollywoodesque American vampire novels it was very interesting to read a British vampire horror and one that is set in suburbia.  This is no florid Gothic horror, but a tale of a family trying to fit in and be ordinary in an average British town.  But to thrive we all need to acknowledge our own natures and honour them, or eventually we will rebel. And as the Radleys find out, this can lead to tragedy and upheaval.

So The Radleys by Matt Haig is one to read while drinking a glass of deep, ruby red wine.  Put some extra garlic in your spaghetti bolognese if you are frightened and nail a crucifix of two to the wall.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Lola's Secret - Monica McInerney

If you are looking for an easy, good feeling read and you like Christmas, then why not try reading Lola's Secret by Monica McInerney.  It is a sequel to her previous book 'The Alphabet Sisters', but you don't need to have read it first, as this works as a stand alone book.  Lola Quinlan is a sprightly old lady in her eighties, who dresses somewhat eccentrically and has very strong opinions on most things, especially anything that concerns her family.

Her home is a rural motel in the beautiful wine growing Clare Valley of South Australia, where she lives with her son Jim and daughter Geraldine, whom she has never seen eye to eye with.  Lola has run motels for decades, but is now mostly retired and spends a lot of her time helping to run the local charity shop with her group of friends. Lola also likes to keep up with modern technology and has enthusiastically embraced the internet, sending emails and mobile phones.

As Christmas approaches she wants to encourage her relatives to take some time out and go off on their own holidays, without feeling that they have to stay for her sake.  But although the thought of a peaceful Christmas spent alone calls to her, she comes up with the plan of inviting a group of strangers to the motel for the festive break and creating a wonderful experience for them.  She uses her new skills on the internet to invite people, using the lure of a free stay to get a small group of people to sign up.  But does Lola know what she has let herself in for?  Because unbeknownst to her, all of the visitors she is expecting for Christmas have their own reasons for trying to escape their homes and lives for the holidays, and bringing them all together could create a very combustible mix of drama and tragedy.

Meanwhile, there are problems in her own family that need sorting and wounds that need healing.  The death of her granddaughter Anna at the motel several years previously has left a huge hole in the family, and any closeness that her death had initially engendered in the family felt long gone.  Anna's two sisters were once more at each others throats, as difficulties in their marriages and family lives cause them to go back into competition with each other and revisit old disputes that they had thought they had left behind.  And Ellen, Anna's young daughter, was also facing heart ache of her own many miles away in Hong Kong, as she takes a rebellious stance when her father starts a new relationship, feeling that she is being pushed out and that her mother is being replaced.

Even Lola's home at the motel is under threat as Jim and Geraldine decide that they want to buy a smaller business in a different part of Australia, and Geraldine makes it clear that Lola is not included in their plans for the future.  So as she tries to sort out and help her family, create a wonderful Christmas experience for a bunch of strangers and keep things running smoothly in the charity shop, will Lola take any time to look into her own heart and acknowledge some of her own needs?

But Lola is going to be surprised this festive season by things from the past that she thought were long gone and lost forever, giving her another chance to put something right that went awry so many years ago.  Can this redoubtable old lady pull her family together again, help ease their pain and steer them onto a brighter path for the future?  Will her disparate group of invited guests have a Christmas they will never forget? And most importantly, will Lola discover a new direction for her own life and perhaps even find new love for herself?

Lola's Secret is a pleasant read, especially if you enjoy delving into human relationships and the tangles and predicaments that we create for ourselves. It is a book to take into the garden on a hot summer afternoon and let the hours slip by, or to cuddle up with by the fire on a cold, snowy winter afternoon.  As it is set in the 40c heat of a South Australian summer, sip an ice cold glass of Australian white wine while you are reading and have some tasty savoury nibbles to dip into.  My one niggle regards the cover of the UK edition, which is a picture of a young girl running through a lush bluebell wood.  It is an attractive image, but to me says nothing about the dry, dusty heat of an Australian summer in a wine growing region.  Probably me being too literal, but I would prefer to see a cover that was a closer reflection of what is contained within the pages.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

The Darkening - Stephen Irwin

At the start of 'The Darkening' by Stephen Irwin, Nicholas Close is a happily married man living in London, when his wife dies in tragic circumstances, leaving him with an unwanted and distressing ability to see the spirits of the dead continually reliving the moment that led up to their demise.  Unable to carry on any longer he returns to Australia and the dreary suburb of Tallong where he had grown up with his mother and sister.  But as soon as he is back he becomes aware of the brooding presence of the local woods, which brings back memories of the brutal murder during his childhood of his best friend Tristram.

