“Friends Like These” by Danny Wallace

It’s the summer of 2006 and Danny’s mum sends him a box of stuff from her attic. It’s a mix of things from his childhood, including his first ever address book with his twelve best friends addresses in, and he realises that he’s lost contact with all of them. Coupled with the fact that he know owns display cushions and has DIY responsibilities around the home, it quickly dawns on him that he’s becoming a man. He starts on a quest to update his address book and meet up with his twelve friends before he turns 30 and when he will have officially grown up.

This was a brilliant book. It’s written in a very informal style, almost like a journal, but with the feel of a friend writing you a letter to tell you what they’ve been up to. Danny is only a few years younger than me, so the memories and reference points made me nostalgic for my own childhood and adolescence, and written with a genuine warmth that makes it feel very inclusive and I was completely immersed in the quest myself.

There are times when things don’t go according to plan, with some poignant and emotional moments, from revelations to rekindling of friendships, but overall, it’s a very satisfying story to read, great fun and I’m off to find out if any of his other books are available for download.

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“Ghost Town” by Rachel Caine

This is the latest in the Morganville Vampire series. Claire Danvers has moved to Morganville to attend college there, but has ended up an unwillingly embroiled in the vampire politics of the local community. As the series has gone on, Claire’s fate has become almost inevitably entwined with the Founder of Morganville. The vampires in this series are for the most part, every bit as menacing and dangerous as their kind should be, making for a spine tingling thriller of a plot.

I’ve loved every one of this series of YA books, they’re funny and exciting, and there is a genuine sense of peril for the characters up against the strained relationships between the humans and vampires. A quick, easy read, I know, but the pages just whizz by as I get caught up in Claire’s story. I wondered how Caine would continue the series as the first six or seven books had a cliffhanger to take you on to the next book each time, and the last couple of books have had an uneasy conclusion but didn’t leave you on the edge of your seat exclaiming, “You can’t leave it there!!!!”, but I have liked how she’s developed what’s happening in Morganville. This one doesn’t leave you on tenterhooks as such, but it does leave you feeling you know what the next book will be about, but not how she’ll deal with it.

“The Fire Gospel” by Michel Faber

Canongate are running a long term project to produce a series of retellings of legendary myths by contemporary authors. The Fire Gospel is the third book in the series I’ve read, and is author Michel Faber’s interpretation of the Greek Myth of Prometheus, who stole fire from Zeus and gave it to mortals.

His protagonist is Theo Griepenkerl, an academic who specialises in Aramaic and is in Iraq trying to find treasures he can “save” from destruction by taking them back to Canada for storage. When the looted museum he is visiting is bombed, he finds nine papyrus scrolls that have been hidden inside a sculpture for two millenia. He translates the scrolls from Aramaic to find they are actually a fifth Gospel written by a man who was present at the crucifixion of Jesus. The story follows the inflammatory tale of what happens when Theo publishes the contents of the scrolls.

This is the third book of the Myths series I’ve read, and I’ve yet to be disappointed. It’s a pacy, quick read, and felt a bit like a shorter, more literary version of the blockbuster type thrillers like the Sam Bourne novels. Before you even read the whole story, as you realise what the scrolls contain, you begin to think about the impact they would have on religious communities around the world, even if Theo’s single-minded approach to what it will do for him is a bit too naïve to be fully convincing, but it doesn’t really detract from the story as you can imagine how he would get caught up in the process of his revealing of the Gospel to the world.

There’s one particularly funny chapter, when after Theo’s translation has been published, he’s at a loose end and decides to have a look at how well his book is doing on Amazon, and reads a selection of the customer reviews. Faber has taken great delight in writing these reviews, with their spelling, grammar and typographical mistakes, and all feel totally authentic and made me chuckle to myself (although maybe I feel a little uncomfortable writing my own thoughts on Faber’s book here now!).

Another Faber book down, and another good read. Also another book in the Myth series read, and another one enjoyed. I’m going to try and keep occasionally dropping another of the books from this series into my reading, as I’ve enjoyed them a lot, but I don’t think Ali Smith’s Girl Meets Boy will ever be surpassed, as surely the most joyous book I’ve ever read.

“Me Talk Pretty One Day” by David Sedaris

Me Talk Pretty One Day is a collection of autobiographical essays, with the book split into two parts, the first part covering growing up and his life in America, while part deux about his French experiences. Sedaris writes about his childhood and his family, with tales of pets and parents, before going on to some of the various jobs including removals and cleaning, and then after meeting his partner, spending time and moving to France, learning the language and Americans in Paris.

