Cannonball Read 7, Book 5: The Point of Rescue by Sophie Hannah

2980614Normally, when I post a review of Hannah’s books on here and tweet the link, I’ll include her twitter handle. She gives good chat on there and also reads the reviews (she commented on something specific in one of mine, so it’s not like she was just all “oh thanks” about it). I won’t be doing it on this one, because holy fucking shit I thought this book was absolutely terrible.

Admittedly, I’ve read the books out of sequence, which doesn’t help matters. I started with book 5 in the series, went back and read books 1 and 2, jumped ahead and read books 7 and 8 and now am back here at book number 3. It’s very clear, given how much more I enjoyed the later books, that Hannah has, improved greatly as a writer. It also doesn’t help that I watched the TV adaptation of this a few years back and the TV writers really smoothed over a hell of a lot of cracks in the book.

The premise is a bloody good one though. Sally Thorne is a mother of two with a high stress job. She uses a cancelled work conference as an excuse to escape for a week from her life. She pretends to her husband it’s not cancelled and has a week in a spa hotel, where she ends up having a shagtastic time with a bloke called Mark Bretherick. The next time she hears that name is when his wife and daughter are found dead at home. Only, the Mark Bretherick on the news is not the man Sally Thorne spent her dirty week with…..

From there, the book goes somewhat off a cliff. Firstly, the characters are mostly ridiculous. I know a few mums, all of whom are juggling work and home life, none of whom seem to find it as impossibly difficult as Sally Thorne does. Her hysterically over the top reactions to pretty much everything to do with her job and her home life become very tiresome very quickly. There are too many police characters and expert witnesses, all of whom are a parade of stereotypes and caricatures. The only ones in any kind of focus are the main pair, Simon Waterhouse and Charlie Zailer. And their relationship is maddening, nonsensical.

The reveal of whodunnit and why is protracted, repetitive, tiresome and wholly unconvincing. Having spent a VERY LONG TIME waffling on about all kinds of boring twaddle, a race to find a missing witness is rushed and fumbled. All in all, this book is an unholy mess and you’re well advised to skip it if you’ve started reading the series. Nothing happens to any recurring characters that is of any import. Life is too short.

Cannonball Read 7, Book 2: Agatha Raisin & The Deadly Dance by M.C. Beaton

9781849011488Year of Crime Book 2

So, here we are. 2015 will be the year I finally burn through the rest of the Agatha Raisin books, which have been sitting on my Kindle for a year. The self-imposed Year of Crime (Reading) should sort that right out. And following the entertaining but hugely miscast TV adaptation of the first book, my interest in all things Raisin has been very much renewed.

So, after several years of having her retirement disrupted by dead bodies popping up and then solving the murder, Agatha has finally decided to come out of retirement and open her own private detective agency. And even more refreshing, Agatha’s new neighbour is a retired lady, not some silver fox for her to coo over and fall in love with. And when Agatha hires her as her secretary, all hell eventually breaks loose.

See, the dance of the title, and the central murder story, are FAR less interesting than the sub plot involving Secretary Emma and her increasingly psycho fixations and mental behaviour. Which isn’t to say the central story is bad, it isn’t. In fact, it’s probably one of the more satisfying ones Beaton has come up with in a long while. It is just overshadowed by Mental Emma.

The decision to give Raisin her own agency has given the series a new lease of life and come as a welcome change. It was the best thing Beaton could have done. It’s just a shame it’s taken fifteen books to get there, when really it could have been done in five. If you’re intrigued enough to start reading Raisin, but the thought of the series being SO long makes you break out in hives, then start here. You’ll pick it all up just fine.

Cannonball Read 6, Book 52: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

16068905Last year, my Cannonball book was a crashing disappointment. A one star disaster that I HATED. I didn’t want to repeat the same problem this year. I wanted book 52 to be a treat, a rave review, a delight. A book I tore through in a day because I couldn’t put it down. After loving Eleanor & Park so hard, I bought Fangirl so this was the obvious logical choice to take centre stage as book 52 this year. An obvious shoo in for a gushing and effusive review. Alas, it’s not to be. While it’s miles better than last year’s crap out, Fangirl still really disappointed me.