He soon realises that any hopes that he may have had of leaving the past behind are futile as another horrific murder of a child in the woods leads to long repressed memories flooding back about what happened on that fateful day when he and Tristram went playing among the densely packed trees and undergrowth and only one of them came back.  Especially when he discovers that it was really supposed to be him who died. As Nick starts to investigate, he finds out that there have in fact been a string of murders in those woods, stretching back over a hundred years, where the victims have all been children.

As he himself comes under suspicion from the police as another child goes missing, he has to try and unravel an ancient web of evil that seems to lead back to the local shops and one old lady who who used to do sewing and alterations and also inexorably back to the woods.  But how long can one person really live and what are they prepared to do to carry on living?

Nick has to dig deep into himself and find the courage to return to the woods to try and defeat the malignant evil that lies at its heart, before any more children have to die to keep it alive.  But is he strong enough to fight the dark magic that is sent against him? And how much does his mother and other residents of the suburb really know and how was his dead father involved?

This is a book that combines horror with magic and the supernatural, with several clever twists in the plot. It is a real page turner, and one that I read very fast.  Probably not one for readers with arachnophobia as spiders feature pretty heavily, and one of my few criticisms of the 'The Darkening' is that I found one aspect of the spider plot a bit ridiculous - but no spoilers!

Genuinely creepy in places, this is one to read under the bed covers with a torch, so make sure that you have lots of chocolate and crisps and big mug of steaming cocoa to help stop your shivering with fear.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Ghosts and Other Really Big Surprises - Cynthia Marsh

Now this is not a book review as, gentle readers, this is the Lunch Time Book Review's very own collection of short stories.  Yes this is my very own first foray into self publishing that I humbly present to you.

So I cannot review 'Ghosts and Other Really Big Surprises', but I can tell you something about it.  It is a collection of short stories that all have a ghostly or spooky theme.  So you will find tales of vengeful ghosts and helpful ghosts, vegetables that grow considerably larger than they should, a really sinister first date, a future Britain plagued by a strange disease, an ancient Egyptian queen who potentially still has the power to destroy the world and a young girl faced with the most difficult decision of her short life.

As they are scary stories, you may need some hot cocoa and plenty of chocolate to keep you going as you are reading and you may just need to keep the light on as you sleep.  After all is that just the wind howling through the trees in the garden.........?

And 'Ghosts and Other Really Big Surprises' is available on Amazon in the USA and the UK


Saturday, 2 June 2012

The Chosen Seed - Sarah Pinborough

When I picked up The Chosen Seed by Sarah Pinborough, I should have been more careful as it is actually the final book in a trilogy. But it didn't really matter when I was reading it, as it is a book that stands alone and can be read without knowing the back story, which is well explained as you go along.  Cass Jones is a renegade detective trying to avoid arrest in a London that is living in fear from being infected with a disease called Strain II, that has been spreading among the homeless and drug users of London.  He is being hunted for a murder that he did not commit, and has gone into hiding after being rescued after he was shot in the shoulder by a mysterious couple.

But a very dangerous man has made it his mission to spread a new, even more lethal strain of Strain II and is targeting the more affluent, working population of the city, spreading terror in busy streets, pubs and transport hubs of the capital.  So is there a link between this elusive serial killer handing out terrifying doses of death in the London night and a sinister group called the Network and an institution called The Bank, that now effectively controls the country's finances and economy?

As Cass Jones recuperates from his wound he has just one goal, which is to find his missing nephew and clear his name.  But all the evidence seems to point back to a secretive character called Mr Bright, and Cass Jones soon realises that he has to discover the secrets surrounding Mr Bright if he is ever to find his missing nephew Luke.  So who is this mysterious man who seems to have had so much influence in Jones's family history, leaving only tantalising clues about the depth of his involvement and his manipulation of events from the shadows?

