The Radleys by Matt Haig

There’s no getting around it: there are an awful lot of vampire books out there, especially ones that are aimed at a younger audience (though I’m not entirely sure this one is). So in my view, it takes an enormous amount of chutzpah to crank out another one. I mean, can The Radleys possibly offer anything new?

The Radleys

Okay, so what have we got? The Radleys are your fairly typical family living the suburban village dream. The parents are sick of each other and their teenage children are sick of their parents. On top of this, there’s the added complication that the parents, Peter and Helen, are “abstaining” vampires hiding out in rural England. This less-than-idyllic life comes to an abrupt end when their daughter Clara comes of age and accidentally kills a boy from her school.

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Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuvel

I read the first book from the Themis Files trilogy a while back, and I might’ve said (or I might not) that it’s one of the writing styles you either get on with … or you don’t.

The book picks up ten years after Sleeping Giants left off; the giant robot left by an alien race, and commandeered by a collective of Earth’s scientists and the military, has become something of a global celebrity (parades, tours, that kind of thing …), though very little is known about the race that created of this.

And this lack of knowledge becomes a bit of a stumbling block when another robot appears in the middle of London, and lays waste to half the city within the space of a minute. And from then on, it just gets worse: twelve more giant robots materialise in the most densely populated cities on the planet, while key members of the planetary defence force struggle to mount a response …

Like Book #1, Waking Gods is told through a series of reports, conversations, email messages between two (sometimes three – which can get confusing people), news broadcasts, even chatroom messages. This sometimes makes it hard work to keep track of what’s going on, but it does make it feel as though you’re right in the thick of it with the characters. There are no descriptions of surroundings, no omniscient viewpoint to tell you how the characters are feeling; but that doesn’t seem to make it any less of a great read. Some of the dialogue comes across as unrealistic because every so often, the reader needs something explaining that you character wouldn’t take time to do if the world was coming to an end.

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A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka

Another recommendation out of the blue (probably because I’d just read Sweet Sweet Revenge Ltd, and I can kind of see the similarities). The story isn’t anything too strenuous: two Ukrainian sisters go to war with the gold-digger who has married their elderly father. But the author, writing as the younger of the sisters, wraps the story of around the complex family saga that begins almost a hundred years ago, travels across Eastern Europe and finishes in Peterborough – though not necessarily in that order.

And then there’s the history of tanks and tractors …

It’s a lively read, though it does have its dips. I almost gave up on it near the middle, but something happened (can’t say what) that piqued my interest, and then it really started motoring. I’m glad I stuck with it, otherwise I would’ve missed a treat of a courtroom battle.

The characters are … adequate, I think; a little hard to separate in places, (especially the narrator’s husband who seemed a little flat to me), but do enough work to keep the reader interested in what happens to them.

It does have moments that’ll make you laugh, and others that’ll terrify you about getting old, but all in all, I think it lacked surprises, if that makes sense. Everyone behaved exactly as you expected them to; there was no great epiphany, and I wasn’t sure that anyone really learned anything or were changed by their experience. So, I’d say it was an enjoyable read, though somewhat unfulfilling.

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