The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart by Holly Ringland


Where do I begin with this heart-achingly, lovely book that moves between utter despair and glorious hope? Once I started, I couldn’t put it down – the prose and sto

ry captivating me in a way I haven’t been for a long time. Not only that, but I found myself shedding tears I didn’t even know were gathering. Some were from sadness, but others were from the joy descriptions of simple things arouse – like a beautiful flower opening its petals, a painter’s palette summer sky, the cry of a native bird, the sunlight refracting on a river. It was unexpected, quite astonishing and testimony to the power of Ringland’s writing and the magic this tale weaves around your soul.

So, what’s the book about? It tells the story of young Alice Hart who, at nine years of age, suffers a shocking tragedy that forces her to leave her childhood home and the oft dark memories and wonderful stories that reside there, and relocate with her grandmother, someone whom she’s never met before. Like Alice, her grandmother, June, carries dark secrets, secrets borne from a deep maternal urge to protect those she loves and which is reflected in the flower farm she runs and, even more significantly, in the broken women she takes under wing and who work for her. Known as The Flowers, they too have secrets and histories that both bond them and, in an attempt to shed the past or at least reconcile it, cause emotional pain. Among these women with their love of stories and each other and the gorgeous flowers, Alice finds a modicum of peace, many more stories to nourish her soul and even love – that is, until something occurs which catapults her into a future she neither imagined or wanted.

From fields of sugar cane and the deep rolling ocean, to the flower farm by the river, and ultimately, central Australia replete with its chthonic magic and ancient stories, the book spans over twenty years. It explores different kinds of love, our connection to place, how stories shape us, how secrets do as well. It also examines the choices we make – good and bad – and the consequences of these upon both the individual making them and those they inevitably affect. It’s about residence and forgiveness as well.

This is such a soulful, gorgeous book that it’s hard to put into words how it made me feel. All I can say is that my signed copy (gifted by my publisher – and signed to me personally by Holly – thank you, Holly) is something I will treasure. I have also bought the book for others so they too might share in this enchanting novel.

There’s no doubt that Ringland is a voice to watch – poetic, powerful and moving – one that has the ability to take the reader on a journey that doesn’t end when the novel finishes. If that’s not an accomplished storyteller with a great gift, I don’t know what is. Cannot wait to see what Ringland produces next.

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Pandemic by A.G. Riddle

Pandemic, the first book in The Extinction Files by A.G. Riddle is, to borrow from Dr Who, a timey wimey, twisty, wisty (OK, made that last part up), humdinger of a tale about the outbreak of a global haemorrhagic disease and, not only it’s catastrophic consequences, but its terrible origins.

When an old submarine containing evidence of suspicious experiments is found deep beneath the ocean, its discovery unleashes a shocking chain of events that drag epidemiologist, Peyton Shaw, and her crew to Africa and the outbreak of the deadliest virus known the man.

In Berlin, Desmond Hughes awakes to find himself bloodied and bruised, a dead man in his motel room and the police at his door. Only problem is, he has no memory of who he is, who the corpse might be and why not only the authorities are after him, but why he has a message to warn Peyton Shaw.

Thus begins a deadly race against time and a mysterious group whose plans spell both doom and salvation for the entire world…

Fast-paced, well-written with a good mix of back story (some reviewers have found this took from the tale. On the contrary, I really enjoyed various characters histories and getting a bigger context for their motivation), history and plot twists to keep a reader engrossed. There’s been criticism of the use of coincidence, particularly in the latter part of the novel. I didn’t mind this as it’s clearly indicative of a larger plot that has been in the making – in terms of the narrative arc and world of the story – for decades, if not centuries. I am hoping it will all be explained in the next books, which I look forward to reading.

A good action, adventure, eschatological novel with a hefty dose of suspense.

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Silence of the Grave by Arnaldur Indridason

8171219Normally I try and avoid reading series, especially crime series, out of order. However, with Silence of the Grave by Arnaldur Indridason, which I is number four in the Inspector Erlendur series, it doesn’t seem to matter. Such is the pace and quality of the writing that you’re immediately flung into the world of the dour, melancholic Inspector with the fractured family and the cold-case murder he investigates.

When a skeleton is found beneath a construction site, the apparent murder also becomes an archaeological dig that forces the inspector and his team to look to the past for both questions and answers.

The book segues between events during WWII in Iceland when British and American forces held bases in parts of the country and the present, as the reader meets a brutalised young mother and her oppressed family between episodes of the inspector dealing with his own dysfunctional one.

