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Heroes of the Frontier

by Dave Eggers

Heroes of the Frontier by Dave Eggers

Delightfully written book from Dave Eggers, in which we follow Josie, a former dentist, who is having a bit of a mid-life crisis and has abandoned her job and taken her two children to Alaska. Most of the time, these are her companions: Paul, a calm eight years old, and Ana, who has an extraordinary knack for getting into danger, but who has somehow survived her first wild five years. She hires a shakey old RV, and sets of to parts unknown without a plan – or even a plan for a plan, as far as we can tell.

For me, half of the delight is her children and their straightforward reactions and interactions. Paul absolutely dotes on his little sister and is careful and detailed, while she is the epitome of a wild child. They are beautifully drawn characters, and the way they meet the world and whatever it – or their mother – throws at them is charmingly done.

The other half of the magic is Josie herself. Her inner life is richly portrayed, with my favourite scenes being those in which she mentally sketches out musicals based around what she’d experiencing:

“Her head was full of ideas, elaborations and reversals. The show about Grenada? Would that be the first thing to explore? Or Disappointed: The Musical? Or something encompassing all of Alaska. Alaska! No, without the exclamation point, because this was not a demonstrative place, no, it was a place of tension, of uncertainty, a state on fire. Alaska with a colon. Alaska:. Yes.”

It’s a book about their haphazard road trip, with forest fires and law suits and lightning storms, but also moments of tranquility and beauty, long afternoons watching her children playing with other kids in a little brook or on some old playground, and hidden side adventures away from everyone. The plot may or may not resolve, but as with our own lives, in the end it’s about the journey, not the destination.

A strong four stars.

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Blood Bound

Mercy Thompson book #2

by Patricia Briggs

Blood Bound by Patricia Briggs

Another excellent showing here, with Mercy Thompson getting caught up with the local vampire seethe, whilst trying not to get her friendly neighbourhood werewolves too entangled in the resulting mess. The tone was sometimes much darker than the first of the Mercy Thompson books, as getting involved with the vampires seemed to involve getting a whole lot of blood over many things. If you don’t like your urban fantasy too gritty, this might be a problem, but I felt it was all in keeping with the plot, and none of it was gratuitous or merely put in to shock.

Four stars this time instead of five, as I was a little alarmed with the way an increasing number of the other main characters seem to be falling romantically for Mercy herself. I also wasn’t totally convinced by Mercy’s motivations to go out hunting alone again in the final 30 or so pages of the book. Still, very enjoyable, and I’ll be reading more!

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The Rook

The Checquy Files, #1

by Daniel O’Malley

The Rook by Daniel O'Malley

What a cracking book! I loved this supernatural/sci-fi combo, with the clever twist that the main character starts the book having completely lost her memory, finding herself standing in the dark in the rain, surrounded by several dead bodies, all of whom are wearing latex gloves. Through the excellent plot device of a series of notes that she’s left herself, she realises who she was and what her life was all about, and quite how much danger she is in.

Myfanwy, the lyrically named heroine, would love to find out what’s going on and how she came to lose her memory, but before she has time, she’s launched into a series of adventures with supernatural forces. For it becomes apparent that Myfanwy is a high-ranking member – a Rook – in a secret organisation called the Chequy, set up to battle the supernatural forces that threaten Britain.

There are some great characters in here, and some intriguing, and quite non-human, forces at play. To avoid spoilers, I won’t reveal too much, but it’s a great read. For me it had something of the vibe of Charles Stross’s Laundry Files series – supernatural creatures and goings on, which are hidden from us by a hidden quasi-governmental organisation. Written with humour and verve, and just a delight to read – hard to put down even late at night, leading to complaints from my better half that the backlighting on the kindle was keeping her awake…

I’ll definitely be picking up the next one in the series.

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Book review

The Music Shop

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I was looking forward to this, after the lovelieness from Rachel Joyce that was Harold Fry’s unlikely pilgrimage. It’s a story about music, and love, and how people can fall in love with music they didn’t know they needed to hear. I’ll resist drawing a parallel with the four sections of a symphony, but it’s there if you want it, I’m sure. The incidental characters were I felt in many ways better drawn than the main actors, and the setting of the 1980s small English city was very well done.

In the end, it was a bit of a curate’s egg – good in parts. Loved the beginning, loved the end, I felt a bit lost in the middle. Maybe three and a half stars. And if you aren’t sniffling back the tears at the end, you have no heart.