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BOOK REVIEW – SPIRE by Fiona Snyckers

SpireImagine being in one of the most remote places on the planet … alone … but inexplicably, not alone, which is somehow worse! That’s what Fiona Snyckers presents us with in SPIRE, set in the South Pole International Research Establishment.

Dr Caroline Burchell has been selected as part of a team to ‘Winter over’ at the base. They’re there for the full season until September, which is when the next planes arrive to relieve them of their duties. She’s brought with her a container of mutated viruses which have been cryogenically frozen. Very soon after her arrival, however, the rest of her team begin to succumb to all manner of illnesses and before too long, Caroline is the only surviving team-member left on the base! How on earth does one survive in such isolated, harsh conditions, especially when you’re suspected of being a mass murderer?

While a devastating Arctic storm pounds at the base, Caroline is determined to survive to prove her innocence, despite the increasingly chilling evidence that someone is trying to thwart her every move. Using every available resource, including an unlikely external ally, and a very unreliable Skype connection, the reader is led breathlessly through this edge-of-your-seat thriller that will keep you guessing, as you cheer for this inventive heroine.

Ice Cube - Neutrino Observatory in the South Pole
Ice Cube – Neutrino Observatory in the South Pole

The topic of the Arctic is intriguing to many; the isolation, the temperatures, the climate, are all things that are possible topics of interest. I have to admit, I’ve never given the subject much thought, but after reading SPIRE, my curiosity was piqued. What fascinated me the most, however, was the exceptional research that the author has done in the creation of this novel. I just couldn’t stop thinking about it because it’s truly remarkable!

5 big glittery stars for SPIRE and an extra one (just because I can!) for the extraordinary amount of research that impressed me so much!!

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BOOK REVIEW – My Name is Leon by Kit De Waal

My Name is LeonA heart-wrenching, complex, stellar debut from Kit De Waal about the intricacies and complications of the British care system during the 80’s specifically relating to a sensitive little boy named Leon.

We meet Leon when he’s 8 (almost 9). He has a baby brother, who he adores, but his mom Carol is battling to keep up with the demands of looking after them both. There’s no money. Neither of their dads (yes, they both have different dads) are around, there are no jobs, and even if she had a job, who would look after the kids while she was at work? Carol takes to her bed and it’s left up to young Leon to look after the 3 of them, hardly a task for a little boy. But then a neighbour notices that something’s not right and the social workers are brought in.

Leon and Jake go and live with Maureen, a carer in the foster system. She’s been doing this for years and she’s kind, loving … but also, just about at the end of her foster-mom vocation. But she’s willing to take the boys in and dote on them, giving them what they’ve lacked in the department of love and attention. The problem is though, that Jake is a white baby and Leon is a now 9 years old … and not white.

Inevitably Jake is adopted. As much as Leon tries to understand this, ultimately all he really comprehends is that the 2 people closest to him in the entire world have been taken away. He endeavours to do his best to get the 3 of them back together. And then Maureen falls ill and once again Leon has to face a change. He’s packed off to go and live with her sister Sylvia, who’s also done her stint as a foster-mom in the past, but isn’t quite as easy-going and loving as Maureen is. Leon, understandably finds it difficult to adapt to yet another new environment.

He begins to explore his new neighbourhood and together with his bicycle and his backpack (loaded with all his worldly possessions) he discovers The Allotments, and a mixed up bunch of people who are just as lost as he is. It’s the mid-80’s and being of mixed race isn’t exactly viewed as a positive thing. Somehow he gets caught up in the riots in his neighbourhood, still not understanding quite what’s going on or why his new friends are angry and why they’re being beaten up.

Told through the eyes of this broken child, My Name is Leon is a sensitive, moving and absolutely devastating book about the vulnerability of children in a system that does its best, but that somehow never quite manages to do right by all who it’s responsible for.

Kit De Waal, with the proficiency of a skilled, experienced author has constructed a poignant, sensitive, often painful novel. It’s difficult to believe that this is her debut book. Her characters are so very believable that you want to reach out and comfort them. It’s not just Leon, but so many of the people who make up his world are so damaged that one can understand why this is how he conceptualises everything around him. De Waal describes individuals who are just trying desperately to do their best; to make a life for themselves out of the exceptionally miserable cards they’ve been dealt. It’s in her telling, through the eyes of a 9-year-old boy that makes it even more shattering to the reader. Children see things simply, with no pretence. They see behind the ‘pretend’ faces and voices of adults, and they react in typical childish retaliation. But as the author so aptly describes, adults react in typically grown-up ways. We analyse, we label, and we judge.

I found this book difficult to read at times, and admit that I had to put it aside more than once. But it’s an excellent debut from an author who we can definitely anticipate great things from in the future.

Many thanks to THE Book Club (Facebook) and NetGalley for my copy of this book.

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