Again, I know I’m not the demographic Rowell is shooting for, but I also know I don’t believe in limiting my book consumption based on something as arbitrary as that. So we have twins Cath and Wren (their mother didn’t want one child, let alone two, so when she had twins, she took the one name, Catherine, and split it in half. Already, I’m like “oh fuck off”), who have been abandoned by their mother and raised by their bipolar father. They both love Simon Snow (a painfully obvious stand in for Harry Potter) and Cath writes Simon Snow fan fiction. They’re about to go to college, the same college. Wren decides not to share a dorm with Cath because it’s time to put away the childish things but Cath won’t let go of her Simon Snow obsession, her fan fiction and her huge online following. Cue much angsty hand wringing as twins separate from each other.

I would possibly have cared more about Cath’s awkward social behaviour or Wren’s journey off the rails by way of too much drinking if either of them were likeable. But Wren is a shallow little mean bitch, so we’re supposed to side with Cath. Poor sweet awkward Simon Snow loving Cath. Problem there is Cath is a TOTAL FUCKING DRIP. She’s so wet and lame and boring and OH MY GOD you just want to smack her in the face. When her roommate’s ex-boyfriend falls for her, Cath is so intensely, well, Cath about it that I was rooting for Levi (for it is he) to give up on her and go find someone who doesn’t hyperventilate when you mention touching her boobies. Levi is the sole decent character. He’s ace, and Rowell clearly has a hard on for him, and so she should. He’s the only reason, pretty much, that I slogged on to the end.

The biggest problem with the book though is Simon Snow. Each chapter is prefaced with an excerpt from either one of the official Snow books, or Cath’s fan fiction. After reading one or two of them, I found them so eye gougingly awful that I skipped them. I love Harry Potter books so much, that for someone to try and emulate them, and to then have fan fiction of that emulation, it’s like trying to read a photocopy of a photocopy. We are treated to whole chapters of Cath’s fan fiction later in the book, which I simply couldn’t bear to read. She has Simon Snow and the bad vampire boy go gay for each other and the thought of someone as messed up as Cath trying to portray that, I just couldn’t bear to find out how awful it was. And then, as if I didn’t already want to smack her enough, when Levi asks her to read him some more when he’s at his fraternity, Cath replies something like “I don’t think I can read this to you with actual gay people in the house”. Oh wow just FUCK OFF.

It’s saved, just about, by a nice last chapter and some actual non-fan fiction from Cath (who spent the whole book being told what a great writer she is and whining about how she didn’t want to write anything other than Simon Snow. Fuck off.). But all in all, after the dizzy and gorgeous heights of Eleanor & Park, this was a disappointment, to say the least.

Cannonball Read, Book 39: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

16143347I think I have written before about how when I was growing up, YA wasn’t really a big deal, and I honestly can’t recall reading books aimed specifically at my age group when I was fifteen. This is why I read lots of Stephen King and the like when I was growing up and probably accounts a lot for my warped world view. As much as I loathe Stephenie Meyer and every book she’s ever published, there’s no denying that Twilight finished what Harry Potter started and put YA through the roof into the stratosphere. You can’t turn around now without there being some new YA phenomenon being hyped up every other day. And since I didn’t have any when I was growing up, I see absolutely no shame in reading it now that I’m hurtling ever faster towards 40.

The latest book to arrive on a tidal wave of hype is this one, E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars. Narrated by 17 year old Cadence Sinclair Eastman, it tells the story of a fantastically rich family and their summers on a private island. She hangs out with two cousins her own age, Jonny and Mirren and an outsider, Gat, who joins them every year. She falls in love with Gat, of course. Then, when Cadence is 15, she has an accident and loses most of her memory of summer fifteen. Two years later, she returns to the private island and memories begin to come back as to exactly what happened.

E. Lockhart is of course Emily Jenkins, and here she schools several authors I’ve read recently in how you write spoilt, privileged and generally awful people and it not be hard work to read them. Cadence and indeed the entire Sinclair family are all pretty vile to each other, squabbling over inheritance following the death of their grandmother. There’s shades of fairy tales and of King Lear in that set up, with three daughters all trying to show their father they love him the most to secure their own future.  Lockhart also captures how teens really talk to each other more than, say, Cody Diablo ever has. Cadence, Mirren, Jonny and Gat call themselves The Liars and some of their conversations feel painfully real. This excellent characterisation coupled with an intriguing mystery makes this an engrossing read. I finished it in one sitting.

