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Thursday, September 26, 2013

'Where the Stars Still Shine' by Trish Doller


From the BLURB: 

Stolen as a child from her large and loving family, and on the run with her mom for more than ten years, Callie has only the barest idea of what normal life might be like. She's never had a home, never gone to school, and has gotten most of her meals from laundromat vending machines. Her dreams are haunted by memories she’d like to forget completely. But when Callie’s mom is finally arrested for kidnapping her, and Callie’s real dad whisks her back to what would have been her life, in a small town in Florida, Callie must find a way to leave the past behind. She must learn to be part of a family. And she must believe that love--even with someone who seems an improbable choice--is more than just a possibility.

For Callie there’s the road and her mum and not much else. They bounce from place to place, sometimes they rent apartments, once they slept in a vacant model home and the occasional backseat of a stolen car has not been unheard of. For the last ten years, Callie’s life has been directed by her mother’s paranoid whims. When Veronica gets an itch or starts to think people are following them, she packs them up and moves them on. Some things remain the same; like the dive-bars and bad men her mother attracts, like moth to a flame. 

It didn’t always used to be this way, but 17-year-old Callie has the barest memories of a life before, and an evil-eye bead she hides from her mother. Though evil still found Callie while they were staying in Oregon, so it didn’t do her much good.

When Veronica gets the itch to move on again, it’s just more of the same for Callie . . . and then a trooper pulls her mum over, for stolen plates of all things. But once at the police station kidnapping charges from ten years ago trumps the stolen plates, and Veronica faces a lengthy jail sentence. 

Something very different is ahead for Callie though, when her father flies to Chicago to take his baby girl home to Tarpon Springs, Florida.

Greg is Callie’s father (really Callista Catherine Tzorvas) he and Veronica had Callie when they were just teenagers, and once Veronica got wind of the plans Greg’s parents had to obtain full custody of Callie while he was away at college, Veronica took her and ran. And has been running until now, ten years later.

Callie suddenly finds herself inserted into a big Greek family, and Greg’s new one – complete with a wife called Phoebe and two little boys called Joe and Tucker who are Callie’s half-brothers. There’s also yiayoúla Georgia, a grandma who has desperately missed her girl. Not to mention Callie’s cousin, Kat, who declares herself her long-lost best friend.

It’s all so overwhelming for Callie, and despite learning the extent of her mother’s betrayal, she still misses her even in the face of this new life and old family she’s gained.

It’s not until Callie meets Alex at the sponge docks, a devastatingly handsome diver, that she finds some semblance of calm in the storm of her new life. Alex is a safe harbor for her, when it feels like her life is spinning madly out of control.

‘Where the Stars Still Shine’ is the new contemporary young adult novel from a hot new talent in the readership, Trish Doller.

I fell for Trish Doller and her gritty teen stories with debut novel ‘Something Like Normal’, which absolutely bowled me over. Since then I've been desperately awaiting the release of her next book; a wait that was made harder by Doller’s phenomenal Tumblr and Pinterest pages where she amasses photographic inspiration (and teasers!) for her upcoming works. So even before ‘Stars’ came out, I had a fairly good inkling that it would be something special from the picture-trail alone . . . and I was not disappointed (the other giveaway? A blurb quote from Melina Marchetta). 

The story is fast and frenetic, with Doller throwing both Callie and readers into the deep-end and back to her family within the first two chapters. I loved this fast pace, because it means readers are as tumbled by the events as Callie herself. There’s a definite sense of overwhelming as we’re introduced to her big Greek family, her dad’s new family and even as she gets to know the father she can’t remember. But pretty soon memories assail her, and she learns just how much damage Veronica left behind when she took Callie away from this family;  


I pick up the owl. Some of the patches are worn so thin you can almost see through them to the stuffing inside. 
“You used to carry him everywhere,” he says. “You called him– ” 
“Toot.” It’s just a tiny flash of a memory, but I remember making sure he was with me every night before I went to sleep. “I thought that’s what owls said.” 
I can see the bitter blurred in the sweet of Greg’s smile. All these years I've had very few memories, while he– he’s had nothing but. 

Because the pace is so quick and Callie is inundated with so much, it also makes sense that the love interest enters the scene rather quickly too. Alex Kosta is a sponge diver who Callie meets on the docks one night when she runs away from the claustrophobic family atmosphere. Their attraction and heat is instantaneous, and while it throws Callie off-balance, Alex also becomes someone she can run to when everything else gets too much. 

