The One by John Marrs

It seems every January I read a book that I absolutely love and can’t put down.

 

Two years ago, I declared Patrick Gale’s A Place Called Winter my book of the year (regular readers will know it was just pipped to the post by A Little Life), and last year Chris Cleave’s Everyone Brave is Forgiven retained the book of the year post right through to the end of the year.

 

The one for 2017 is The One by John Marrs, and while I’m stopping short of prematurely crowning it my book of the year, it is certainly a contender.

 

The One is set in a world where your soul mate can be determined through a DNA test. A company has discovered the gene and is charging people for the contact details of the loves of their lives – which is a wonderful business model.

 

The whole thing hinges on your partner having taken the test, however, and while some people get a result in a matter of days, others wait for weeks and months, even years.

 

We follow five very different people, all of whom have different reasons for taking the test.

 

Mandy is just getting over the break-up of her marriage; Christopher is a psychopath who took the test on a whim; Jade is a young girl looking for the love of her life; Nick is encouraged to take the test by his fiancée prior to their wedding; Ellie is a high powered businesswoman who seems to have no time for love in her life.

 

The book is constructed so that we get a small chapter (and I mean small, some are only two or three pages long) from each character’s view point, before moving on to the next. This makes it an incredibly easy read, because if you find any character dragging, it’s ok, because another one will be along soon.

 

Having said that, because of this it is a little difficult to invest in the characters. On consideration, however, the writer has done a good job of keeping erroneous detail out of those chapters. They’re packed full with detail and not a single word is wasted.

 

Each story is largely unrelated, although they do follow a similar theme, and brush up against each other occasionally. They all take very different paths and each one of them is quite believable, despite some moments that are a little larger than life.

 

I looked forward to reading this each time I picked it up, and I found myself staying up late on more than one occasion to just read a little bit more. Despite a few moments towards the end, it did lack a bit of emotional punch, although they were some truly gasp out loud moments.

 

This is one of those books that I would recommend to almost anyone. People who don’t read very often will find it accessible, while voracious readers will be able to consume quickly, but find enough intrigue and thought provoking questions to help whet their appetite.

 

I’d love to explore some of the stories a bit deeper (particularly Nick and Christopher’s) – and can’t help but feel this would make a great television series – think Tuesday night anthology series like The Syndicate or similar and you’ll get the idea.

 

Is The One the one for 2017? I’d like a bit more of an emotional impact, so I’m going to hold off for not, but it is certainly one of the ones.

 

The One by John Marrs is published in May by Del Rey

My Top 10 Books of 2016

 

About this time last year I revealed my Top 10 books of the year (check what they were here). I enjoyed doing it so much, that I’m going to do it again this year. One little rule – I’m excluding all the Harry Potters because otherwise my Top four would be dominated by him,.

 

Like many TV clip shows at the end of the year, you’ll have seen most of this before, but there is also some brand new content to keep you interested – as well as the drama of a countdown.

 

We’ll start – as is often traditional in Top Ten countdowns – at Number Ten…

 

  1. This Must Be The Place – Maggie O’Farrell

 

A story about the construction then the subsequent demolition of the relationship between Daniel and Claudette. We witness all the moments around the big arguments and the big decisions, and the characters are richer for it. The ending seems inevitable, but it makes it even more satisfying when we get there.

 

  1. The Loney – Andrew Michael Hurley

 

A deeply mysterious book, one that describes the cold, wet countryside of England so well, that I feel cold even thinking about it now. What’s it about? It’s hard to describe. A pilgrimage of sorts to the eponymous Loney, an attempt to cure the protagonist’s brother. But it has an ending that stays with you.

 

  1. See What I Have Done – Sarah Schmidt

 

A retelling – or in my case, just the telling – of the story of Lizzie Borden. A brilliant piece of writing that presents the facts of the case, plus some suppositions to help the reader come to their own conclusion to what happened on that August day. Fascinating and creepy in equal measure. Definitely one to keep on the bookcase for a re-read.

