Book Review: Armadillos, by P.K. Lynch #Legend100

Publisher:  Legend Press   |   Publication date: 1st April 2016

Armadillos My Review

Armadillos Book CoverPoignant, emotionally charged, and with many a dark corner, Armadillos shows how life can fail just about anyone given the right, but mainly wrong, chance set of circumstances.

Born into a Texan farming family who practise immorally abusive entertainment at the expense of the subservient members of their unit makes for an uncomfortable reading experience, and yet it was a book I read straight through in one day – it would appear that fifteen year old Aggie grabbed hold of me with both hands and I couldn’t bring myself to let her go.

This first person narrative in a regional dialect offers a personal account of this young girl’s life, who is quite accepting of her current dire circumstances, until one day she walks out the door, passed the landlocked boat that rots a little more each year, and she just kept on walking.

With only the clothes on her back, Aggie uses her limited wily ways to entice rides from the unsuspecting public to place as much distance between her and the farm as she can, and yet she has no idea where she’s going, only a desire to not return home. Her implanted memories of past events are recalled on route until the impression of the life she has been fed over time dissipates onto the harsh reality on the street.

Constantly looking over her shoulder, running from one disastrous situation to the next, she slowly engages in a steep learning curve to not have to rely on others to further her progression. No matter how small her goal, until she can confront her past, present, and what the future holds, she will never take hold life’s reigns to arrive at the place she needs to be.

Her temporary survival technique sees her befriending a catalogue of fascinating and troubled characters, each having their own terrors to keep them company. I grew especially fond of Marj (initially known as The Beast Lady), whose aggression is a force of its own, but whose dream is to manufacture and sell her hand crafted souvenirs to tourists to raise much needed funds. She believes the little Crucifixes and Armadillos she creates from blown out tyres is her trip out of this hellhole of a life. And then there’s the road kill she lovingly places in the back of her car until she can find a suitable place to lay them to rest. She’s goes out of her way to look out for the little creatures, even if no one else does.

The majority of Aggie’s acquaintances are also burdened by common fear; they hide behind the only protective armour they have, which is retreating into their own shells to prevent the disclosure of any potential weak spot. One by one these lone survivors unwittingly fill the void in Aggie’s young life, even if they choose to move on, disappoint her, or threaten to rock the boat at some point.

Despite its desperate nature, Armadillos is an encouraging story of hope, even if it is tormentingly evasive at times.  This is a hard hitting novel, and one that will stay with you for some time.

Everybody knows that life don’t give a sh!t who you are. Life throws you a curve ball any old time it feels like it, no matter your size, colour or creed…

Rating: 4/5

(Huge thanks, as ever, to Legend Press for providing a paperback proof copy of this title, as part of the Legend 100 Club. So far, every read has been quite unique and I can’t wait to see what they have in store for us next!)

Legend 100

Armaldillo book summary

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Aggie is fifteen, a ‘sub’ from a ‘sub’ family, one of Texas’ downtrodden. Her father and brother enact that ‘sub’-ness on her, week in, week out. She has only the vaguest notion that there is something wrong with the abuse she endures and instead dreams of the outside world.

And then one day, Aggie walks out, and like the armadillos that flourish in Texas’ barren landscape, she is a survivor…

In her escape, she gravitates to those who are just as maltreated as her. They offer Aggie the sense of family, albeit a thoroughly dysfunctional one, that she’s been searching for. But when she gets embroiled in a crisis involving stolen money, Aggie soon realises there are some problems you can’t run away from.

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Armaldillo author profile

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Pauline trained as an actor and her first professional job was playing Lizzie in the film of Irvine Welsh’s novel, Trainspotting. After having a baby, Pauline completed her first stage play, Promise. Her second play, King of the Gypsies, played at the Edinburgh fringe, and then toured. She then enrolled on the MLitt Creative Writing programme at Glasgow University where Armadillos was awarded the Sceptre Prize for Fiction.

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The Accident Season, by Moira Fowley-Doyle

Publisher: Random House Children’s Publishers  |  Published 2nd July 2015  |  Edition: Kindle (Review Copy)

A curse? Or something even more sinister? Welcome to the accident season…

This curious story is narrated by seventeen year old Cara, who takes a moment to introduce us to her seemingly ordinary family: her sister, Alice, her ex-step brother, Sam, and their mother, a purple-haired artist named Melanie, who all live together in County Mayo, Ireland.

At first glance there doesn’t seem to be anything unusual about this family (except for their purple-haired mother), so it’s surprising to learn that they each suffer from the same affliction.

Every year during the entire month of October they fear what they have come to know as ‘the accident season’. During this time, they are prone to knocks, scrapes, bumps and the like – in extreme circumstances, deaths have also occurred.

Under the guidance of Cara’s best friend Bea with her trusted Tarot cards, Bea foretells that this year is not looking good.  It turns out she was right.