There’s the issue of the ending though. It’s unfortunate that they’ve made SO MUCH of the twisty turny ending Lockhart has come up with. My housemate read an ARC of it, which even had a helpline number on it so you could discuss the ending with someone. I mean, really. All the publicity says “if anyone asks you how it ends, LIE”. But when you go into a book or a film knowing there’s a twist, you’ll be looking for it. Chances are you’ll find it before it’s revealed as well. I believe it’s called The Shyamalan Paradox. We Were Liars is no different, I figured where it was going before it got there, but it didn’t really diminish the impact of it. It may have been a more effective marketing campaign to talk about the characters, Lockhart’s powerful writing, maybe even double bluffing by amping up the inheritance in fighting angle. Then, the ending would really come along and smack you up side the head.

So anyway, if you love YA books, you totally need to read it. You’ve possibly already done so. But if anyone asks you how it ends, don’t lie. Don’t tell them anything about it. Tell them to just read it themselves.

Cannonball Read 6, Book 38: Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield

17726082I really enjoyed Setterfield’s debut novel, The Thirteenth Tale. It was a book as much about the love of books as it was the dark tale it was telling, and telling it with an unreliable narrator to boot. It left a lasting impression and when I spotted her follow up, a ghost story no less, on the shelf in Foyles, I had to buy it. I bloody love ghost stories. I love being scared when I’m reading or watching something, it’s the best. I haven’t had a book send shivers down my spine since Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger (there’s one scene in that book so tense and frightening, it nearly caused a panic attack. High praise indeed). So I was properly excited to read this one. And that’s where it all goes wrong.

It doesn’t help that the marketing for the novel has this to say about it: “Bellman & Black is a heart-thumpingly perfect ghost story, beautifully and irresistibly written, its ratcheting tension exquisitely calibrated line by line”. I spent the whole book waiting for there to be anything approaching tension, but I couldn’t find it among the long rambling descriptions of mundane day to day workings of mills and funeral emporiums. So, our hero is William Bellman. At the age of 11, he has the best catapult and is the envy of all his friends. He kills a rook with it one day, which apparently will be important later. He grows up and leads a charmed life, until people around him begin to die. At every funeral William attends, a stranger is present, dressed in black and smiling at him. After losing his wife and all but one of his children to illness, William is almost insane with grief and at his wife’s grave, he encounters the stranger again. This time, they talk and the stranger makes a proposition.

From that proposition, William builds a successful funeral emporium, the titular Bellman & Black. The first half of the novel is focussed so much on William’s work at the family mill, it’s mostly quite dull. The second half focuses on the building of this new venture and is even more dull, because people stop dying. Nothing ratchets up line by line, apart from maybe my impatience for something to actually happen, for Setterfield to pay off Bellman’s obsession with rooks, why people died around him, something, anything. But when it comes, the payoff is a crushing, boring, and very much not scary disappointment.

If you don’t believe the hype, and don’t know this is supposed to be heart thumping, perfect and tense or whatever, then there’s something quite absorbing about the earlier parts of the book. William is a charming rogue of a character, and the happiness he finds with his family being so comprehensively shattered makes for some bleak reading. But nothing can save the second half, where William is cold, closed off and occasionally barking mad, monomaniacally focussed on his business. Such a disappointment.

Cannonball Read 6, Book 34: The Humans by Matt Haig

21265230So here’s a funny thing. I have a book by Matt Haig on my “to read” shelf over on Goodreads. It’s called The Dead Fathers Club and it’s on there because a) I am always up for reading modernised novels based on Shakespeare plays (I’m already beside myself about the Hogarth Shakespeare project, but that’s another story) and because b) my father died all too recently. That’s not really the funny thing. The funny thing is, since I bang on about books pretty much all the time over on my twitter account, out of the blue, Matt Haig started following me. I followed him back and earlier this year, to celebrate the paperback publication of The Humans, he had a little twitter competition to give away some signed copies. All you had to do was watch this video and tweet him the name of the film he is making a reference to at the end. I entered and blow me down if I didn’t win.

That’s an awfully long preamble with a full on name drop in it, I know. But I’m about to rhapsodise over this gorgeous little book and so it’s only fair that you can all decide how big you think your pinch of salt should be as you read it. The Humans tells the story of an alien from the planet Vonnadoria who takes the corporeal form of Professor Andrew Martin. See, our poor doomed professor just solved the Riemann Hypothesis, and the Vonnadorians don’t think the messy human race is ready for the massive technological advancements said proof will provide. So our otherwise unnamed narrator takes on Martin’s form, after Martin is killed, with the primary objective of eliminating everyone who knows about the Riemann solution, all the time fitting in on Earth and not drawing undue attention to himself.