I was nervously worried by how many “Hilarious!” type blurbs were on the cover, as it usually ends up being an omen that the book will not be in the slightest funny, but I actually enjoyed it. It wasn’t laugh out loud funny, but I found a gentle humorous tone running through the pieces, which were easy to read and at times acutely observed. I have to admit, I liked the French essays more than the American ones, but I think that’s because I love reading books about people who move to France to start a new life, and I could identify much more with learning a new language than I could with growing up in the States.

On the whole, an entertaining book and I did enjoy it. I may well look at some of his other books in the future, but I’m not going to be running out to grab them immediately.

“The Knife of Never Letting Go” by Patrick Ness

Todd has grown up in Prentisstown – a town on New World, where the early settlers have been exposed to an alien germ which has caused the thoughts of all men to be audible and has killed off the women. The “Noise” is everywhere, and it’s not just the men, but the animals have been infected too. But even this doesn’t stop the town men keeping secrets, especially from the boys. And when Todd is just one month away from becoming a man, these secrets start a chain of events and Todd must flee from everything and everyone he knows …

This book was excellent. The story expands from starting with the small scale of the farm in Prentisstown, gradually revealing the wider landscape of New World and in parallel Todd’s character expands as the experiences force him to develop from boy to man, and because of the first person narrative, the reader learns at the same time as Todd what all the secrets are, and begins to understand what has happened in this broken society.

There is no doubt that violence, rage and corruption of power play a big part in making this story seem very real, but it is the possibilities of what might be at the end of the quest that keep it from spiralling into a nightmarish, dystopian tale, and give the reader a sense of hope and optimism rather than despair.

The author has chosen to write Todd’s speech and thoughts in dialect, so there is some unusual spelling and grammar used, but it is written very much as it would be spoken, so I never felt that it jarred or took me out of the story, more that it added to the feeling of authenticity.

I don’t want to say too much about the other characters because it might give away too much, too early, but the story and the characters affected me, and I don’t mind admitting I shed a few tears at various points in the story, as I could feel the heartbreaking emotions that simple words on a page can evoke.

“The Hundred and Ninety-Nine Steps” by Michel Faber

Siân wakes up from the same nightmare of her grisly death every morning. Hoping that manual work can distract her from the terrible dreams, she joins an archaeological dig in Whitby Abbey, but after meeting Magnus, her skills as a paper conservator are invaluable to help solve the mystery of the confessions written on a centuries old scroll that has been imprisoned in a bottle.

In this short but wonderfully written story, a Gothic mixture of romance, murder mystery and the ghosts of both Whitby and Siân’s past, the parallel threads of the unravelling of the delicate manuscript and the unravelling story of Siân’s past converge to a satisfying (although not altogether unpredictable) conclusion.

The acknowledgements tell us the artist in residence at Whitby Abbey requested a short story to be written inspired by the English Heritage dig, and I liked that although the dig is part of Siân’s life and escape, it is more the Abbey and the reason for the dig that prove the inspiration, not the dig itself.

The character of Siân felt very real and genuine, and it’s through her narrative that the story is told. However, my only slight criticism is that due to the brevity of the format and writing, the character of Magnus tends to be slight in comparison and I didn’t always feel I understood his actions or reactions.

The story itself was gripping, exciting and fast paced, unusually so, considering it relates to what would seem to be the detailed, considered work of a paper conservator. A very good read, and I’m looking forward to reading more of the books from this author I have already lined up.

“Captivate” by Carrie Jones

[SPOILER ALERT for the previous book in the series Need]

Captivate is the second book in this YA supernatural series about pixies and shape shifters. In the first book Need, teenager Zara is having a tough time after witnessing the death of her beloved stepfather and moves in with her grandmother to try and move on with her life. A mystery involving teenage boys going missing leads Zara to find out that she is the daughter of a Pixie king. She also learns that pixies are not the only supernatural creatures in the world, but shapeshifters in the form of wolves, bears, eagles and tigers exist as well. At the beginning of this second instalment, Zara and her friends are holding her father and his pixies in captivity, but this means her fathers kingdom is weak, and it’s not long before the arrival of another pixie king looking to take over the territory. Zara must find a way to keep herself and her friends safe from the war that is brewing in this supernatural tale.

I have to admit, after I read the first book in the series, I thought I probably wouldn’t bother with any more, but I ended up choosing it as the free book in a 3 for 2 offer. It was okay, but nothing more. The author did surprise me with the direction she took with Zara’s story, as I thought it would be exactly the suspense of how to keep her from the action she ends up taking that would keep the series going, so now I’m sort of intrigued to see the next instalment as well. Having said that, I’ve read a lot of books in this genre since the accursed Twilight saga got it claws (or should that be fangs) into me, and this series ranks very low down on my favourites. There is a third book out now, and a fourth planned, and although I am mildly interested in following it up, I’m not going to be rushing out to buy it at the moment.