Category Archives: Thriller

Contagion

To be honest, I’d been expecting the cliffhanger in Teri Terry’s Contagion to be, well, cliffier. So many readers before me had exclaimed about being left hanging. So, yes, I knew it was coming. Not that I will require a cliffhanger to motivate me to read on, when the time comes. Which I would like to be sooner rather than later, but the Witch who waits for something good…

It’s very much a ‘whew!’ story. This dystopia is set in a place close to me, in what feels like today. There is even a female PM. The thing about Teri’s writing is that she takes topics that could be quite distasteful and that would turn people off, but the way she writes about these very horrible things makes it – almost – all right.

It’s obviously not OK that 95% of people die, but looking on the bright side, 5% survive. As in the Slated trilogy Teri has some great mothers. I wish more fiction had good mother figures.

Teri Terry, Contagion

Set in and around Scottish Killin, plus places from Newcastle to Shetland, Contagion features Callie, a missing 11-year-old girl, her older brother Kai and Shay, the girl who last saw Callie. Somehow they end up at the centre of an epidemic that kills fast, and when they realise that all is not as it should be, even under these circumstances, they decide to get to the bottom of what’s happening.

Perhaps Shay is slightly too clever even for a fictional, 16-year-old heroine with exceptional talents, but I like her. It’s good to find someone who can be both cool and interested in science and more than capable at maths. Kai is very handsome. Naturally. And Callie is quite unusual in many ways.

I have great hopes for the next instalment, with fingers crossed that somebody will survive, and doing my best not to ponder that I probably wouldn’t have, had this been real.

Bookwitch bites #143

‘If the bacon flashes…’ It was late. I was tired. And some sign appeared to mention flashing bacon at Edinburgh airport. The second time I looked it said beacon. Whatever. I need to give up careless reading.

Holiday postal yield

We arrived home in the middle of the night. Thank goodness for 24 hour M&S where you can get your milk and juice and bread. Not to mention blueberries. Possibly also bacon. The postman hadn’t been too busy carting vanfuls of books to Bookwitch Towers while we were gone. Almost half of what you can see here arrived five minutes before we left. We had a quick look, in case there was anything that warranted a change of holiday reading plans. Yeah, I know the armchair should be for sitting in, but the books had to go somewhere.

Our leftover holiday milk was left (obviously) for Son who took over after us. His route from Helsingborg on Friday had him meandering between visiting the New Librarian, picking up Dodo in Copenhagen and [finally!] meeting ‘his’ author Andreas Norman, a mere three years – or is it four? – after translating Into A Raging Blaze. Seems selfies are the way to go these days. (My arms are too short.)

Andreas Norman and Ian Giles

On the home front the Carnegie Medal was busy being given to Ruta Sepetys on Monday. I wish I had read her winning book, Salt to the Sea, but despite no one sending it my way, I am sure it was a worthy winner. I’ve loved Ruta’s other books, and the refugee topic is as important today as it was in 1945.

Ending on a sad note, Swedish author Ulf Stark died a week ago. Having spent most of my life fairly unaware of him, it’s been different since I met Ulf in Manchester five years ago. There is never a good age to die, but Ulf was definitely too young to go at 72. Goodbye, and thanks for the singing.

Ulf Stark

Black Moon

Well!

What a book Black Moon is! The end of the trilogy Lee Weatherly set in her new dystopic 1940s, two thousand years in the future, after us Ancients caused the world to be destroyed by doing so many things wrong.

Mistakes are there to be repeated. Now that Kay Pierce has taken over the country and is busy killing anyone not to her liking, plus quite a few more while she’s at it, things look grimmer than ever. And the more you read you realise that this is WWII all over again. Just in a different place and with new people taking the place of those in our war. But the mistakes are the same and the consequences also.

And I believe this is what makes it so interesting, giving the reader a chance to look at what is the same but different. And to see how people still make the same mistakes despite knowing the fate of the Ancients all those years ago.

I’d been concerned about the love interest not taking a wrong turning, but there is of course always the problem with loving in a war to contend with. Who will survive?

Amity is a marvellous heroine and she is surrounded by great friends and lovers, and say what you want about President Pierce but she makes for a formidable enemy. Reading this third book made me marvel even more over the fact that Lee wrote it before the recent Presidential election, and still got it spot on.

I can’t recommend this trilogy enough. It’s the kind of read that makes you glad to be a reader and grateful that some good books are still published. I don’t – now – want more of this, but I do crave more wow-factor books. 650 pages can go so fast when you are having a fantastic time.

Thrill to win

All four books shortlisted for this week’s RED book award were in the ‘really good category.’ I felt the librarians who picked them did a great job; both from a point of view of this being a book award list, but also in order to entice their young charges to read and enjoy. You need something a little bit extra for that.

There was no way I could have said either which book was bound to win, or to have a favourite. I’d have been pleased with any of the shortlisted novels as the winner. And you never know with that age group how they will vote. Sometimes you are truly taken by surprise.

Cathy MacPhail’s Devil You Know is a hard-hitting story set in a hard area of Glasgow, and it is a pretty male set-up. I can see why it was popular with the young offenders, and I’d guess it did well mostly with the boys.