It’s through Alex, and Callie’s intense feelings for him, that Doller explores the darker side of Callie’s stolen childhood. Veronica was not a stable parent, and she let men into Callie’s life and put her in danger (though not deliberately) . . .  one such man was Frank, from Oregon, who Callie still has nightmares about. Thoughts of him and what he did make her feel unclean and unworthy when her attraction to Alex explodes. Doller explores this with infinite care and patience that adds a vastly more fascinating aspect to Callie’s returning.

I will say that, for me, this story was all about the family. I loved that Callie was expected to just fall back into this life she should have been living for the last ten years – but her experiences and the history Veronica gave her mean she fights this family and new life all the way. I loved that; it was so brutal and frustrating, but utterly believable.  

And it’s probably because I saw the family as being the real heart of the story that I sometimes wished we’d had less of Alex (hottie diver he may be) and had Callie spending a smidge more time with Greg, her half-brothers and especially her yiayoúla (who was hoping to have full custody of Callie when she was a baby). Even Phoebe, I thought, had a little more story in her when it’s revealed her history with Greg – I wanted to know how she felt about Veronica and Callie coming back into their lives. Don’t get me wrong, Alex is a fantastic leading man (with troubles of his own) and he’s good for Callie . . . but a family can be a love story too. 

I also adored the setting. Tarpon Springs, Florida, is a real place and in the words of Liz LemonI want to go to there. Doller really bought this town to life for me, and with interesting dimensions – I loved seeing it through Callie’s eyes as she wonders how different she would have been, had her childhood played out in this idyllic little town. 

‘Where the Stars Still Shine’ is Trish Doller’s second book after her phenomenal debut. With it, she delivers another gritty and heart-soaring story that cements her place as one of the most popular new young adult authors. If there was ever any doubt this second book confirms that Doller is one author who should definitely be an automatic-buy from here on in.

4.5/5


Monday, September 23, 2013

'Fortunately, the Milk . . .' by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Chris Riddell

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

You know what it’s like when your mum goes away on a business trip and Dad’s in charge. She leaves a really, really long list of what he’s got to do. And the most important thing is DON’T FORGET TO GET THE MILK. Unfortunately, Dad forgets. So the next morning, before breakfast, he has to go to the corner shop, and this is the story of why it takes him a very, very long time to get back.

Featuring: Professor Steg (a time-travelling dinosaur), some green globby things, the Queen of the Pirates, the famed jewel that is the Eye of Splod, some wumpires, and a perfectly normal but very important carton of milk.

Only Neil Gaiman could delight two polar-opposite readerships by releasing one of the most buzzed-about adult books of the year (‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’ – so good I still can’t bring myself to write a review because THERE ARE NO WORDS!) and then a few months later a lavishly wonderful children’s book. It’s not surprising, really, because Neil Gaiman wrote both ‘American Gods’ and ‘Coraline’ – cementing himself as a fine storyteller for all ages.


 

‘Fortunately, the Milk. . . ’ being Gaiman’s children’s foray, his Bloomsbury publishers know they can be a bit more blunt and honest with their younger readers. Hence this very apt author billing;



The book is about a father left in charge of his two children when their mum goes off to a conference. But the first disaster strikes at breakfast-time, when they run out of milk. So it’s up to dad to trot down to the corner store for a refill . . . but he takes ages and ages, and it’s only upon his return that the children discover what took him so long. 

The whole book is a bit tongue-in-cheek, and there’s something here for the intended 8-12 readership, as well as the parents for whom this will be bedtime reading. For the kids there are; Dwarves, wumpires, a stegosaurus, aliens, pirates, ponies, a volcano god . . . then for the adult readers there are some references to The Usual Suspects, a little Doctor Who-esque time travel conundrum and some making fun of Twilight. 



It’s all a bit brilliant really. Even more so because Chris Riddell’s illustrations have made the dad look like Neil Gaiman himself – which makes me think back on an old blog post Gaiman wrote about where he gets his ideas from. 



Interestingly, there are two versions of Gaiman’s latest children’s book (for reasons not even he can explain). There’s the US and Canada book illustrated by Skottie Young – this version does not include a Neil-Father lookalike, and is perhaps the slightly more conventional children’s book. Chris Riddell’s illustrated book for Australia and UK includes the ellipsis in the title ‘. . . ’ and the shiniest cover you ever did see. There’s also some symmetry in Riddell lending his drawings to ‘Fortunately’, because Riddell also illustrated the anniversary edition of ‘Coraline’.  



