When I decided to undertake a mad reading around the UK challenge earlier in the year, I was contacted by author Jo Furniss to see if I’d be interested in reading a book set in Shropshire. As Shropshire is my home county, I was already intrigued, and when I heard the premise of the story, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. It has sat on my kindle for a while, but with the book set for publication tomorrow, I thought it was about time to metaphorically dust if off and have a gander. I’ll let you know what I thought in just a moment, as soon as I’ve shared the important booky bits.
The Official Book Blurb
When a family camping trip takes a dark turn, how far will one mother go to keep her family safe?
Struggling with working-mother guilt, Marlene Greene hopes a camping trip in the forest will provide quality time with her three young children—until they see fires in the distance, columns of smoke distorting the sweeping view. Overnight, all communication with the outside world is lost.
Knowing something terrible has happened, Marlene suspects that the isolation of the remote campsite is all that’s protecting her family. But the arrival of a lost boy reveals they are not alone in the woods, and as the unfolding disaster ravages the land, more youngsters seek refuge under her wing. The lives of her own children aren’t the only ones at stake.
When their sanctuary is threatened, Marlene faces the mother of all dilemmas: Should she save her own kids or try to save them all?
Oh my, oh my, oh my. You know when you’re in a bit of a reading slump and desperate for something to just hit that spot, the one which has you back in the zone and raring to go. Well I was fortunate enough to find not just one such book but two on the bounce. This was book two.
From very early on I was drawn into the book but perhaps not for the reasons you’d think. Jo Furniss had managed to absolutely capture that sense of the corporate mom, taking the kids on a camping holiday and the frustrations that being torn from mobile communication and thrust into the petty squabbles of young children who have no electronic gadgets to amuse them bring.
Now being a native Shropshire lass, there is nothing remotely odd sounding to me that a call which seems to go through on a mobile one minute gets completely cut off the next. I have that problem in my own office, depending on which side of my desk I’m standing. And the whole image of the family cramped into one tents because they couldn’t find the instructions on the other completely rang true of every holiday I went on as a child. Not the one tent thing – we only ever took one – but the not being able to assemble it part. Every single time.
And yet … this is more than just a lost signal due to the remote nature of the Shropshire Hills. Just for clarity, these are hills for which being at the top is less likely to give you a signal than being half way down, and there are so many of them that a lost mobile signal is highly plausible. But you just know that there is more to the story than that. From that very first chapter, that very simple interaction between our protagonist Marlene and the outside world, Jo Furniss begins to build a kind of tension and feeling of unease which is leading us to a most terrible discovery. When one of the children climbs to the top of a tree and claims to see fires, combined with the unease of the cows, you know something is terribly, terribly wrong.
Now I’m not going to say too much about the plot as, for me, part of the beauty of the story was in the discovery of just what had happened and how Marlene and her family came to be quite so isolated. Needless to say the act is quite apocalyptic and the resultant actions of those who should provide aid quite shocking. Something awful has happened, something which the little camp remained isolated from, and yet it will change their lives forever.
Jo Furniss has taken a very simple premise and pulled it into a cracker of a story. It is a strange feeling in a way as Marlene is not necessarily someone who it is easy to like and yet the more the story progressed, the more I came to understand and perhaps not like but at least respect her and the choices she makes. She is a fierce woman, and ultimately a protector. She can be selfish at times but ultimately does love her family and you know would do anything for them. When faced with having to take care of others, she is initially combative in attitude, perhaps due to the need to protect her young, but ultimately her nurturing instincts kick in.
Her sister-in-law Joni is an entirely different case. She is warm and nurturing, a natural mother where Marlene fails. And yet she cannot control her own daughter, something which costs the group in the harshest, and most heart wrenching way possible and forces Joni into a previously unthinkable act, even if it was for selfless reasons. There are only two scenes, those involving Peter and a stray dog, Horatio, that truly got me. I could handle all else but these two do tug at the heart strings. Anything with children and dogs truly do.
As the story moves on, and you come to understand what is happening, you know that the things which the group can see are almost as fearsome and definitely as deadly as those which they can’t. Political decisions being made which can both save and condemn those who are thus far untouched by the tragedy. There are moments in which the fear and tension almost leap from the page, moments which can totally creep you out (flies – yuk), and others in which you can smile at children just being children. Who hasn’t seen it happen where a young child feeds every scrap of food to the dog? Yep. You’ve been there too right?
If you like a read with an apocalyptic undertone, then this could well be the book for you. This is a book about a famly fighting for survival against all odds. About the extraordinary steps people will take when faced with near impossible choices. How instinct takes over from logic and rational thinking and moral lines have to become blurred for the good of many over a few. Yes, there are moments in the book which may seem implausible but the there are lot of things throughout history which seemed unlikely once. And given the current political climate, some decisions which are made, some actions which are taken… Well they don’t seem to feel quite so far fetched anymore. And the ending? Well let’s just say that this has the potential to be continued. I certainly hope it is as I’d loved to know what happens next.
My thanks to author Jo Furniss for the advance copy for review. All The Little Children is released tomorrow, 1st September, and is available from the following retailers.