It doesn’t start well when he materialises in the middle of Cambridge, stark naked and without a firm grasp on the English language (so not unlike Arnie at the beginning of The Terminator then). He winds up sectioned for his own protection and the whole “episode” is written off as a breakdown. Freed into the care of his family, Martin sets about his task. But, of course, it’s not as easy as all that. Along the way, he realises that the Martin family are massively dysfunctional and is overcome with a desire to help them. He starts to care about his wayward teenage son and his unhappy wife (all the while conversing with the family dog) and begins to feel emotions. The alien Andrew Martin takes a slow journey from pitying and hating the human race, baffled by our everyday existences, to discovering that those existences can be pretty wonderful things.

Matt Haig has spoken openly about his struggles with depression and anxiety and so it’s no surprise to read in the afterword that he conceived the idea for this book when he was in the grips of anxiety so bad that the thought of going to the shops would induce a panic attack. Anyone who has ever felt like an outsider, not understood themselves or the people around them, but always been able to find the joy in a piece of music, poetry or a good book (which is pretty much all of us), will see themselves in this wonderful story. Anyone who reads the toy castle analogy of what it’s like to live will not forget it in a hurry, and the three page chapter titled “How To Be A Human” contains enough beautifully constructed wisdom to make you ache.

It seems odd that a book like this should be labelled important, but it is. If you think I’m being ever more hyperbolic, I refer you to this review.  It’s easy to take a potshot at its predictability that alien Andrew does a better job at being a human than his flesh and blood counterpart, but I don’t think anyone would get past the first thirty pages without realising exactly where it’s headed. If ever there was a case of “it isn’t where you go, it’s how you get there”, it would be this one. For an ending to be so clear cut from so early on but to still cause a lump in my throat is no mean feat. Anyway, I’ve banged on for long enough now, so do yourselves a favour. Buy this book. Read it. And then read it again.

Cannonball Read 6, Book 32: The Quincunx by Charles Palliser

222627Well, I said 2014 would be a year of Big Books and you really don’t get much bigger than this. Last year, when I bought my copy of The Luminariesa colleague said to me “you know, if you really want to read a proper faux Victorian novel, you should check out The Quincunx”. As I pondered whether something could be proper and faux at the same time, I wandered into my nearest bookshop and picked up a copy. It is a HUGE book in every sense of the word. It’s a trade cloth sized paperback, and it weighs in at 1191 pages of fairly small type. The story is both sprawling and intimate (focussing on the possible inheritance of one person, but said inheritance is tied into decades of family history and encompasses five different families). As reviews stated at the time, Palliser pretty much out-Dickens Dickens.

Quincunx is not, as you might expect, a Chaucerian bit of slang for vagina, but the five point design you see on the face of dice. And fives are what this novel is all about. It’s divided into five sections, each section into five books and each book into five chapters. We have a first person narrator, John Mellamphy, and we have an omniscient narrator who pops up at the beginning of each section to drip feed us information. Master Mellamphy begins to believe that he is actually John Huffam and the rightful heir to the Huffam estate. His mother possesses a codicil to a will that would prove as much, but there are other families who would stop at nothing to ensure the codicil never sees the light of day.

As John sets out to discover the truth about his heritage, his journey takes him far and wide throughout England and encounters pretty much every level of society. For quite a while, his mother is with him and her naïveté might just drive you out of your mind. She’s so staggeringly that you feel for John when he yells at her for being so trusting of complete strangers and the like. When John leaves her behind, the story really does kick up a gear. Misery upon misery is piled upon our possible Huffam until you can’t quite believe he isn’t crushed by the sheer weight of them.

Just when you think that you can’t take anymore gloriously detailed glumness, the events of the novel become so intense and exciting that if you’ve been enjoying it up to that point, then strap in, because you won’t be putting the novel down until you get to the end. Honestly, the last 300 pages will have your pulse racing and I pretty much couldn’t read it fast enough. The ending deviates from the traditional norm Palliser is emulating, in that it is most definitely ambiguous. I can’t decide whether to be annoyed by this or not. I really wanted a definitive happy ending for John Huffam as he really suffers for his art over the course of 1150 pages and at least a decade (Palliser never gives you his age or a true idea of the span of the novel). But we don’t get a definitive unhappy ending either. There are definitely more elements of misery than joy in the final chapters, but there’s enough of a glimmer that I want to believe it wasn’t all for nought. Whatever the conclusion I draw, I can say this for sure. Reading this book was most definitely NOT for nought. An absolutely staggering piece of fiction. For those of you who love classic novels and bemoan the fact they don’t make them like they used to, well, THEY DO.

