My to be reviewed pile is larger than I like and I don’t want to forget the books – so here are some shorter reviews for you:
Daughters Unto Devils by Amy Lukavics
This is one scary novel – published as a YA book but is definitely not for younger teenaged readers! The story is narrated by Amanda who is sixteen, and has been meeting the post-boy in secret for some time now. It gets her out of the house, away from her family and her deaf and blind baby sister, whose birth nearly killed her Ma. Amanda also has a secret, and doesn’t know what to do about it; her sister finds out what it is and tells her she must sort it out, or she’ll tell their parents.
There’s not room for the six of them in their tiny mountain cabin, even though Pa is often away trading. Suffering from cabin fever, he decides to move them all to the prairie, where they find a large abandoned home which will suit them down to the ground – only it’s steeped in blood! They clean, patch and mend and eventually move into the house, and that’s when strange things really start to happen. Their neighbours are a doctor and his son, and the son tells bloodthirsty stories about tainted land and mad families – given the blood they found, are these stories true?
Gosh this was a disturbing book! It is as far from Little House on the Prairie as you could ever get – the only similarity being that the families are both pioneers/settlers. Despite her own secret, you know that Amanda can be relied upon, and her voice is authentic. I didn’t want to put the book down, but had to as I the train reached London, I had to wait for my return journey to get the full horrors of this brilliant debut. (9/10)
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A Short Gentleman by Jon Canter
By complete contrast, this book is a riotous comedy starring the most deluded yet successful (in part) gentleman you could hope to meet. This novel is barrister Robert Purcell’s life-story, told after his release from prison for an offense we will eventually find out about.
It is full of hilarious scenes – after a fight with his childhood arch-enemy Pilkington, Robert’s mother asks him why he didn’t hit back:
‘He’s bigger than me.’
‘Nonsense. You must hit back, Little Man. Hitler was short.’
All the way through, Robert’s prevarications are hilarious, as are his footnotes. He is an absolute square, a snob and aesthete, a very literal chap too, yet underneath there is a human lurking which makes all the situations and relationships he gets himself into all the funnier.
Jon Canter has a wonderful track record as a comedy writer – I loved his book inspired by the series ‘Rev’ last year. A Short Gentleman was actually our book group choice for last month, chosen because we wanted to read a funny novel and I dragged it from my memory as one that Kim and some other bloggers had really enjoyed a few years ago. It was a hit with our book group too and I’d love to read Canter’s other novels. (8.5/10)
Pretty Thing by Jennifer Nadel
This is a coming of age story set in the mid 1970s which explores the relationship between a fifteen-year-old schoolgirl and her older boyfriend, Bracken, but also between Becs and her best friend Mary-Jane.
Becs and Mary-Jane were meant to be sneaking off to the pub to meet friends together, but when Mary-Jane was late Becs went on her own. A young man offers to buy her a drink – he introduces himself:
‘Bracken,’ he said. He was much taller than me and older. Old enough to have been a real hippy. I tipped my head back to meet his gaze. His eyes were brown. Not normal brown, but deep dark brown the colour of rain-soaked wiid,
‘Bracken,’ he said again, ‘as in fern.’
The skin around his eyes crinkled into a smile and it took me a moment to realize I was meant to tell him my name.
‘Rebecca,’ I said trying to sound grown-up. Becs was what everyone called me but it didn’t feel nearly sophisticated enough.
That same evening, Mary-Jane is sexually assaulted, when she was late. This event will resonate throughout the book and their friendship will suffer.
Meanwhile, Bracken turns up to meet Becs at the school gate in his van, and this becomes a regular thing. They don’t have sex immediately because Becs is underage. She’s convinced he’s her soulmate and that he’ll wait. She trusts him. Should she?
This was a tense and naturally unsettling drama that can be read in one sitting – you’ll want to find out who Bracken is and what happens to Becs and Mary-Jane. I was 16 in 1976 when this book was set and it took me straight back to those times – I was glad that my own experiences of sneaking into the pub and so on didn’t go the same way. Nadel captures the teenager’s voice really well, wanting independence but not knowing enough about trust, from naivety to growing up fast. A good pacy read. (7.5/10)
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Sources: Publisher, own copy and publisher respectively – Thank you.
Amy Lukavics – Daughters Unto Devils (Oct 2015, Simon & Schuster), paperback original, 240 pages. Buy from Amazon UK.
Jon Canter – A Short Gentleman (2008, Vintage), paperback 384 pages. Buy from Amazon UK.
Jennifer Nadel – Pretty Thing (Feb 2015, Corsair), paperback original, 256 pages. Buy from Amazon UK.