The Well: Book Review

My first Netgalley request! I loved this one. The blurb pitches it as possibly a murder-mystery or paranormal thriller, and it is just that. All the way through you’re left guessing whether the events that pass are caused by people or by ghostly activity.

 

 

Descent

The whole story centres around the Gustafano House, a notoriously haunted house. At the beginning, a group of teenagers meet to hold a seance here. (This was right up my street as the house I grew up in was rather large, old and had an eerie air about it. Needless to say, seance were involved over the years and instigated my love of the unusual.)

Here’s something to whet your appetite: “The Gustafon house sat in the center of a small clearing, like some kind of silent queen on her throne. The powder blue paint was cracked and peeling, but she still seemed regal. Either Mother Nature seemed subservient to the house. No birds chirped. No squirrels chattered. The trees didn’t rustle their leaves in the breeze…”

Depth

The story alternates from narrating what happened at the house in the past with the group of teenagers and the ouija board to the present day, twelve years on when they are still trying to make sense of what happened that night. There is a lot of onus from the paranormal investigator, Pierce about finding scientific proof of ghostly activity, which is balanced by his twin brother’s strong belief that it exists. The play between the two and the other characters in the book mean that you are always left guessing whether to believe or not.

The characters are well crafted, with lots of buried emotions that are teased out as the narrative unfolds. Pierce and Haven’s feelings for one another were explored wonderfully, again retaining the mystery for so long as it was unclear for a while what had passed between them on the night of the seance and then later, how they had left off when they parted ways as teenagers.

Ascent

I was hooked the whole way and devoured this in one sitting, really not wanting it to end and yet keen to find out how it did.

Hekla’s Children: Book Review

A little bit different to my usual choice – a kind of Horror Sci-fi. Caught sight of this one when looking through Indie Presses and what was coming out. So glad I read this one – thoroughly immersive, well-written and blood-curdling. 

 

Descent

The story tells the tale of a teacher, Nathan Brookes who takes a group of teenagers on an orienteering field trip. However he is neglectful, and the children go missing. Only one is found and has suffered memory loss and fails to enlighten everyone of what happened to the others.We see how Nathan stagnates in his life due to the guilt he feels from that day onwards. When a body is unearthed in the same woods where the children went missing, it is at first believed to be one of their bodies. However, the body turns out to be the body of a Bronze Age mummy, preserved by the peat of the area, as with such other bog bodies discovered as Tollund Man.

Depth

We see how Nathan stagnates in his life due to the guilt he feels from that day onwards. When a body is unearthed in the same woods where the children went missing, it is at first believed to be one of the children’s bodies. However, this is where things diverge into fantastical realms and the real story begins. This is a fascinating book with elements of folklore and superstitions from the Dark Ages of Britain. I loved the anthropological nature of the story in the present with the character, Tara who delves into researching the Bronze Age mummy and how the logical line of inquiry by the police is swept away by her discoveries. Little by little, the past intrudes into the present in astounding and horrifying ways.

Ascent

I really didn’t see the twist coming in this and devoured the last section of it. The ending will haunt you long after you finish!

Proust: Swann’s Way

A thought-provoking, powerful and immersive read. 

Descent

There is a fluidity in descending into this book. As Proust describes falling asleep, you fall gently into his narrative, his words cushioning you. On the other hand, we’re moving through great junctures of time and space. One moment Proust is a man reading a book, his thoughts still cycling on the words of the page, the next he’s a child, dreaming of his childish terrors about his uncle pulling his curls. We dip in and out of these passages of time with him. As he states:

“When a man is asleep, he has a circle round him the chain of the hours, the sequence of the years, the order of the heavenly bodies. Instinctively he consults them when he awakes, and in an instant reads off his own position on the earth’s surface and the time that has elapsed during his slumbers; but this procession is apt to grow confused, and to break ranks.”

And we continue to travel time and distance through the cyclical nature of the narrator’s thoughts. I loved journeying on, his senses bridging one thought to the next, no matter the distance or time between each.

Saying this, there are times when you stumble over the long sentences and archaic language but if you’re ready for it, prepared to give yourself over to it, it’s brilliant.

Depth

There are so many parts to love in this book. I’m going to pick a few of my favourite quotes.

During his Combray days Legrandin says to Proust:

“Always try to keep a patch of sky above your life…You have a soul in you of rare quality, an artist’s nature; never let it starve for lack of what it needs.”