Cannonball Read 6, Book 28: The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

18949650Hoo boy. I said 2014 would be my Year of Big Books and this is most definitely a Big Book in all senses of the word. It is close to 600 pages in hardback with fairly small print, so it’s literally big. It covers a span of over fifty years and many characters, so it’s figuratively also big. And it’s not actually published until September 2nd 2014, so the fact that I have been able to read an advance copy is frankly HUGE.

The proof copy I have just finished expressly states that it is not for quotation, but the jacket copy is not included in that, so here we are:

The Bone Clocks follows the twists and turns of Holly’s life from a scarred adolescence in Gravesend to old age on Ireland’s Atlantic coast as Europe’s oil supply dries up – a life not so far out of the ordinary, yet punctuated by flashes of precognition, visits from people who emerge from thin air and brief lapses in the laws of reality. For Holly Sykes – daughter, sister, mother, guardian – is also an unwitting player in a murderous feud played out in the shadows and margins of our world, and may prove to be its decisive weapon.”

I won’t lie. When I read that description, I was a little, um, apprehensive. See, David Mitchell blew my mind with Cloud Atlas and I absolutely loved loved loved Black Swan Green. But then along came The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet and I was crushed. I found it unreadable and gladly jettisoned it after 50 pages. But with The Bone Clocks, I think it’s safe to say it is an epic and triumphant return to form. The book opens in 1984, with Holly Sykes deciding to run away from home after an argument with her mother. Headstrong and furious she refuses to give in and go home, and thus she encounters a strange woman who offers a small kindness in exchange for ‘asylum’. Decades will pass before Holly fully understands exactly what that flip little moment has got her into.

After the opening, narrated by Holly, each section of the book moves forward in time and has a different narrator, as Holly becomes a supporting player in her own huge story. That is until the final section, Holly once again is our narrator, a stylistic echo of Cloud Atlas, if ever there was one. I can’t quite say enough good things about this insanely inventive, daring, bravura novel. The wheels could very easily have come off, as Mitchell spends almost two thirds of the novel keeping that murderous feud in the shadows, drip feeding little bits of information to the reader, enough to make you think “what the actual fuck” and compel you onward at the same time. It’s a fine balancing act, one which Mitchell pulls off masterfully. It’s nearly 400 pages in before the murderous feud is brought front and centre and fully explained and even then, it’s done so in a way which bamboozles as much as it enlightens. I mean that as a compliment.

The final chapter suggests a future not unlike the post-electric wasteland Anne Washburn imagines in Mr Burns, only even bleaker and with more violence. It’s always risky when authors take on the near future but Mitchell is far more successful than Jennifer Egan was in A Visit From The Goon Squad, which I enjoyed right up until that final fateful awful chapter. Similarly, The Teleportation Accident went that one step too far. I suspect Mitchell won’t come out of the reviews unscathed for his ideas of how technology will progress before collapsing in on itself, but I went with it. His writing is just so glorious (I wish I could quote any number of choice passages, but you’ll just have to read the book and find out how gorgeous it is) and the characters so brilliant, vivid and real (Hugo Lamb, making a return appearance after one chapter in Black Swan Green, is especially magnificent), that by the time you get to the final chapter, you’ll believe anything Mitchell tells you and be willing for some kind of light in the darkness to emerge. Whether it does or not, I couldn’t possibly say, but I implore you to read this book.

 

Cannonball Read 6, Book 21: Night Film by Marisha Pessl

17612888Marisha Pessl arrived in a blaze of glory seven or eight years ago. Her debut novel, Special Topics in Calamity Physics, was a critically lauded runaway bestseller. I read it and loved every page of it. Then, she did a Donna Tartt and vanished for aeons. I was about to give up on another novel being published when last year along came her follow up, Night Film. Unlike Tartt, the follow up wasn’t as critically reviled as The Little Friend, but it didn’t attract the universal acclaim its predecessor had. But then, lightning doesn’t strike twice, does it?