Despite their mother taking some ridiculous precautions to protect her children, even bubble-wrapping the kitchen surfaces to prevent any incidents, Alice has already taken a mysterious tumble down the stairs and Cara is wearing a wrist brace, but the mystery grows…in addition to this strange phenomenon, Cara sees something she’s never noticed before – for the last seventeen years a quiet girl named Elsie, who she last remembered from when she was eight years old, seems to have appeared in all their family photos.

accident season tumblr

Mysterious: The friends hold a surreal Masked Ball where certain truths are revealed. (Photo is courtesy of the Accident Season Tumblr site.)

Clearly unnerved by this, Cara embarks on a mission to discover why she’s never noticed Elsie in the pictures before and exactly what she’s doing there. It soon becomes clear that this is a story overflowing with a desperate need for the truth and as a dark family secret bubbles closer to the surface you just can’t help but read on.

Various ‘accidents’ continue to occur throughout the story and I couldn’t help wondering what fate has in store for Cara and Co. Running parallel to these incidences are some tough, real-life issues being tackled head-on.

Though the story does enter odd dreamlike phases, these paranormal/fantasy elements are artfully woven into the pages. For me, this placed more emphasis on just how detached from reality the family have become.

I admit that my heart broke once or twice as they struggled to confront their own relationships, without losing each other along the way. But this quirky read, told in a straightforward uncomplicated way, captivated me right to the end, when the true darkness that shadowed this family finally revealed itself.

The Tumblr page to accompany this story is eerily good too:
http://accidentseason.tumblr.com/    (The images above are all credited to this site.)

Rating: 4/5

(Huge thanks to the publisher for the advanced Kindle copy, via Netgalley.)


Accident Season Author Link Graphic 2

You can follow the author on Twitter: @moirawithatrema

Author’s Tumblr Page:  http://ecritureacreature.tumblr.com/

Buy the Book: Amazon UK

The Double Shadow, by Sally Gardner

Publisher: Orion Children’s Books  |  Published 5th March 2015  |  Edition: Paperback

The back of the book blurb:

War clouds gather over Britain.

Amaryllis Ruben is hiding a secret even she does not understand. In a bluebell wood stands a picture palace. Her father built it to house his invention; one that could change the war-torn world forever. He plans to give it to her on her seventeenth birthday. 

But it’s a present Amaryllis doesn’t want, and in it is a past she must come to terms with and a boy whose name she can’t remember…

Let me start my saying that the intro blurb above does not do this book justice IN ANY WAY.

Double Shadow book

The Double Shadow meaning: A reference in The Picture Palace of memories which can determine what, or who is real.

From the first page you step into a whole new ethereal world created by Sally Gardner. We are introduced to a young girl who has found herself in a surreal environment, a room with a flickering green light which prevents her from remembering, her memories are all but gone. Where is she? Nothing makes sense, but she has an inkling that something is very, very wrong.

Amaryllis is searching for something that is missing from her life. Without an identity or memory of her past will she find it?

Set during the 1940’s and on the cusp of the Second World War, Amaryllis seems like an attention seeking and spoilt teen, in the absence of her mother, her father gives her everything; a nice home, a private education but he is rarely around and is often working on his special invention.

The ‘wayward’ girl rewards the nice lifestyle she’s been provided with by sneaking off school and getting herself expelled and developing quite an attitude. But no one knows that she conceals a secret that she can’t confide in anyone, about the awful day she drank champagne with a ‘charming’ man by the name of Maurice Sands.

She becomes home educated by Miss Bright, meets Ezra Pascoe, a neighbour’s boy, whom she taunts and teases and is generally unpleasant to. All the while her father’s assistant is ever watchful, ever present and announces that on her seventeenth birthday her father has a special gift for her – even though he’s not there to give it to her personally.

Film Reel

Our memories are like DNA; they make us who we are.

His gift is The Picture House, something her father has been working on for years in the grounds of their home. This is a place that holds mind recordings from people in the village, as well as Amaryllis. It’s a palace of memories where all the bad ones have been filtered out for her. Inside this time-paused-bubble his daughter will be cocooned away from the War. But fathers can’t protect their daughters from everything, no matter how hard they try.

The Picture House has attracted interest from the Government. They don’t want it to fall into the enemy’s hands and they go to great lengths to prevent this from happening.

White tiger courtesy of www.clipartbest.com

The appearance of the mysterious White Tiger…will Amaryllis be tormented forever?

 

Before I knew it I’d stepped into an eroding illusion of Amaryllis’s world. There’s far too much to describe: People are sucked into this strange place. Characters conceal dark pasts. There’s a mysterious White Tiger prowling the interior of The Picture House. And the familiar childhood tune of the Teddy Bears Picnic playing over in Amaryllis’s mind at intervals is quite unnerving.

Although it’s ‘fantastic’ enough to be a fairy tale I couldn’t describe it as such – it’s a much darker story of being lost and being loved.

To summarise, it’s loosely akin to an amnesic Alice in Wonderland, passing through Narnia in a customised T.A.R.D.I.S., while German bombs start to fall like rain.

This unique, vivid story may not appeal to everyone, but I certainly found it to be an unexpected and engrossing distraction and I’m keen to explore more of this author’s work.