 

  1. Seven Ways We Lie – Riley Redgate

 

A bit of a guilty pleasure, and am a bit surprised to see it so high up my list for 2016. It’s a fluffy and throwaway story about an American high school and a rumour that rockets around its corridors. I found it very funny, and a great bit of escapism from some of the heavier fare I usually read.

 

  1. Mad Girl – Bryony Gordon

 

One of two non-fiction books on the list…  It’s a book about mental illness, specifically Bryony Gordon’s, but also about YOURS because it’s hard to read about Bryony’s experiences without comparing and contrasting with your own. Some bits make you feel better, some bits make you feel worse, but you’ll come out of this book knowing yourself a bit more (gosh, that sounds American). If you read this and don’t recognise yourself in any of it, then you’re lucky – but hopefully, you’ll understand the rest of us a little bit more.

 

  1. And I Darken – Kiersten White

The tale of Lady Dracul, a take on Vlad the Impaler. A Game of Thrones style epic that pulls you into the politics of a country a million miles and a million years away from where you are. I’m looking forward to reading more books in this series.

 

  1. The Last Act of Love – Cathy Rentzenbrink

 

A tough one – because this is real life. My biggest problem when it comes to Non-Fiction, I either don’t care because there’s no sensible narrative (spoiler, there is no sensible narrative in real life) or I care too much because ‘this really happened, damn it!’. This definitely falls into the latter – with the tragic story of a girl growing up coping with the result of a tragic accident involving her brother.

 

  1. The Stranger In My Home – Adele Parks

 

The only title on my list this year that I haven’t done a full review for, so here’s a mini one, right here.

 

I read this back in August, and the main reason for not writing a review is that I didn’t know what to say that I’ve not said about Adele before. This is her first contemporary novel since The State We’re In, which is one of my all-time favourites (And FYI, I’m still waiting for a movie adaptation?), and it tells of a couple who learn that their only daughter may in fact not be theirs.

 

Is everything as it seems? Tense in places, it builds to a wholly surprising but satisfying ending. This is my favourite thing about Adele’s writing. You’re sure you know where it’s going, yet you know there must be something else to it, and there is always something else to it, but until it happens you have absolutely no clue what it is. The clever bit, though, is that it makes perfect sense.

 

This is Adele’s take on the domestic noir genre that The Girl on the Train spawned, but there is more weight to this, more investment in the characters and much less reliant on a cheap twist. Currently only available in e-book, it’ll be released as a real book in January

 

  1. Hex – Thomas Olde Heuvelt

 

A book that starts off as normal as any other, but soon descends into gothic horror. It blends the contemporary world with the ritualistic world of the past and slowly builds it from a calm acceptance to a complete breakdown of civilisation that leaves both hero and anti-hero in a state of shock.

 

  1. Everyone Brave is Forgiven – Chris Cleave

 

I called this way back at the beginning of the year. The sheer poetry of the writing alone was enough to make me fall in love with it, but the characters and plot drag you along with it. There’s no more that can be said that I haven’t already said. Just go and read it.

 

 

 

Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave

 

“War was declared at 11.15 and Mary North signed up at noon.”

 

That’s a wonderful first line of a book and helps the book set out it’s stall simply in one sentence, so that it can get on with the story.

 

Written by Chris Cleave, the genius behind Gold – a book about Olympic cycling that somehow made me cry – this is the kind of book that you’ll want a pen with you as you read so you can underline all the great lines.

 

Mary is part of the upper class of London, and the dialogue and inner monologue of the book is written in a clipped form that instantly makes you feel part of Mary’s world.

 

Gradually as the realities of war start to kick in Mary begins to mature, and while she never quite loses her ideological edge, she does become more aware of her place in the world.

 

As a rule, I don’t like books set during the war. It’s part of my whole historical fiction is just an excuse for the author to show off how much they’ve been able to research, and that often takes me out of the narrative.

 

(And yes, I appreciate the irony considering the fact that at least one of the chapters in my novel is set during an air raid in the Second World War)

 

But I am always willing to forgive authors that I like and give them a go, and boy am I glad that I did with Everyone Brave Is Forgiven.