The disgraced detective has become a pariah at his station, where most of his ex-colleagues seem convinced of his guilt, but two of his former work associates, Detectives Hask and Ramsey, are beginning to have doubts and start discretely investigating Cass Jones's links to the murders, trying to determine once and for all his innocence or guilt. But even within the force itself, they cannot uncover any information about Mr Bright and find to their dismay that any investigations they make into his background and activities are blocked at the highest level.

But neither Cass Jones nor the human friends working to clear his name have any idea of the magnitude and importance of what game they have really stumbled into, and how it could be so very nearly the end of the world for them all.  Jones will have to learn and accept the truth about his family and what he really is before he can be instrumental in averting the coming Armageddon and save his nephew and the rest of humanity from destruction.  Loyalties will be questioned and allegiances shifted, before he can really get to the bottom of the enigma that is Mr Bright.

I would have a big juicy hamburger and a big bowl of chips with plenty of ketchup to go along with this one, as you will need the carbs to keep up with the cracking pace.  As Cass Jones has his eyes opened to the true nature of the world around him and how nothing is as it looks on the surface, he has hard decisions to make, decisions that can affect the fate of all mankind.  So will he find his nephew in time to save him?  Will he solve the puzzle of the mysterious 'glow' and find a way to penetrate the secrets of Mr Bright?  And will Ramsey and Hask catch the killer who is so callously infecting the population of London with the lethal infection Strain II, and discover the truth about the innocence of their former colleague and friend Cass Jones in doing so?  And will any of them be able to penetrate the secrets of the shadowy Network and The Bank in time?

Saturday, 10 March 2012

The Passage - Justin Cronin

I have to say that for some reason all the publicity and hype about 'The Passage' by Justin Cronin managed to pass me by and I only became aware of the book when I found it on the shelves of the Horror section of my local library.  Cronin had started to write his epic novel telling the story of a virus induced vampire apocalypse in 2007 and says that he put together the story on afternoon jogs around his local streets with his young daughter Iris on her bicycle.  What happened after that is every author's dream, as when his agent started touting the novel around publishers, it triggered a frenzied, intense bidding war. The rights to publish 'The Passage' were eventually secured by Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, for $3.75 along with two other books to complete the trilogy and the film rights were bought for $1.75.  Wow!

So one of the first things to be aware of before you dive into 'The Passage' is that it is a long book, the paperback copy I have is 963 pages long, so not one that even the fastest of readers is going to be able to gulp down in an afternoon.  But it would be the perfect book for long, lazy afternoons on that sun lounger or to while away the hours on a long haul flight.  It is also, to my mind, a book that invites comparisons, the most immediate being on to Stephen King's incomparable 'The Stand'.  It follows the same story line of the build up to the break down and end of the world as we know it and then the story of some of the survivors, albeit in 'The Passage' the story picks up after a hundred year break from when the apocalypse hit. It also reminded me a bit of the 2002 film 'Reign of Fire' where the world is terrorised from the skies by fire-breathing dragons, especially the scenes involving teaching the children and keeping them safe.

So what was the momentous, tragic event that all but destroys human civilisation in 'The Passage'?  Again it follows a relatively common theme, there is a top secret government experiment being conducted in the USA where prisoners who had been condemned to death were being injected with a virus that had been discovered in South America.  Ironically, the experiment was designed to find a way for humans to stay alive forever, and the virus changed the men into a type of preternaturally strong and quick vampire-like creature that never died. The experiment starts to fall apart when they introduce a strange six year old girl called Amy into the programme; the test subjects, who are known as virals or dracos, start infiltrating the dreams and minds of their captors and break free.  The devastation is immediate and catastrophic and in a few short months the fabric of American society has totally crumbled and the dark hours of the night are no longer safe.

We are then taken to the Colony, which comprises of a small band of humans that has managed to survive and scrape out a living for a hundred years after the advent of the virals.  They survive because they have have powerful lights that protect them during the hours of darkness, but they lead a very precarious existence.  The one thing that most of them do not know is that one day the lights will go out, as the batteries that feed them power deteriorate.  The tight-knit community of the Colony is thrown into disarray when one of its young watchers, Theo Jaxon, is taken by the virals and a strange young girl appears out of nowhere.