Veering far from her debut, this novel centres on Scott McGrath. An investigative journalist, Scott narrates the tale, telling us how in his relentless pursuit of the notoriously reclusive film director Stanislas Cordova, he nuked his own career and turned himself into a journalistic pariah. Now divorced and seriously down on his luck, he is drawn back into the web of Cordova when his 26 year old daughter Ashley is found dead in an apparent suicide. Eager to prove she was in fact murdered, McGrath begins to look into Ashley’s last days on earth, aided and (not always) abetted by two waifs and strays he picks up in the course of his investigation.

Pessl goes all out with the telling of this story. There are recreations of websites, police reports and magazine articles peppered throughout McGrath’s narrative, the attention to detail of which is all highly impressive. And you can’t accuse her of trying to detract from the story, since Pessl can really tell a story, and the history of the Cordova family is undeniably one heck of a story. A Kubrick inspired creation, to be sure, Cordova’s films are banned for their disturbing imagery and violence, his fans hold secret screenings and have a message board set up on the “dark web”, devoted to analysing every frame of them. Rumours and myths about Cordova abound, and McGrath has to try and find the reality in amongst all the crazy if he’s going to discover just what drove Ashley to end her life. Or if someone else ended it for her.

Inevitably, he can’t find that out with pushing himself ever further down the rabbit hole and allowing his life to spin almost entirely out of his own control. As he uncovers evidence of voodoo, witchcraft, black magic, secret sex clubs and underground networks, his obsession threatens to consume him entirely. It is a riveting story, immaculately paced, deep and more layered than you would expect. The supporting cast take a little bit of disbelief suspension, it’s fair to say, but Pessl makes them endearing enough that I forgave their outlandishness. I could have done without the excessive use of italics Pessl uses to make her point as well, but I was gripped from page one and by the time I got to the end I felt like I hadn’t breathed for about 100 pages.

Whether you find the ending a giant cop out or a bravura decision is of course entirely dependent on just how much you believe of everything you read leading up to it. For me, the unravelling of Ashley’s mystery was most definitely the latter. The coda Pessl tacks on though? I wasn’t entirely sure I bought it. All in all, a bloody good read and a worthy successor to Special Topics in Calamity Physics. 

Cannonball Read 6, Book 20: The Land of Decoration by Grace McCleen

13064606This book was on many Best lists in the year it was published. Published two years after Room, it would be tough not to say Donoghue’s utterly excellent novel didn’t influence McCleen, as here we are with another narrator who also happens to be a damaged child with no concept of the real world she happens to live in. There though, all comparisons end. Judith’s mother died shortly after giving birth to her and she has been raised by her father alone. As devout Jehovah’s Witnesses, Judith and her father spend their weekends knocking on doors and telling people to prepare for the End  of the World. What free time she has, Judith spends building a model of the titular Land, where the believers end up after Armageddon. Badly bullied at school, Judith spends one weekend praying she can stay off school on Monday. She makes it snow in her model Land. On the Monday morning, it’s snowed so much overnight that schools are closed. Judith believes she’s made a miracle happen. And from there, things only get worse.

Anyone who was ever bullied at school for being different (I think that’s pretty much everyone, no?), will find something to identify with in poor innocent Judith. It also makes it quite a tough read in places. Judith is clearly damaged by her upbringing (her father made no secret of holding her responsible for her mother’s death, for example) and so indoctrinated to her religion that she very much cannot see the wood for the trees and you desperately want her to. McCleen writes in a clipped, straightforward, no-nonsense style, in short chapters, which makes this a very quick read. But, as I said earlier, not an easy one.

As Judith’s quest for miracles continues, her father’s life starts to come off the rails. They’re both persecuted by bullies, Judith at school, her father at work. They both start to become mentally affected by the persecution, with Judith believing she’s having conversations with God, as well as being guided by him in her creation of miracles. The way Judith relates all the events though, she can’t see how wrong everything is going, and there’s something horribly unsettling in how you observe these two lives coming apart at the seams in such a detached style. Eventually, everything in her life has broken apart so much that Judith finally sees the wood among the trees and thinks there’s only one way she can fix things.

And believe me when I tell you, you will fervently be wishing there’s a happy ending waiting for Judith and her poor damaged father at the end of this brief, brilliant novel. McCleen breaks your heart for them over and over again throughout the book and makes you root for them as much as she makes you want to smack them upside the head on occasion (her father  more than Judith on that score). Whether or not they get the happy ending is something you’ll need to read the book to find out. Although, when you’ve finished, you may still not be too sure about just how happy an ending it really is.