 

While it didn’t have the same dramatic and emotional ending that Gold did, it is beautifully written all the way through with a range of characters that you care about, and a sense of real jeopardy.

 

It may be unfair to compare Everyone Brave is Forgiven to Gold, they are after all very different stories and comparing them is a bit like comparing strawberry ice cream with garlic bread. They both have wonderful qualities, both are completely different and you want them to be different. Garlic ice cream, anyone? A slice of strawberry bread?

 

But, what stands out in Gold all these years later is the story, I can’t honestly say I l look back on it and remember the writing – though surely it was great. If in five years time you ask me my thoughts on Everyone Brave is Forgiven I’ll tell you about the writing.

 

Very early on I captured a picture of a line of the text because I thought it was a lovely line, however looking back at it now, it ties in with what I was saying earlier on about the development of Mary as a character.

 

Mary is sent to work in a school when she signs up at the War Office, and when asked by the headmistress why she did sign up, Mary replies:

 

“I hoped it might be less exhausting than the constant rest.”

 

I do think that if the same question was asked of Mary the last time we meet her, she might have a very different answer.

 

Not that it’s all about Mary of course, there are several other characters, equally well drawn, equally compelling and Cleave weaves through their viewpoints in such a way that you can never be too sure who will survive and who won’t.

 

Even to the last chapter, I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. That, coupled with the lasting image of two characters walking along the side of the Thames, both battered by the war, together, but still forced apart at the same time makes for a very memorable book indeed.

 

Scoring 4.4 out of 5, it climbs to the top of my 2016 leaderboard, and I suspect will stay there for some time

 

Everyone Brave is Forgiven is released in Hardback in April 2016

 

 

The Mountain Can Wait by Sarah Leipciger

The Mountain Can Wait.

 

In fact, it’s had to wait, because I’ve been a little busy and it’s been some time between finishing the book and writing this review, so in the words of Miranda, bear with.

 

The mountain in question is in Canada, which was a lovely start, following 2015’s A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale which was also set in Canada, although more than a hundred years previously.

 

It felt at the beginning that I was returning to a previous home, which is a credit to the writing (both Leipciger’s and Gale’s) – because either they’ve both managed to get Canada spot on, or they’ve both made up the same version.

 

Tom Berry is responsible for replanting trees on the mountain, reporting into a large corporation that is cutting them down elsewhere. He has raised his children alone, after his wife abandoned them when the children were young.

 

One day, on the cusp of adulthood, Tom’s son Curtis is driving home from a party when he hits a girl with his truck. A split second decision, one moment of poor judgement leads to Curtis speeding away from the scene of the crime.

 

Books like this make me stop and think about the name of the book. Why is it called that? What does the mountain represent? What is it waiting for?

 

The mountain in this book is the mountain on which Tom works. The phrase is used to describe Tom’s younger self, shrugging away his family life, wanting to get back to work, to get back to the mountain.

 

“He hadn’t learned yet that the mountain could wait.”

 

The mountain which literally lurks in the background of the entire novel will always be there. Tom can go away, do what he needs to do for his family, and then return to the mountain waiting for him.

 

But the mountain is more than that. It is the inevitability of inescapable events. The moment Curtis drove away from that girl on the mountain road, it was waiting to catch up with him. It is not something that he can escape from.

 

Both Tom and Curtis must come to terms with what has happened, and as they do we get to witness sweeping vistas of Canada that are so beautifully written, you almost wish the book will never end.

 

The scene where Tom lies in a canoe and floats out on a lake is a particular highlight, along with all the scenes involving Bobbie on the remote island where Curtis’s mother grew up.

 

Bobbie is easily the best character in this book – if this were a film, she’d be on screen for all of ten minutes, would be played by Meryl Streep and win an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress – and I wish we had more of her.

 

I’d also have loved for more exploration of the relationship between Tom and Curtis and how the absence of Curtis’ mother dominated their lives together but what we do have is a beautifully vivid setting and a very melancholic ending.

 

I’ve given The Mountain Can Wait 3.3 out of 5.

 

Next week, I’ll be reviewing Everyone Brave is Forgotten by Chris Cleave