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Friday 30 April 2010


By Nicola Morgan

You can’t just read this book. You have to experience it. And you will. As you follow Jack and Jess on their journey you’ll feel the rain on your face, taste the salt on the rim of the margarita glass and hear the pure tones of Jess’s voice as she sings.

On one level 'Wasted' is a love story. It’s a tale of how Jess and Jack meet and fall in love, and how external events conspire to make things difficult for them.

On another level it is an exploration of some really sophisticated philosophical and scientific concepts.

‘Jess is spinning a coin. Not actually playing Jack’s game yet, because if you’re going to play you have to be very sure. Heads or tails, win or lose, life or death: playing the game changes things and you can’t escape its rules.’

This opening paragraph leads us into a story with twists and turns and a sustained feeling of not knowing what is going to happen. ‘Because nothing is until it is and until then everything is possible.’

The use of language in this novel is remarkable. It has great clarity and moving beauty at the same time. I love this description of Jess: ‘Her hair is a waterfall of black ice. Her eyes shine.’

I’m not going to say too much about the ending because, as I said before, you really have to experience this book for yourself. Suffice to say, the way Nicola Morgan handles it is a master stroke.

Normally, when I’m reading a book for review I make notes as I go along. With 'Wasted' I didn’t because I was too engrossed. That says it all really.

Reviewed by Helen M Hunt

You can find Nicola’s great publishing-related blog here, and the new Wasted blog here.

Saturday 24 April 2010

Abattoir Jack

by Christopher Neilan

Abattoir Jack is the first novel to be published by Punked Books, a new Indie publisher of trade fiction and non-fiction. I really think this Indie may be one to watch after reading this novel.

I found myself completely absorbed in this tale of twenty-two year old Jack who is stuck in a dead end job, struggling to earn enough to pay for the motel room he lives in. When he is told something he shouldn't have heard, his life begins to change, but the reader is left unaware whether this is for better or worse until the very last page. I was left thinking "superb, more please".

If you liked 'Hound Dog' by Richard Blandford then Abattoir Jack is a must read.

If you want to treat yourself to a copy then you can buy one by following this link.

Reviewed by DJ Kirkby

Friday 9 April 2010

Death Of A Ladies' Man

By Alan Bissett

Death Of A Ladies’ Man is a different and very intriguing read. It throws you straight into a world where events alternate between crashing pace and crushing inaction.

It has some wonderful moments of insight, I particularly liked the comparison drawn between Eric Clapton’s 'Layla' and George Harrison’s 'Something' (both written about the same woman).

‘That’s the difference between love and pain,’ said Charlie, ‘right there’.

Language is bent to convey the drug-taking experience and Bissett plays with language, including how it is laid out on the page. Text strays across the page, words come adrift from sentences and letters fall out of words. This adds a different dimension to the narrative and enriches the reading experience.

The storyline has a claustrophobic feel to it which is cleverly constructed. It looks at the claustrophobia of both the protagonist's working life and also his domestic life living at home, reluctantly, with his ill mother. The novel explores ways of breaking out – for Charlie his escape is in sex and drugs.

The depiction of Glasgow in the novel also works very well – added in little light touches. ‘Beyond, Glasgow howled’, and ‘Glasgow. Streetlight burnished the huge dark blue.’

Bissett also plays with time taking us back to Charlie’s marriage, and even his childhood to throw light on his current behaviour.

Another thread uses Charlie’s status as an English teacher to explore issues about the perception of literature. This is highlighted in his relationship with his pupil Monise. ‘He fed her material – was Joseph Conrad racist? Did Ted ‘kill’ Sylvia? Was Satan the true hero of Paradise Lost?’

The strength of this novel is in its celebration of language and the use of language.

This novel is undoubtedly a challenging read, and it has quite a lot of sexual content which might not be to everyone’s taste. It is extremely unusual though and despite a certain grimness in some of the subject matter, there is a beauty in the writing.

This book is published by Hachette Scotland and the paperback is due out in May.

Reviewed by Helen M Hunt

Sunday 4 April 2010

Eye Contact

by Cammie McGovern

I was keen to read Eye Contact, which has drawn comparisons with 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time' but, despite both books taking the reader inside the world of autism, this is a very different story.

It opens as single mother, Cara, becomes increasingly frantic after her son’s school informs her that autistic nine-year-old, Adam, has disappeared with another student - a ten-year-old girl named Amelia. Her son is found unhurt, but Amelia has been murdered. Adam is the only witness but, traumatized, he withdraws into the unresponsive world of his early childhood and stops speaking. The community is thrown into crisis, with parents fearing for their children’s safety and teachers at the school trying to help the students cope with the tragedy.

As the investigation into the murder unfolds, Detective Matt Lincoln is sceptical about Adam’s ability to aid the investigation, but Cara refuses to give up on her son. She begins her own quest to unlock the secrets inside Adam, helped by teenager, Morgan, who has his own reasons for wanting to solve Amelia’s murder. As the mystery deepens, secrets from Cara’s own past come back to haunt her and her history of failed friendships - particularly with Suzette, her high-school friend, and her clandestine affair with Kevin, Adam’s father - threaten to destroy what little security she and Adam have.

Eye Contact is a thrilling and intricate story. Although it offers some grim realities about parenting a child with autism (the author has an autistic son), it’s first and foremost a crime story, deftly blending a sense of mystery and psychological suspense before delivering a powerful and satisfying dénouement.

Reviewed by Karen Clarke