Either way, Gaiman’s extravagant story is a lot of fun with moments of quiet brilliance. I don’t know about anyone else, but when I read the blurb for ‘Fortunately, the Milk. . . ’ about a father who takes a jolly good time to get home to his children with their promised milk, I instantly thought of the old cliché prevalent in many stories; that a father went to buy a packet of cigarettes one morning and never came home. The basis being that father’s don’t really hold up so well in many stories; so I love that Gaiman took that old cliché and made a minor hero of this father and detailed his grand adventures to get home to his kids. 
Oh! And never forget, “where there is milk, there is hope.” 

5/5 






Wednesday, September 18, 2013

AUDIOBOOK: 'The Piper's Son' by Melina Marchetta. Read by Michael Finney.


From the BLURB:

Two years after his favorite uncle was blown to bits in a London Tube station, Tom has hit rock bottom. He’s quit school and turned his back on his music and everyone that once mattered to him, including the girl he can’t forget. Living with his single, pregnant aunt, working at the Union pub with his former friends, and reckoning with his grieving, alcoholic father, Tom’s in no shape to mend what’s broken. But what if no one else is, either?


For a review of The Piper’s Son book, looky here – this is more a review of the audiobook

I've never listened to an audiobook before. In the past I've flirted with the idea, and I even downloaded Jane Austen’s ‘Emma’ when it was on sale in iTunes for something like $1.99. But I'd never actually committed to listening . . . that being said, I held out a long time before caving and buying an eReader, so I suspect my hesitation came from an allegiance to flesh-and-blood books more than anything else.

But then I decided to approach audiobooks as I originally did graphic novels – start with what I know. Once upon a time I was a little hesitant and unsure of graphic novels (or ‘comics’ as I called them then). So I started with a prequel to one of my favourite urban fantasy series, Patricia Briggs’s ‘Homecoming’ set in the Mercy Thompson world. Once I got my toes wet, I went in to my ankles and tried another prequel to my favourite book series of all time, Diana Gabaldon’s ‘Outlander’ with ‘The Exile’. I loved both of those, and now I am a complete graphic novel enthusiast. From ‘Saga’ to Raina Telgemeier, I love them. 

So I thought I'd approach adiobooks the same way, and ease in with an old beloved.

The Piper’s Son’ is my favourite Melina Marchetta novel. I love all her books, don’t get me wrong, and when we talk ‘ranking’ there’s infinitesimal difference in my love. But Thomas Mackee holds a special place in my heart, and I still think Georgie and Sam’s relationship is the most heartbreaking and lovely contemporary romance I've ever read. And then there’s the fact that I see a lot of my family in the Finch-Mackee mob. So, it’s ‘The Piper’s Son’ for me, by a nose.

The run time is 9 hours, read by Michael Finney




I downloaded from iTunes, and listened to the book while out walking my dog and on the train – which meant I was constantly laughing/crying/hiccup-crying in public while listening to it. 

This audiobook is superb. Truly, it got to the point where I was excited to go for a walk or get back on the train just to get back to the Finch-Mackee’s and this story. I already know the book by heart, but I feel like it was opened up in new ways by this reading.

I may have developed a wee crush on Michael Finney . . . as evidenced by how much I talked and gushed about him and the audiobook to a friend;




But I cannot stress enough how much Michael Finney nails this book. He’s Australian, which I was so thankful for because I could not have fathomed Tom or Georgie’s voice in an American accent. ‘The Piper’s Son’ is told in third-person, but following Tom and his aunt Georgie’s stories – so the male narrator might have been a bit of a curveball, but having Tom’s voice in Finney’s is truly brilliant. It’s all those male voices which so dominate the book – Tom and Dominic, Ned, Will, Bill, Joe and Sam (ohhhhh, Sam!). But he also does the women’s voices brilliantly– he doesn’t turn on the heavy breathing or try high-pitched mimicry (thank god! I really wasn’t sure what to expect with audiobooks!). I have since started listening to Melina’s ‘Saving Francesca’ on audiobook, read by Rebecca Macauley, and I really don’t like it. She’s made Tara sound quite gruff, and Justine overtly mousy. After having Finney’s lilting baritone, I’m struggling to get into the Macauley audiobook. 