I loved the way Proust reflects on his boyhood and the way he tries to identify when and where a certain thought or feeling stemmed from. Here are some snippets:

“…our attempts to translate our innermost feelings do no more than believe us of them by drawing them out in a blurred form which does not help us identify them…”

“Meseglise way and the Guermantes way remain for me linked with many of the little incidents of…life…The flowers which played then among the grass, the water that rippled past in the sunshine…all these my exaltation of mind has borne along with it and kept alive through the succession of the years…Sometimes the fragment of landscape thus transported into the present will detach itself in such isolation from all associations that it floats uncertainly in my mind…”

“For often in one we find a day that has strayed from another, that makes us live in the other, evokes at once and makes us long for its particular pleasure, and interrupts the dreams that we were in the process of weaving by inserting out of its turn, too early or too late, this leaf torn from another chapter in the interpolated calendar of Happiness.”

Ascent

I did become very much immersed in Proust’s world – his boyhood, later his narrations of Swann’s life, his relationship with Odette and the society they moved in. There was precision and so much insight to perceive in all the characters interactions and so much to reflect on about human nature. Just take a scene – an afternoon’s music reception that Swann attends. We go from Swanns’s observation of the servants:

“Then he passed it to one of his satellites, a timid novice…” then to observing the attendees.”

Madame Cambremer among them listens to the music and we are told:

“She had learned in her girlhood to fondle and cherish these long sinuous phrases…But nowadays the old-fashioned beauty of this music seemed to have become a trifle stale…Mme de Cymbremer cast a furtive glance behind her.”

Throughout there is a vast array of cast and the interactions are examined minutely. All of it was fascinating, but when I did finish, I definitely needed to surface for some air!

The Gift Maker: Book Review

I started this one as well as Hekla’s Children in a conscious effort to read more books published by independent presses. I chose Urbane Press this month as The Gift Maker caught my eye. And I’m so glad it did! It proved to be a disturbing, and yet, beautiful story. It reminded me very much of Bulgakov’s, The Master and the Margarita, with its surreal nature, as well as  its Eastern European-esque setting (the characters venture to a town called Grenze, which translates to “Border”).

Descent

At the very beginning, one of the MCs, Thomas receives the mysterious box. I enjoyed gradually getting to know Thomas and his fellow philosophy students – their jokes and banter easing us into the story. It isn’t until we meet Liselotte, the other MC that the story starts to get surreal and magical, but it’s worth the wait. I loved following her on her quest to understand her gift and watching as the world around her becomes more warped and disturbing.

Depth

There is so much to contemplate in this book – there is a depth of soul in this book that is such a rarity. I think some of the quotes I marked will sum up the particular beauty of its pages and its writer:

“The gift will find the receiver, whether he wishes it or not, for it is part of him and cannot be denied.”

“We look for the pure, if hidden, desire. The love of the love for its own sake, not for gross gain. A rare thing in this and other worlds.”

I don’t want to give too much away, but there are layers upon layers of meaning and influence in this book. One moment you think of The Master and Margarita, especially with the theatre scenes and then there’s hints of Dr Faustus and questions about one’s ambitions in life and their impact on the soul.

Ascent

This book has stayed with me the last week – and I will definitely be buying a paperback copy so that I can revisit it again when the images and ideas fade.

The Thirteenth Tale: Book Review

A gem of a book. Loved it…a story that echoes other stories, reminding you of the books you love and making you want to visit them once again.

Descent

This was a wonderful bookish book. The MC, Margaret has been raised in a bookshop and spends her day working and reading there, having become something of an “amateur” biographer as she terms it. Books have been her school, her university, her life. Like I say it was just ooooh so bookish.

“…you leave the previous book with ideas and themes  - characters even - caught in the fibres of your clothes, and when you open the new book they are still with you.”

Depth

The storyline follows the biographer’s trip to interview Vida Winters, a prolific, famous and secretive author. The author has never given a truthful account of her life…until now. Margaret journeys to her house in Yorkshire, and you cannot help think (as the MC does) of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. Through Miss Winter’s story we discover her tale (and there is a house) Angelfield House involved in the tale. But we are taken down the twists and turns of history, of literature, history echoing story or story echoing history, hungering to discover Miss Winter’s true tale, which, in turn, shares painful similarities with Margaret’s own.

