Book Review: V for Violet, by Alison Rattle

V for Violet. V for Victory. V for Vengeance.

cv_v_for_violetViolet White is sixteen now, out of school, and into an endless cycle of working at her mum and dad’s chippie, as is expected of her as a girl her age in 1961. Socially awkward and desperately behind on anything trending, Violet turns to her long-time best friend Jackie to show her the light in a world sashaying into the swinging sixties. But Jackie has changed since they left school. And that’s just the beginning.

Violet’s long-lost war hero brother returns after 16 years of being MIA, things are changing dramatically at home, and young girls are disappearing and being found raped and murdered. Violet prides herself on knowing when people lie; and she almost certain her brother has something he’s hiding … but what?

The first of Alison Rattle’s books that I have read, V for Violet is a historically accurate and engaging coming-of-age story wrapped inside a gripping murder mystery. The main thing I enjoyed about this novel was that the characters, especially Violet, were real, wonderfully relatable, and perfectly flawed; showing us that our lack of perfection is no barrier for saving the day. Violet is a true hero. Another point worth noting was the inclusion of LGBTQ+ content in a novel set in a time where it was dangerous for those people to be who they were. We tend to assume this wasn’t an issue historically, because there were very few who were brave enough to fight for their rights. In a nutshell, it was refreshing to see.

Something interesting to note was the clash of theme and language style. It is undeniable that the themes of sex, murder, and rape are suited for older audiences; however the language level and writing style suggested the target audience was younger. Unfortunately, this did impact my opinion of the story. I believe Rattle may have overplayed her hand with the characters a bit and I was expecting a cleverer way of keeping the audience guessing about the identity of the murderer, which is why I believe it is suited for younger audiences. Also, the killer’s motive was a bit underdeveloped, as though Rattle hadn’t thought in depth about potential motives; I was expecting more.

Regardless, this book is a riveting novel perfect for Year 9 – 1o high school students who enjoy a good mystery. Violet is a simply lovable character and you will only put this book down after you read every last word. I give V for Violet by Alison Rattle nine out of ten.

Reviewed by Saoirse Hill-Shearman
As part of the Allen & Unwin YA Ambassador review team 

V for Violet
by Alison Rattle
Published by Hot Key Books
ISBN 9781471403811

Book Review: The Malice of Waves, by Mark Douglas-Home

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_malice_of_wavesA few months ago I read and enjoyed the first novel in this series of Cal McGill, The Sea Detective. Cal McGill is a most interesting character – an oceanographer with a good back story who uses his skills and knowledge of the sea and weather to solve murders, washed up or missing bodies, and parts thereof. There were a number of plots happening in the story, which came together nicely at the end, very well interwoven with a cast of diverse characters and situations tightly held. It was great.

In this one, number three in the series, for me, something is missing. I didn’t feel a connection with the story or the characters. Which is disappointing. This is actually more about the community that Cal finds himself in, rather than Cal himself, this really different type of detective and interesting person to boot. And so I think something has been lost in this shift. Perhaps there is just too much going on, too many threads to hold together.

Great opening, with Cal in a boat off a small island (fictional) in the Outer Hebrides – yes, the physical setting is still very awesome – undertaking bouyancy experiments with Millie, who is a dead pig. Gross really, but as pigs are similar to humans in their physiology, very useful to Cal in his area of work. He is actually in the area looking into the disappearance on the island five years earlier of fourteen-year-old Max Wheeler, who was on a boating trip with his father and sisters. No body had ever been found, and now Cal has been called in by the father’s lawyer to see if his knowledge of ocean currents, winds, storms could shed some light on where the body, if there is a body, may have gone. A mystery – was it murder, accident, suicide, abduction?

The father, David Wheeler, has never come to terms with the disappearance of his son. His purchase of the island created considerable conflict with long time users of the island, which continues into the present. The issue just never goes away mainly due to the bitter and angry Wheeler returning to the area every year on the anniversary of his son’s disappearance, which is what is about to happen in the story. Tensions are simmering throughout the story, not just between the Wheelers and the locals, but also amongst the local residents themselves. Cal’s presence, on Wheeler’s behalf, is further fuel to the fire.