I really knew Finney was something special during the phonecalls between Tara and Tom – when he seems to lean in a little closer, lower his voice to a rumble and really communicate the intimacy of these moments. It was wonderful to listen to. And he gets the beats down brilliantly – those pregnant pauses between Tom and Tara, Sam and Georgie. And my favourite scene of the whole book is done to perfection;


‘Am I hard work?’ she asks quietly. 
‘Yes.’ 
Silence for a moment. 
‘You could have hesitated in answering that.’ 
‘Why? I've never lied to you before,’ he says. ‘You do that all the time, you know. You ask me questions when you know the answer will piss you off. Ask me a question where the answer could be yes? Ask me if you’re worth the hard work? Ask me if in the last seven years of my life I've woken up in a cold sweat knowing I lost the most important person in my life apart from this kid I’m holding? Ask me if getting you pregnant has felt like the best thing that’s happened to me since my son was born?’

And he also bought lightness to Joe’s character, which is so at odds with the sadness of the story. But as we know, Joe was so happy. I loved that Finney bought out that joviality when recounting the ‘How to Make Gravy’ serenade moment, or read out Joe’s emails and the conversation he had with Tom about kissing Tara Finke. 

I cannot rave about this audiobook enough. I loved it, and will be listening to it again and again. I’m only upset that Michael Finney apparently hasn’t narrated any other books, because I was all ready to download any and all of his readings (yes, I developed a wee crush from his voice alone). For now I’m sticking to the Marchetta audiobooks, but only because reading ‘The Piper’s Son’ made me crave more of her words . . .  but after that I’m going to venture into the great audio unknown. I need some suggestions of books I haven’t read, but should listen to on audio. I loved anticipating all my favourite bits (and preparing to cry during the sad ones) while listening to ‘Piper’s Son’, but now I'd love to try listening to a book cold, not having read it before.

5/5

Sunday, September 15, 2013

'Hounded' The Iron Druid Chronicles #1 by Kevin Hearne

 From the BLURB:

Atticus O’Sullivan, last of the Druids, lives peacefully in Arizona, running an occult bookshop and shape-shifting in his spare time to hunt with his Irish wolfhound. His neighbors and customers think that this handsome, tattooed Irish dude is about twenty-one years old—when in actuality, he’s twenty-one centuries old. Not to mention: He draws his power from the earth, possesses a sharp wit, and wields an even sharper magical sword known as Fragarach, the Answerer.

Unfortunately, a very angry Celtic god wants that sword, and he’s hounded Atticus for centuries. Now the determined deity has tracked him down, and Atticus will need all his power—plus the help of a seductive goddess of death, his vampire and werewolf team of attorneys, a sexy bartender possessed by a Hindu witch, and some good old-fashioned luck of the Irish—to kick some Celtic arse and deliver himself from evil.

If you live long enough, you rack up a fair number of enemies. Atticus O’Sullivan is a 2,100-year-old Druid, and he knows this much to be true – especially since he’s had an ongoing tiff with the Celtic God of Love, Aenghus Óg, for a few centuries now. It’s over a sword. And the fact that Atticus isn’t as easy to kill as Óg would like to believe. 

Luckily for Atticus; Tempe, Arizona has the least number of gods per capita, and for the most part he’s left to run his occult bookshop, Third Eye Books and Herbs, in peace. Sure, he has a vampire and alpha werewolf on retainer as his lawyers. He has a wobbly treaty with the local witch coven. And The Morrigan frequently pops in for a visit and foreboding. But for the most part, Atticus is content to blend into this University town and play up his 21-year-old looks and live a quiet life as the last Druid in the world. He’s content with his Irish wolfhound companion, Oberon (whom he shares a telepathic link) and to ogle the local bartender beauty, Granuaile. 

Life is good.

And then Aenghus Óg steps up the attempts on his life. Suddenly there’s no one Atticus can trust, and his quiet little life is about to come under threat . . . 

‘Hounded’ is the first book in Kevin Hearne’s urban fantasy series, ‘The Iron Druid Chronicles.’

This series started back in 2011, and since then Hearne has kept a steady pace of releases – with six ‘Iron Druid’ books currently out, and at least three more in the works. I actually bought ‘Hounded’ when it first came out, based on little more than snatches of the blurb and that fabulous cover. Hearne went on to release three more books in 2011, and I decided to sit back and amass the series a little bit, enjoy the build-up and anticipation before plunging in. It’s 2013 now, and I've managed to collect all six books, so now I think it’s high time I leapt in . . . 