The inhabitants of the Colony do not know it at the time, but this young girl who causes them so much unease and is the trigger for quarrels and violence, is the key to their salvation and is the same Amy that was held in the secret government bunker a hundred years ago.  So it falls on young Peter, Theo's brother, to lead a small group out into the dangerous outside world that they had never before explored, to find the key to the mysterious Amy, to find some other humans to help them with their batteries and assuage Peter's nagging feeling that his brother was still alive out there somewhere.

So will the small band of brave humans be able to survive the dark nights out in the open, when the powerful virals range freely hunting for blood?  And will they find that they are not alone and that other groups of humans have survived?  And most importantly, will finding out the truth about Amy, give them the key to destroying the virals and reclaiming their world once again?

It's a long book so you will need more than lunch to keep you going.  It is the kind of book where you get really involved in the characters and you will probably pick your favourites and root for them to survive.  There are some very sad bits however, so chocolate and lashings of tea are called for.  It really seems to be a book about how you keep going and keep the human spirit alive, when it seems that you are up against impossible odds. A book about how you maintain hope in the future in a world of diminishing resources and increasing dangers.  A book that shows that we all need someone or something to follow or believe in; and in 'The Passage' that something is a strange young girl called Amy and an unsure, struggling young man called Peter.

The next instalment of the trilogy 'The Twelve' is due out on 18th December 2012 - a book about the apocalypse published so close to the date of 21st December that some say will be the end of the world? Marketing or synchronicity I wonder?

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Ghost Song - Sarah Rayne

Do you like secrets?  Well, if you are a fan of secrets, then you will love Ghost Song by Sarah Rayne as it is a book much more about the secrets people keep and how they can shape and corrode people's lives than it is a ghost story. Set both in the present day and in the feverish weeks that led up to the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, Ghost Story is set around a mysterious old music hall and theatre called the Tarleton.  The Tarleton has been closed down since the first days of the Great War, and is bound by a strange trust that ensures that it will not be opened again until fifty years after the death of the last owner.

But although the Tarleton is shut, it is still a building that intrigues people and makes them want to discover its secrets.  Robert Fallon was a pragmatic, down to earth surveyor until he undertakes a routine inspection of the old music hall to ensure that it is still structurally sound.  Teaming up with Hilary Bryant, who undertakes research into Victorian and Edwardian theatre for the Harlequin Society who administer the Tarleton, Robert discovers that the Tarleton holds some disturbing secrets.  Why was a wall built to section off part of the cellar and the trapdoor on the stage nailed down so that there was no way of accessing it?  And who was the mysterious figure who was sometimes glimpsed muffled up in an old hat and great coat, softly singing old music hall tunes?

As Robert and Hilary begin to uncover some of the Tarleton's history, we are taken back to 1914 where Toby Chance runs the Tarleton and writes and performs popular songs with his partner, Frank Douglas.  It is an unusually hot spring, the theatre is buzzing, but the clouds of war are beginning to build on the horizon. Toby is introduced to a shadowy organisation called Tranz by a lover, and is drawn in so thoroughly that he agrees to travel to far off Sarajevo to form part of a protest against Hapsburg imperialism.  He was at first fascinated and then repelled by the movement's charismatic leader Petrovnic, and is unaware of Petrovnic's dark past and the role that he had played in Toby's parents lives.

So as Toby heads into trouble in 1914, so do Robert and Hilary as they continue their investigation.  Hilary's boss Shona Seymour has her own secrets to hide and her own reasons for being fearful of the Tarleton being opened up again, and why is Caley Merrick so obsessed by the theatre's history and the players who once performed there?

Not a book for those who are afraid to go into dark rooms alone, as Ghost Song descends into some very dark places indeed.  Will Toby be able to escape the danger that he is in and see through the smoke and mirrors before it is too late?  Will the discoveries that he makes in the Tarleton threaten Robert's career and is Hilary in more danger from someone she trusts than she could ever imagine?

One to read eating a hearty Edwardian meal such as pie and mash or bangers and mash, or even jellied eels if you can stomach them.  Wash them down with a few glasses of beer, as the secrets come tumbling out and the story of the Tarleton is told.  This is a book rich in historical details, and lovingly recreates the world of the Edwardian Music Hall, which was glamorous and colourful on the surface, and slightly tawdry and earthy underneath.