Ascent

I devoured this in two sittings, and I didn’t want to come out of it. It felt like a homage  to other wonderful books as well. Just after reading it, I delved into Wuthering Heights again and I’m going to see Jane Eyre shortly at the theatre. So all in all, this is a book that you can luxuriate in and after leaving gets you in the mood to jump into lots of other stories that have inspired it. Also bought a copy of Rebecca recently on holiday, which has a lot to do with the ideas from this book still percolating in my head!

(The library in Dunster Castle, Somerset.)

The Lie Tree: YA Book Review

This is a great one to start with for my new rating system. Overall, I really enjoyed this one. The mystery and intrigue was built up well and I really enjoyed venturing with the MC, Faith to uncover her father’s secrets. And a great one to start my new watery themed rating system as at the beginning we find ourselves literally at sea. “The boat moved with a nauseous, relentless rhythm, like someone chewing on a rotten tooth. The islands just visible through the mist also looked like teeth…”

The Descent

I enjoyed the atmospheric descriptions on entering this book – suitably setting the tone for the luscious language throughout and the imagery of bones foreshadowed that which was to be a central topic in the story. We are introduced to Faith, the MC and her father, mother and brother. In terms of action however, not much occurs and we get a lot of backstory (intriguing – why have the family had to leave their home behind, what are these rumours that are circulating about the Reverend, Faith’s father?)  Nonetheless, the beginning third of the book is a slow burn. In other words – entry takes a while. If you’ve got the time – and the breath to spend on it – fine. But if you’re in a hurry, maybe choose a different time to read this one.

Depth

The depth in this book comes from the conflict within Faith’s father and the other learned men of his generation; torn between what scripture has taught them of the world and what scientific enquiry proves. This debate is built upon throughout the book and darkens as the story explores the lengths people are willing to go to in order to prove their beliefs.

Some of my favourite quotes: “The sea licked the flesh off shipwrecks, leaving the bare wooden bones in the lightless deep. Its mermaids were green-skinned and squid-eyed with long hooked fingers and breath that smelt of old fish.”

“It was a house of the dead now. All the curtains were drawn. Dark cloth was draped over every mirror, like a dull lid drooped over every eye.”

The Ascent

There’s no doubt it’s a slow burner. More than that, I’d say that the best part in the novel for me was when Faith discovers her father’s true secret. The fact that the events of the second half of the book don’t live up to this discovery in the middle meant the second half lagged for me. I’m not saying that I wasn’t intrigued by the rest of the story, but it didn’t live up to the idea at the heart of the novel. I still enjoyed it and would recommend it.

Black Inked Pearl: Book Review

Finnegan’s Black Inked Pearl opens with our fifteen-year-old heroine, Kate. From the beginning, our surroundings are dreamlike, or rather, timeless. We are on “Donegal shore by wild Atlantic Sea. Today. Or long ago.” When is Kate? When are we? It doesn’t matter – from the beginning we are swept up in the narrative; one that has no beginning and no end.

We experience the themes of lost love and the quest for identity through Kate’s eyes, but there is a real sense that the reader, and indeed all of humanity, are on the same journey.
We feel for Kate as she realises and yearns for her true love who she didn’t recognise and acknowledge as such in her youth. Finnigan’s imagery and poetry edify that love to something ancient and universal: “For as convolvulus roots dig deep in the earthe’s heart, ne’er torn uproot, and in the world grow spiralling untwistable in th’ ether till burst out in morning’s glore So were they entwined.”

When we get to Africa, the tale of Adami and Yifa (Adam and Eve) is told. Kate seems to merge with Eve, the first woman to go against/lose her lover. It’s here that everything seems to blend further – as if Kate’s journey and Eve’s, and everyone’s, are one and the same. I loved the description of where St Columb showed Kate the mysteries of humankind in the heavenly archives: “…he carefully lifted down the…wrought chest/ Carved it was with friezes not of animals but of singers. Of Neanderthal women / pipers, children a-song, cave men with – somehow like lyres…”

I think, at times, there is a little difficulty with the dense imagery and descriptive language in travelling between scenes and transitions, which does add to the dreamlike quality of the book, but had me going back over what I was reading (at the train station scene and at the nursing home). I’m still digesting those parts and making sense of them, but even that is interesting as the story stays with you, transforming long afterwards.