These books are funny. That has to be said first of all because when other elements weren’t quite working for me, it was Hearne’s wit and Atticus’s humour that kept me going and ensured I'd be back for more. Atticus was really the saving grace for me in this book, because if his first-person narrative hadn’t been so entertaining I’m not sure I'd have been as sold on the world-building promises. But Atticus is a fine hero to go on a journey with (good to know, when I've got six books to spend with him!). He’s 2000-years-old, and seen things. He lets little bits of his history show, but as this is the first book Hearne & Atticus are keeping the cards close to their chests – so you’ll get a little aside about the Crusades being what turned Atticus off violence, or that his father threw him in a tar pit to teach him to ‘man up’ – but he doesn’t dwell on his past and lets very little slip. Sometimes this didn’t work for me, but I also loved that Atticus is a character beautifully blended of modernity and history. So occasionally you’ll get one-liner gems like his one (discussing Thor); 


. . . in the parlance of our times, he was a douche bag.

Brilliant. Also adding to the humour in the book is Atticus’s trusty Irish wolfhound, Oberon, with whom he shares a telepathic link. Oberon was marvellous, and probably my favourite character ever (someone tell me he’s won a sidekick award!). Oberon is poodle-obsessed and very impressionable; one bath-time tale about Genghis Khan and he starts begging Atticus to start a land war in Asia. I also relied on Oberon to bring me back to this series, because he’s the one aspect of Atticus’s life that hinted a bit at the dearth of his loneliness and revealed his true heart.

And that was the thing; Atticus was funny and wise, but throughout the book I felt a disconnect. Here he is, the last Druid. Two thousand years old, the very last of his kind. But I felt like at the end of the book, I didn’t really know Atticus all that much and besides thinking he had a good sense of humour, I wasn’t entirely sure I had learnt a whole hell of a lot about him. Now, like I said, this is the first book in a long series so I'd hate for Hearne to lay all his cards on the table. But I wanted to get a sense that we (as readers) were meeting Atticus at the start of this series, at a time when he’s ready to reconnect. And I felt there was plenty of opportunity for Hearne to highlight Atticus’s loneliness – there’s a pack of werewolves, a coven of witches and the gods all seem to be in cahoots . . . but Atticus is on his lonesome. Except he didn’t seem all that fussed. Sure, Oberon has clearly filled some of that love and affection for him (because, make no mistake, these two have got ‘buddy-cop’ written all over them) I guess I wanted more evidence that Atticus was ready for more human connections.

He is friends with a widowed Irishwoman neighbour, Mrs. MacDonagh, but their bizarre friendship was often used as comic relief as opposed to genuine connection. Then there’s barmaid Granuaile, a beautiful red-headed twenty-two-year-old who Atticus can’t quite figure out. She’s woefully under-cooked in this first book, but looking at the cover for ‘Trapped’, I can guess she becomes a bigger player (drats that it’s five books down the queue though). 

The world-building was pretty good in this book, though I did feel like Hearne was chucking everything in for good measure. In this world, all gods are real – from Allah to Jesus and Buddha. They all exist right now, in some form or other, and for the most part they piss off the little supernatural’s with their godly behaviour; 


“So God really exists?” 
“All the gods exist, or at least did exist at one time.” 
“But I mean Jesus and Mary and all that lot.” 
“Sure, they existed. Still do. Nice people.” 
“And Lucifer?” 
“I've never personally met him, but I have no doubt he’s around somewhere. Allah is doing his thing too, and so are Buddha and Shiva and the Morrigan and so on. The point is, Mrs. MacDonagh, that the universe is exactly the size that your soul can encompass. Some people live in extremely small worlds, and some live in a world of infinite possibility. You have just received some sensory input that suggests it’s bigger than you previously thought. What are you going to do with that information? Will you deny it or embrace it?” 

This world premise is quite fun, and I can now see why the series has a nine-book trajectory. When no gods are off-limits; every religion, myth  and magic could potentially crop up in the books, no wonder Hearne has yet to tap the bottom of the ‘Iron Druid Chronicles’. Though in this first book he brings out a lot of minor Celtic gods that were hard to keep track of; on top of a brewing witch war, mentions of werewolf pack hierarchy, some Native American tales . . . he put a lot in this first book and at times it was overwhelming, bordering on confusing. 