Over the course of the book, what happened to young Max does eventually come out. But surprisingly, it is not all due to Cal and his knowledge of the seas. The focus of the story is really on the local community, in particular Bella, who owns and operates the local cafe, the hub of this small coastal village. Bella takes on all the dramas of the community, is guardian for her niece, and looks out for a number of other, mostly young people. This leads her into a murky and dangerous alliance with a peculiar man who collects rare birds’ eggs, and whose arrival in the area probably contributes more to the eventual solving of the mystery than Cal’s expertise.

It is a good read, but with numerous sub-plots going on, it did jump around a lot, becoming disjointed in parts. I really wanted to have more of Cal solving the mystery using his unique knowledge and skills, and more of him as the lone, slightly offbeat detective character he was in the first novel. Although Millie did pop up again during the story, which was interesting!

Reviewed by Felicity Murray

The Malice of Waves
by Mark Douglas-Home
Published by Michael Joseph Ltd
ISBN 9780718182755

Book Review: Fellside, by M R Carey

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_fellsideFellside is a prison, a correctional facility for women to be precise, where three thousand women ‘form a community committed to a practical ideal of rehabilitation’. Sounds idyllic. Not. A women’s prison is not a place that most people get to see the inside of, but we sure get plenty of insight from programmes like Bad Girls, Orange is the New Black, and Wentworth. Really tough women, young and old, fighting to survive. Fellside is no different.

There have been a number of best-selling novels in the last few years which have as their central premise a young woman who has suffered memory loss. Jess Moulson is yet another young woman in the unfortunate position of having her life dramatically affected by amnesia.

The story opens with Jess regaining consciousness in a hospital bed, handcuffed to the bed, being treated for serious burns, smoke inhalation. Gradually, she remembers that she was involved in a fire in her flat that led to the death of a ten-year-old boy who lived in the flat upstairs. Jess is a drug addict and has vague recollection that she set the fire for reasons that she can’t quite recall. By page 25 she has been found guilty of murder, the subject of the most awful press coverage, and sentenced to Fellside. Her court-appointed lawyer is doubtful that the full and factual story has come out but can’t get Jess to see sense, her guilt at the death of young Alex completely overwhelming her.

So life in prison begins, and it’s not a bed of roses. Now, I am not a fan of supernatural or fantasy fiction, I really just do not get it. But very cleverly the author who, under a pen name has written for Marvel comics and writes his own graphic fiction, introduces what can only be called a ghost character – a young boy who comes to Jess in her sleep, in her dreams, taking her with him to his world. She is convinced this is the spirit of Alex, and gradually realises that he is helping her to see what really happened the night of the fire. And so the mystery of Alex’s death begins to be solved.

But it is definitely creepy, weird and unsettling. At the same time as Jess is moving between the real world and the spirit world, she has to adapt to prison life in all its ruthlessness, cruelty, bent prison officers, and survival of the fittest code. It is pretty grim. What was interesting and did help to soften the brutality was the back stories of the prisoners and how they came to be in Fellside, including Jess’s own story. As awful as they all are, terrible things happened to the women that led them to prison, so it is hardly surprising the terror continues.

At nearly 500 pages, already one can see that there is lot going on in this novel. It is tricky to define what sort of novel it is – a psychological thriller? Murder mystery? Supernatural? Fantasy? Horror? At times it does wobble, and for me, I did lose my way with all the wanderings Jess and Alex’s spirit do in the pursuit of justice. But living in such a prison environment, wouldn’t you too want to escape to inside your head?

If you get past all the spooky action, then this is actually quite a riveting story. Life in the prison is graphically depicted, all the characters are very well drawn with great depth, there are lots of twists in the plot and surprises. And in the end, justice is served.

Reviewed by Felicity Murray

Fellside
by M.R. Carey
Published by Orbit
ISBN 9780356503592