Bleak, dark, and bitter like the weather that defines this part of the world, and yet with characters that enter your heart and won’t leave, this is a gripping book that I found impossible to tear myself away from. Events unfold slowly, languidly even, contradicting the terror some of the scenes evoke and the feelings of impotence and silent rage that too often accompany them.

Not a light read by anyone’s stretch of the imagination, but a fulfilling one it was. Looking forward to reading more by Indridason and learning about the brooding Inspector who can solve everyone else’s problems but his own.


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Book Review, Pure by Julianna Baggott

Pure, by Julianna Baggott, is one of the most disturbing dystopian fictions I’ve read in a while. Set in post-apocalyptic America, after the ‘Detonations’, society (if you can call it that) is basically divided. There are those who live within the shelter of the Dome, unsullied and mostly ignorant of the suffering of the ‘wretches’ outside, and those who survived the initial blasts, subsequent radiation poisoning and the release of nano-technology which has caused their flesh to fuse with whatever object or person they were near, holding or with when the bombs detonated. Called collectively, by those in the Dome, ‘wretches’, there are also those who survive against all odds, less human and more part of the deformed fauna of blasted landscape: the Dusts and Groupies etc. Scrabbling to simply exist, the wretches live among the ruins of civilization, eking out a life and establishing suspicious communities, surrendering to rules and the hierarchy of those who keep them in order. It’s not a brave new world so much as a crazed one.

This world is not for the faint-hearted and there is a Mad Max sensibility to the writing of the early pages as we’re introduced to one of the main protagonists, Pressia Belze, on the cusp of turning 16, and therefore vulnerable to being taken from her grandfather, the only surviving member of her family, the rest of whom were lost in the initial fallout. Like the other survivors, Pressia is scarred and fused – with, of all things, a doll’s head. The changes wrought on her body are brutal, as are the descriptions of all survivors. Initially following Pressia’s point of view, the story then switches to Partridge, a Pure living in the Dome and the two ways of life, ideologies, hopes for the future and dim memories of the past are contrasted.

What slowly unfurls is the inevitable meeting of these two different ways of being and at least two additional points of view. Stark, hard and difficult to read at times, the story is about the human capacity for cruelty, desire for power, the clinging on to hope and determination to survive against what seem to be insurmountable odds and the role memory of the past plays in the present – how it shapes, forms and twists identity (like the fusings). Plot wise, the novel builds well. It then, towards the end, packs a great deal of information and sudden character development into the final pages before leaving the reader hanging. As the first book of a trilogy, this is to be expected, but I couldn’t help but feel that some of the information could have been left for the next installment. After being starved of information (like Pressia, Bradwell, Partridge and Lyda), it came thick, fast and sometimes illogically. The was a scattergun approach that, when you pause to think about it, didn’t always gel with the careful world and character building that had already occurred. Not that it’s a deal-breaker.

Harrowing, bleak and sad, I can’t say I ‘enjoyed’ this book… It seems wrong and the schadenfreude feels staged and uncomfortable. That it’s been optioned for film rights does not surprise me, as there is something cinematic about it – as if Terry Gillam, Benito del Toro or Tim Burton might bring this awful reality to life. The mothers with their children fused to their bodies, the grandfather with a little personal fan in his throat, El Capitano who literally bears the burden of his younger brother. The novel is almost pornographic in its unrelenting aesthetic violence and you grow virtually immune to it by the end, which is quite problematic in terms of engagement. Nonetheless, I think it’s telling that I am not convinced, despite the terrible beauty and tragedy of this world and what’s occurred, that I care enough about the characters to continue with the trilogy and discover their fate. The losses are too great, the emptiness (in the characters as well) too vast… And, I guess, the staging too overt to really draw you into their lives and make you invest in them. Now I feel shallow and awful that I have declared I don’t care about the characters – especially when they’ve endured so much and clearly have a great deal more to go through. How can I not care? I think because the nullity at the core of this book is too overt – there’s a sense in which it lacks heart. Not sure why and am looking forward to reading other’s opinions, but I feel, as it always does in these kind of books, it lies with the characters. They are too two-dimensional and their development happens in huge and predictable increments and so, like the world, feels manufactured and your response to them highly manipulated. There is an irony to this in terms of the story… Perhaps this is what the author intended. If so, she’s done a stellar job. But I still feel, despite my misgivings, that the book deserves a four out of five. The imagery and ideas underpinning the book remain with you long after the last page… What a pity the characters don’t.

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