I will say that the ‘Iron Druid Chronicles’ are shaping up to be a very manly fare. Maybe when/if Granuaile comes to mean more this will change; but in ‘Hounded’ at least there’s no romance, apart from a running joke that three female minor gods fawn over Atticus and there’s minor bedroom hijinx that’s referenced, not described. The lovey-dovey stuff is minimal and brushed aside quite quickly, which is actually a nice change when paranormal romance has been creeping in and blurring the lines of urban fantasy more and more. But I do hope that, further along in the series, Atticus does look for more in his life and someone to share it with – I think that will go a long way to addressing my initial concerns that Atticus seems to be a very unemotional man. 

All in all, ‘Hounded’ didn’t WOW me like I had hoped it would . . . but I’ll be sticking around because (detached as he is) Atticus was a great hero, Oberon is my favourite new side-kick and I’m hoping that future book-covers hint at deeper human connections in store for this lonesome Druid.

3.5/5


Friday, September 6, 2013

'Every Breath' by Ellie Marney

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

Rachel Watts is an unwilling new arrival to Melbourne from the country. James Mycroft is her neighbour, an intriguingly troubled seventeen-year-old genius with a passion for forensics. Despite her misgivings, Rachel finds herself unable to resist Mycroft when he wants her help investigating a murder. And when Watts and Mycroft follow a trail to the cold-blooded killer, they find themselves in the lion's den - literally.

A night at the zoo will never have quite the same meaning again...

The city is no place for country girl, Rachel Watts. But since her family’s farm was foreclosed she had no choice but to be thrust into the hustle and bustle of the seemingly cold and anonymous Melbourne. Now her life revolves around school and chores while her mum works herself ragged as a cleaner, her dad is never home but always out driving the taxi and her brother frustratingly thrives in any environment. 

There’s only one person who has saved this year of transition and stopped Rachel from going completely nutty - James Mycroft. He’s her neighbour and classmate, but over the last few months he’s also become her close friend. She edits the online forensic papers he publishes under the name ‘Diogenes’ and has been absorbed into his friendship group along with Gus and Mai. He might not be big on the warm and fuzzies, but Rachel knows that she’s become as important to Mycroft as he has to her – not least because he’s an orphan and inclined to hermit and drink his problems away. 

Mycroft has opened the city up to Rachel, and made this place feel a little less anonymous. He’s even introduced her to some unsavoury characters, and unlikely friends – like Homeless Dave and his not-a-poodle, Poodle. Mycroft met them when he worked a soup kitchen, and Dave has since become one of his many eyes-and-ears around Melbourne.

That is, until Mycroft and Rachel find Dave dead – murdered in a most horrific way. 

Mycroft knows that the seemingly random murder of one homeless man won’t matter much to the police, and the disinclined Detective Pickup … so her takes it upon himself to investigate his friend’s death, but he’ll need Rachel’s help to prove foul play. 

‘Every Breath’ is the debut young adult novel from Australian author Ellie Marney, and the first in a new series. 

This book begins with a prologue that doesn’t inspire confidence. Granted, it’s a prologue that also probably sets-up the trajectory of the entire Mycroft/Watts series … but, still, some of the lines were cheesy and I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting myself into with the book; 


Seven years from now, a man will be dead, a case will be opened, and a boy with no past may hold the key to my future.

What kept me reading beyond this somewhat clunky opener was a puff from Cath Crowley (calling the book “smart, sexy, and fast-paced”) and a back cover blurb that invokes a Sherlock Holmes for the Melbourne teen set.

Sherlock Holmes is hot (again) right now. Whether you prefer yours as Cumberbatch or Jonny Lee Miller, New York or London-faithful … it’s irrelevant, when the real appeal behind the “consulting detective” resurgence more lies in reading egotistically smart characters bringing a bit of dignity and drama to the stale crime genre. That’s what Marney is offering up with this new series and the character of James Mycroft (and of course, his partner; Watts). 

Mycroft is a wickedly smart and sad young man; he was made orphan when his parents died under mysterious car-jacking circumstances in London when he was a boy. Afterwards he went to live in Melbourne with his only remaining relative, his aunt who is the very definition of a ‘hands-off’ parent. Since the verdict for his parents’ “accidental” death has never sat well wit him, Mycroft has dedicated his life to crime solving. He writes online papers on the topic of rigor mortis and prowls the Internet for ways to put his considerable intellect to good use under the pseudonym Diogenes (yes, the fictional gentleman's club of Arthur Conan Doyle’s books). Never mind that he’s only a teenager; Mycroft’s sad past and cracking mind lend him as a believable amateur sleuth with a chip on his shoulders and a grin at the ready. 

