Coffin Road – Peter May

I find Peter May to be a bit of a mixed bag. Some I have really enjoyed others I have found boring. Coffin Road is my book group book for this month and is Peter May at his finest. It’s similar to his Lewis trilogy in that it’s a murder mystery set in the almost wilderness of the outer Hebrides where the landscape and changeable weather is as much a character as any of the people. May has a real gift for evocative descriptions and leaves you ready to pack a bag and go and explore these lonely beaches and towering mountains for yourself. The story itself follows the main character who has woken up washed up on the beach with no memory of who he is but an unpleasant sensation that something terrible has happened. He begins to try and piece together what has happened and who he is. Meanwhile we learn of a rebellious teenager in Edinburgh whose dad, an eminent scientist, committed suicide two years previously. She too is on a journey to discover what really happened to him. Back in the Hebrides a body has been discovered on the Flannen Isles and DC Gunn has a mystery to solve. Gradually these three storylines interweave and overlap and the plot hastens in pace before coming to its exciting crescendo and final conclusion where is all revealed and resolved. There are some really interesting and topical elements, a scientific study on bees and the effect of their decline on our world, the effects of pesticides and the power of huge companies. Above all though what stands out are the believable characters who you really get behind and the love May clearly has for this patch of Scotland. A definite good read.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here – Patrick Ness

One of the joys of having a teenager is the sharing of books and the opportunity to read their young adult fiction. Patrick Ness is one of my teenage daughter’s favourite authors and having read a couple of his books and heard him talk at a book festival I completely understand why. This, his latest book, is warm, engaging, exciting and funny and covers a breadth of issues pertinent to teenagers sensitively and intelligently. The plot is built on the idea that in much of young adult fiction the excitement always revolves around a particular bunch of kids, the indie kids, but that alongside these kids lives everyone else just trying to go about their daily business. In this book we follow the story of the indie kids who are currently facing a danger known as the immortals, previously these kids have faced vampires, soul eating ghosts and zombies. At the same time we follow the story of Mikey and his friends and quickly discover that although not the ‘chosen ones’, in fact clearly only the extras in the grand exciting story, they are very much heroes in their own way, as they deal with many normal teenage pressures and hopes but also face mental illnesses, prejudices and difficult situations. The main character Mikey suffers from OCD while his sister is recovering from anorexia, Patrick manages to convey something of the reality of these illnesses without making the book all about them. I am obviously not a teenager anymore but reading this book took me back to the insecurities of that time as well as the sense of being about to move on from the safety net of the family to live independently in the big wide world. Fear and possibility rubbing alongside each other. The characters are real and likeable and the overlapping indie kid story, while gently poking fun at a particular genre of young adult fiction, is also compelling enough for us to want to know what happens. This is a very different book from Patricks last offering More Than This which was a fantastic and powerful read giving an alternative view of reality, however different can be good and this definitely is. The fact that I had heard Patrick Ness speak on this book probably did help me engage with it quickly but I would recommend it to anyone who would like to explore the world of YA fiction. I am sure that as I continue to look for the many other joys of living with teenagers as my brood advance one by one into their teenage years, I will enjoy many more forays into the world of young adult fiction!

The Bees – Laline Paull

Unsurprisingly this is a book about bees, perhaps surprisingly it’s a riveting fictional account of the life of a bee hive. I bought this for my teenage daughter who loves both bees and reading, she promptly devoured it in her usual reading style and passed it on to me. I can’t say I was hugely enthusiastic about reading it but she had been really impressed with it and as she is usually a reliable source of book recommendations I gave it a go. I am very glad I did, it’s a great read. The story follows Flora 717, born a lowly sanitation worker destined only to spend her days keeping the hive clean, who through a strange twist of nature and fate ends up finding out more about the hive than she ever should have. The hive is very much a totalitarian society in which everyone plays their part and learns to accept, obey and serve, where sacrifice is expected for the holy mother, the Queen, and difference is not tolerated. However like all societies there are secrets and undercurrents which Flora begins to discover. It’s a fascinating read with characters that are so much bigger than your average bee and some wonderfully described scenes of bee life. It is very much rooted in excellent research and fact yet set within a very gripping story that it’s unlikely you will think about bees in the same way as you did before reading this. Or perhaps it’s fairer to say you will notice and think about bees a lot more after reading it! There are hints of cultish religious order and political maneuvering which of course are deeply human traits but work incredibly well within this context. It may be that this book could be viewed as a comment on human nature or society however I feel it is essentially a captivating story which allows us to think beyond our human society and consider this incredibly important part of the insect world and what indeed life might be like for them. This book is definitely on my good reads list.