I thoroughly recommend journeying on with Kate to hell, hear the temptations of the serpent and go to heaven’s gate. There’s also plenty of comic moments with God – his take on beetles reminded me of a sketch by the comedian Bill Bailey. So even with the epic nature of this narrative, there are moments of humour and levity to lighten your journey.

Black Inked Pearl can be purchased here on Amazon.

Element: Descendants of Eden

The world-building in this book is detailed. The descendants (who descend from Adam and Eve) are sketched out intricately – their natures and personalities varying depending on who they originate from. I found the painting of the demons and the darker elements of this world very vivid too. For instance, the thing you fear most is the form that the demons take on – this led to lots of interesting and disturbing scenes.

Lucy, the main character, is sketched well. Someone who is conflicted about most things: misses her parents but resentful of the isolation they brought her up in, wants to be around others and fit in but fears the threat her powers pose.

At the heart of the story is Lucy’s need to find out the truth about her powers and who she descends from. I personally, would have liked to see Lucy focus a bit more on this but she seems more absorbed by the two love interests in her life. Not a bad thing – especially as she’s an eighteen-year-old girl! And I did get caught up in following Lucy’s feelings for the two guys and wanting to find out what happened.

I received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. It is a unique and thought-provoking read, with lots of magic, mythology and some good action scenes to boot. You can purchase a copy here on Amazon.

Wolf of the Tesseract

 

My leanings tend to be more Fantasy than Sci-fi, and Wolf of the Tesseract by Christopher D. Schmitz is firmly entrenched in the Sci-Fi camp. It has intergalactic travel, the characters have multiple-selves throughout the dimensions and the MCs’ nemesis is an alien warlock. That said, I’m thoroughly pleased I have broadened my reading range!

The story starts off with a fast-paced battle scene, with an introduction to one of the MCs, Zabe. I was really drawn into the world with the pace and vividness with which it was described – the writing is concise but descriptive.

The next chapter transports us from this world to Earth. The pace might be in danger of languishing here after the high-action scene, but I was instantly intrigued by what occurred and the plot thickens.

By chapter three, we meet the other MC, Claire and the book becomes firmly rooted in the real world too. The way the story swings between Earth and the other realm was brilliant. I think without the foundation in the real world, I would have struggled to be drawn into the story as much, but the balance is done perfectly.

Not to mention that the multiple dimensions also serve for some wonderfully comic moments. Some of the best quotes come from the play between the two worlds. One of my favourite lines was: “What’s in Wiltshire?” “Our exit to another world.”

In the book there is a vast array of characters and yet the story never becomes confusing, and even more impressively, all the characters are fleshed-out. Even the secondary character’s, for example Claire’s friend, Jackie are well- drawn and ended up being some of my favourites.

I was surprised that with so many characters, the quick pace and the narration being from multiple viewpoints that the story still possessed real depth. Early on, the MC Claire grapples with whether her feelings for her fiance are strong enough to marry him, there is a discussion between the characters about whether unexplained phenomena isn’t just Science that we don’t yet understand. In short, the world and characters are made real and the extraordinary only serves to enhance it.

A wonderful read – I will definitely be reading more by the author.

 

Image from https://pixabay.com/en/users/TheHilaryClark-1068778/

The Graces: YA Book Review

This one…I heard things about… There were whispers and rumours… People said it was like The Craft – that movie, which is a cult movie if you got into witches like I did as a teenager in the 90s. Even if I wasn’t expecting The Craft, perhaps a little bit of comic witchcraft, Charmed anyone? No, no – it was more…ah, are they witches, or aren’t they? Ah, is there a story here, or isn’t there?

Saying that, I didn’t stop reading. There was something in the MC’s desperate wish to be a part of the Grace family’s life. Yes, there was the typical story of unrequited love that MC feels towards Fenrin, the Grace boy, but there is a little more as she idolises the entire family. It does aptly describe the thrall that some teenagers go through in believing that others lives are better, that if they could just have him as a dad, or her as a mum then things would be…better.

Would I recommend it though…hmmm, no. I felt the Graces were similar to the Cullens’ in Twilight. Perfect, but lacking in substance – wooden. I won’t spoil the twist in case you do read it, but it was very “high school” too. I felt like the MC at the end was like the awkward, nerdy girl, who shows up at her high-school reunion – changed, just to say – I told you I’d make it!

The Graces on Amazon

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