The book begins with Mycroft’s smarts having just gotten him thumped by a fellow classmate, and he’s having his wounds tended by the ever-patient Rachel Watts, our story narrator. Though we’re given a brief flashback later in the book, into the early days of Rachel and Mycroft’s friendship, we never get a scene of their very first meeting or what sparked their friendship (though, presumably, proximity was a big factor since they’re neighbours). This is a bit of a lack, and it does take a few chapters for readers to get into their rhythm and accept this unconventional but strong friendship. Rachel has also been living in the city for a few months when the book begins, and I suppose I prefer the sacrificing of a “meeting” scene, as opposed to a time-skip to Dave’s death and Mycroft’s first real case to sink his teeth into. Still, when Mycroft and Watts’s friendship starts hinting at a possibility of more it would have been nice to know of their history up to this point; either to know how unusual it is that their feelings for one another are changing, or to know for sure that this tension has been building for some time.

And the tension is delicious. Mycroft is a charismatic but wounded soul; he has a lot of skeletons in his closet and a childhood that has shaped him into this smart but lonesome young man. Watts, by contrast, is determined to hold her close-knit family together, even in the face of their new and busy city lives – she comes from a place of love and loyalty, and by being around her, these feelings of home and love start having an affect on Mycroft. I also liked the fact that Watts is a tomboy uninterested in outward appearance; similarly, Mycroft is clearly swayed by Watt’s intellect and kindness, and their repertoire is never better than when they’re crunching on the case and observing clues.

I also loved the secondary sidekicks of Mai and Gus, whose additional smarts help Watts and Mycroft out of a few jams and whose forbidden romance is a nice counterpoint to the more grisly aspects of this crime-thriller; 


Mai grins at Mycroft. ‘You know that’s slightly ridiculous, don’t you?’ 
He smiled. ‘Why?’ 
‘Because. . . because you’re teenagers.’ Mai’s expression says it should be obvious. ‘Mycroft, this isn’t like figuring out who spray-painted some guy’s car. This is murder.’ 
‘The principles are the same’ he insists. 
‘But you’re both minors. And you have no access to police information, no experience, no forensics lab, no authority. . . ’ 
‘Mai, are you trying to bring me down or something?’ 
Gus, who usually only gets emotive about things like soccer, suddenly leans forward. 
‘I think you should do it.’ He glances at me and Mycroft in turn. ‘This homeless guy, it’s not like his death is going to be a major priority, is it? The police won’t bend over backwards to bring his killer to justice or anything. He was a derelict with no family. So you two are the only ones who even care.’

Ellie Marney won the 2010 Scarlet Stiletto competition for women’s crime story writing, and in Mycroft and Watts she is clearly paying a small homage to the most infamous of crime stories - Sherlock Holmes. But this is not a teen-version or even an update; instead, Mycroft is clearly a fan of Doyle’s detective (hence the Diogenes screen name) and Marney plays around with a few jokes about Watts/Watson. But the Sherlock references also take a sharp turn when Watts points out Mycroft’s seeming disconnect from reality and harmful determination; 


‘This is about you, it’s always been about you! This is not an investigation! And I am not your Watson! And Dave is not your parents!’ 


There’s also a feel of Rian Johnson’s 2005 film ‘Brick’ to ‘Every Breath’ – in the gritty urban setting and young sleuths who are more likely to channel Raymond Chandler than Nancy Drew. And I liked that too; this isn’t ‘crime-lite’ because it’s for a younger audience. It’s crime, full stop. The murder is gory, the bad-guys deadly and our characters are putting themselves in very real danger by poking their noses where they don’t belong. 

I finished ‘Every Breath’ and wanted more. So I was thrilled to discover that second book ‘Every Word’ (set in London!) is due for June 2014 release, and after that there’s also ‘Every Move’ in March 2015. This is great news, because now that I know them, I want more James Mycroft and Rachel Watts. I want to know what happened to his parents, and how Rachel’s family will stay together in this big city. I want Mai to tell her mum about Gus, and I want to know how someone as smart and troublesome as Mycroft will fare in the big, wide world … I just want more from Ellie Marney, basically.

4.5/5