Rating: 4/5

(Many thanks to the publisher for providing a paperback copy of this book for an honest review (via Leah @UTBookblog)


You can follow the author on Twitter:  @TheSallyGardner   |  Publisher: @the_orionstar

If I Knew you were going to be this beautiful, I never would have let you go, by Judy Chicurel

Publisher: Tinder Press | Publication date: 4th June 2015 | Edition: Paperback (review copy)

This beautiful book only

An explanation for the unusually long title is given by our narrator during the course of the story…

Despite the gorgeous cover and the title of this book, this story is not an entirely a pretty one. But it’s most definitely an ocean of dreams in life; most of them faded, jaded or both.

This is a poignant, hard-hitting story of growing up and finding your place in a changing world. It’s relayed by 18 year old Katie, who lets us into her life and the antics of her blend of friends, with her perfect first-hand account and dialogue for the era.

It’s 1972. The Vietnam War has left a tide mark around the residents of Elephant Beach, Long Island, who appear to pass the majority of their time with drugs, booze, cigarettes and sex – first time, last time or anytime.

The young struggle to make their often misguided mark on the world, believing the grass is greener, their desires being exchanged for a teenage pregnancy and a life they did not expect. Those who are older or back from the war just want to get through the day, as life has already taken its weary toll.

Not being born in the town Katie often feels like an outsider. She watches as some of her friends choose to leave The Beach for pastures new, while some of them linger and waste their lives.

This was written so well, at times I felt a little awkward listening in on the edge of the conversation. And yet listen I did, hanging out with the others, like a gossipy ol’ lady in the bar of the crumbling Starlight Hotel. I was surprised to find myself sucked into her world and quickly forming opinions about her family, friends and even casual visitors on the periphery – the good, the bad and those recently falling pregnant.

By the time I reached the end of the book I realised I didn’t do so well to judge some of the characters so harshly, as the people I’d least expected to surprise me did exactly that.

There were plenty of memorable passages like Katie’s ongoing, confused obsession with troubled ex-Vietnam veteran, Luke, which are drawn out perfectly. But the moment that stands out by miles for me is the one where everyone’s flip-flops are lined up against the beach wall in memory of a friend, like a barrier to the rest of the world – it really will bring a lump to your throat. Yet, even these bad times are balanced with subtle wit and punchy conversations.

It’s a vividly portrayed snapshot of an era, if you can ‘dig it’ that is.

Talking of snapshots, I’ll leave you with a quote from the book where a group of friends are on their fourth attempt to capture ‘the perfect moment’ with a Polaroid camera:

“…If you look long enough, in a certain way, you can almost hear us laughing, hear the laughter floating out behind us until it grows fainter and further away, like the memory of a faded scar.”

Rating: A truly beautiful 4/5

(My thanks to the publisher for the sending a copy of #thisbeautiful book for an honest review. )


You can follow the author on Twitter: @JudyChicurel    |   Publisher: @TinderPress

Our Endless Numbered Days, by Claire Fuller

Publisher: Fig Tree | Publication date: 26th February 2015 | Version: Hardback (own copy)

“What’s a Hutte?” I asked. “A magical place in the forest,” my father said with a catch in his voice. “Our very own little cabin, with wooden walls, and wooden floors, and wooden shutters at the windows…”

Little Peggy would have quite innocently followed in her father’s footsteps to the end of the world and back again. Never in her wildest dreams could she have imagined what that could come to mean…

Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller 04.03.15

This is a story that will linger with you, long after you’ve closed the cover…

Her keen survivalist father had allowed her to camp at the bottom of the garden of their house in London, live in a rickety tent and cook over an open fire. He’d even shown her how to live off the land.

With her famous Germanic pianist mother, Ute, away from home, she had left her husband in sole charge of their daughter, which meant that Peggy could enjoy this ‘outdoor’ life even more; not having to bathe, foraging for food and the mock drills in case of dire emergency.

At just ten years old she unwittingly exchanged the comforts of her home in London for a remote and uninviting wilderness, a place her father explained would be a haven for their family and that her mother would be joining them soon.

But their short stay in ‘die Hutte’ stretched into nine long years and differed greatly from the sanctuary her father had promised.

There was just the two of them, as her father cruelly told her that the rest of the world did not exist anymore and that they were the only survivors. Trusting him as she did, she believed every word he spoke, that is until she became mesmerised by a mysterious wild man called Rueben whose name had been etched in their cabin…

Leaving home as a child in 1976 and returning as a young woman in 1985, Peggy has to confront a whole new set of challenges. Even though the story moves backwards and forwards through both time periods it’s seamlessly blended.

This incredible portrayal of Peggy’s difficult journey into adulthood under ‘gut-kicking’ circumstances is written in the most incredible way. Even with its disturbing undercurrent, which started as a trickle being dripped into the chapters, it’s a book I would highly recommend. I just had to keep on reading until I discovered how she arrived home again, if she would be safe and what would happen to her.

It’s one of those books you will read that will hold your attention until the very last page, and will continue to linger in your mind long after you’ve closed its haunting cover.

Rating: 5/5


You can follow the author on Twitter: @ClaireFuller2