Whereas The Apple Tart of Hope divides its attention equally between the boy and the girl, I suspect that Sarah Moore Fitzgerald’s book might appeal more to girls. It is quite romantic, Oscar is definitely not a macho boy, and there is the apple tart.

Similarly, Clare Furniss’s The Year of the Rat is undisputably about a girl. And there is the possible romance with the boy next door. Again, probably girlier than average, while being neither soft nor pink in any way.

The winner, 13 Hours by Narinder Dhami has a female main character, a carer for her handicapped mum. That too could seem to appeal more to female readers. There are no friends or colleagues or family members to even out the balance of the sexes. There are the intruders, of course. Two of each sex, and they are on the whole neither violent nor unpleasant.

Narinder was saying how she had had the young carer idea for some time, but it took her a while to work out how it could be written as a thriller, which is what she likes. And maybe that’s it; the thriller aspect means readers of both sexes enjoy the story without worrying about any female bias. Especially as Anni is both brave and resourceful.

And thinking back to the last two winners of the RED award, I’d say that Mind Blind by Lari Don was more thrillery than the other shortlisted books last year. Not having read the ones from the year before that, I’m confident that Alan Gibbons didn’t write a romance.

But I’m probably all wrong in thinking this. I was merely exercising my brain a little, trying to work out why a particular book out of four such excellent stories won.

13 Hours

Narinder Dhami’s 13 Hours would make a great film. The way she stuffs all the action of her book into a limited period of time, from one evening until the next morning, had me reading until I got to the end. There wasn’t even a conscious decision to read all of the book right then; I just did.

Narinder Dhami, 13 Hours

Anni has recently started secondary school and she has to run all the way there and back, in order not to be away from her housebound mum for too long. They live alone and Anni does all the housework as well as comforting her – agoraphobic – mum whenever she needs it, which is nearly all the time. The reader comes to vaguely dislike the woman for putting her daughter in this situation.

Until one Friday evening when the mum’s panic actually seems to have some foundation in reality, and there really are intruders in the house. What can the two of them do against these unknowns?

While there is no violence or very much threat, the situation is still extremely tense, and Anni desperately tries to think of ways to escape. So does her mum.

But meanwhile we find out more about the intruders, and…

Really very exciting and it also makes you think, about all kinds of things. So as well as reading a thriller, we learn about agoraphobia and young carers, and there is advice on how to get help (not if you have intruders in your house, however) when you need it.

And sometimes not even the good characters tell the truth or are above reproach. It’s Ace.

Mayday

We debated our new Prime Minister at length a few years ago. That’s us, as in the Bookwitch family. Mrs May was one of the British ‘villains’ in Andreas Norman’s Into a Raging Blaze.

As you may be aware, the translation into English of this Swedish thriller was done in-house, so to speak. Son translated and the Resident IT Consultant proofread and criticised his efforts. All in all, a good team effort.

But the debate about our new PM was surprisingly long, considering Mrs May didn’t feature that much. In general, it was the British who were the bad guys, and the named politician was Mrs May, ultimately in charge of the MI6 agents, and I suppose in some sense responsible for their shenanigans.

Andreas Norman, Into A Raging Blaze

Usually a novelist would only use a real person’s title, or make up a fictional minister in a country’s government, and we were startled and unsure if it was OK to name her. But as far as I recall, we decided that if she was named in the original, she had to be named in the translation, and if the publisher didn’t want that, it was their task to edit out any names.

So, we May have a fictional character at the helm of the country.

And why not?

(In my opinion, a sensible politician embraces being featured in cartoons, etc, realising that being ignored and not used, is the worse slight.)

Broken Sky

This is the kind of novel you simply read and read until you get to the end. L A Weatherly’s Broken Sky (with the subtitle Trust No One, which you should keep in mind at all times) is a futuristic historical sort of WWII story.

It’s 1941 in a new world, one long after our 1941, but with a lot in common with the real WWII period. Our world was destroyed in one too many wars, and now they have Peace. War is not permitted. But to keep some kind of balance, fighter pilots fight one-on-one to determine which country gets what and when.

L A Weatherly, Broken Sky

Amity is such a pilot, 18 years old, and based near what used to be Los Angeles. The country next to her Western Seaboard, is Central States and they have a leader who reminds me very much of a certain presidential hopeful. He is just as scary, too, and there is a female character rather like the two-faced woman in a recent Danish television series.

I like the way we now have girl pilots as main characters in books, and how there can be an alternate WWII, allowing the writer to change reality a little, while still keeping much of what we are used to.

Under the surface things are not as neat and clean as people have been led to believe, however. The reader discovers this from the start, as Lee begins with almost the end, and you know how bad it will be. Just not how it got like that.

It’s exciting, romantic and simply a marvellous read.

‘Trust no one’ is what you need to keep in mind. And you think, ‘yes, but…’ and I suspect we shouldn’t do that. Unless there is lots of double and triple bluffing going on. Which there could be. Perhaps.

There is one thing wrong with Broken Sky, and it’s that there are two sequels still to come. I want all of it now!