Category: Reviews (page 2 of 5)

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

Water Lily: YA Book Review

Water Lily is a YA, Paranormal Romance by Crystal Packard. I love YA and Fantasy, but don’t tend to stray into those that are more Romance heavy. This was a brilliant read though and where it might have got weighed down by romance, there was no chance of this happening as the author has just the right blend of humour to balance it. I found myself giggling along with some of the comic exchanges that occurred between the characters.

From the offset, I was immersed and invested in the MC, Lily, who is stifled and grieving at the beginning of the novel. It was thrilling to watch how events unfolded and how the fantasy world was introduced (no spoilers 😉 ).

Within the fantasy world (Tellis), there was so much to enjoy. The story occurs within this new world – rich with tales of elemental magic and strange communes. There’s a hint of darkness – with stories of child snatchings. It was fascinating to see how Lily coped and became a part of this world. There are strange, exotic creatures, a new language and troubling family secrets all to be discovered.

I’m definitely excited to see what happens to the characters next – and read today that the next instalment might be called, Fire Lily.

Crystal Packard’s site to read more about Water Lily and its author

Water Lily on Amazon

Smoke: Book Review

I got a lovely hardback copy of Smoke by Dan Vyleta  for my birthday 🙂 Something a little different too: YA Fantasy, but set in an alternate Edwardian England. It details a world where sin shows up as soot on skin. I hear you, the old adage: “there’s no smoke, without fire”, except in this world there is. Or more the sins and evils that burn within us are excreted through the pores as smoke and cover everyone and everything in the world with soot.

I found the concept really interesting with lots of links to Christianity and the concept of evil, as well as the consideration of one’s emotions and desires – how much is expressed or hidden of the individual.

Vyleta opens the novel with a quote from Dickens that inspired the story. Rightly so, the language and style feels very Dickensian with the squalid descriptions of London and the constant sense that the characters are going to be consumed by the smoking city. Thomas and Livia, two of the MCs when they come to London, are described thus:

“A cold drizzle is falling, taunting them with the kind of proximity they resorted to during the night, shoulder to shoulder, thigh to thigh. They ignore it and sit yards apart. Even so he is conscious of her Smoke; feels it reach across the gap and tug at his very bones. It is as though he were built to drink her sin. London is a place where people touch. Before, he had not understood the implications of this simple truth.”

I found the story itself a little slow to get off the ground and even when it did it lacked the  momentum of most YA reads these days. That is no bad thing  in my opinion. In a world where everyone’s looking for the next fix, this book makes you sit back and ruminate. It is more about the slowly built tension and unease between and within the characters that draws you. Mostly, I read on for the  interesting concepts behind the story. Don’t expect a fast-paced read, but certainly, a thought provoking one, that lingers like a cloud of billowing smoke.

Image from: http://londonbeep.com/nicknames-of-london-city

 

Book Review: An Artist of the Floating World

A beautiful book. A lot like ‘Remains of the Day’, but a beautiful story nonetheless.

In this story Ono, a retired artist looks back on his career and life. In a meandering (typical Ishiguro) narrative, he re-examines the patriotic and propagandist values he has endorsed. And we see how Ono is held by his family and in the wider society for this.

Through his memories, we experience a little of Japanese militarism, the Second World War, and see the rebuilding and reforming of Japan afterwards.

In amidst all the uncertainties, there is a particularly beautiful scene where Ono sits with his teacher. The teacher is reminiscing about what his and his friend’s beliefs and values in life have been:

“The best things, he used to say, are put together of a night and vanish with the morning. What people call the floating world, Ono, was a world that Gisaburo knew how to value.”

He goes on to say: “It’s hard to appreciate the beauty of a world when one doubts its very validity.”

I’ve heard Ishiguro described as preachy and moralistic lately, but who can dislike this kind of reflection when it’s so beautiful?

(The ‘Ukiyo’ – ‘the floating world’ used to describe the urban lifestyle, especially the pleasure-seeking aspects, of Edo-period Japan (1600–1867).

From https://data.ukiyo-e.org/mfa/images/sc206467.jpg)

Embers: Book Review

I read this beautiful book as I was looking for more Hungarian treasures – missing the likes of Szabo and Szerb. Unfortunately, I’ve read the two books of Szabo translated into English  (and not knowing Hungarian, the others are off limits.) Got a Szerb: the Pendragon Legend  waiting for me now too.

Embers by Sandor Marai was a lovely gem. It is a languid read, being more about an elderly General, Henrik reflecting on how he has spent the latter part of his life separated from his best friend, Konrad. It is forty years since some event drove them apart and now he is coming to see him.

It is through a long drawn out conversation, which is definitely more of a monologue (on Henrik’s part) that we come to see what happened to cause their estrangement.

It is a peculiar style for a whole novel, but I would say its strength lies in the time, settings and sentiments that are conjured through the conversation.

In the castle Henrik has lived in his whole life is described as: “The castle was a closed world, like a great granite mausoleum full of the moldering bones of generations of men and women from earlier times, in their shrouds of slowly disintegrating gray silk or black cloth. it enclosed silence itself as if it were a prisoner persecuted for his beliefs, wasting away numbly, unshaven and in rags on a pile of musty rotting straw in a dungeon. It also enclosed memories as if they were the dead, memories that lurked in damp corners the way mushrooms, bats, rats, and beetles lurk in the mildewed cellars of old houses…”

“The castle was a closed world, like a great granite mausoleum full of the moldering bones of generations of men and women from earlier times, in their shrouds of slowly disintegrating gray silk or black cloth. It enclosed silence itself as if it were a prisoner persecuted for his beliefs, wasting away numbly, unshaven and in rags on a pile of musty rotting straw in a dungeon. It also enclosed memories as if they were the dead, memories that lurked in damp corners the way mushrooms, bats, rats, and beetles lurk in the mildewed cellars of old houses.”

Everything Marai describes is painted with poignancy and vividness. I loved the way Konrad spoke about the tropics and how the wet seeps into everything or the way Chopin’s music seems to tear apart the world as Henrik listens to his mother and friend playing the piano.

A stunning read.

Bran Castle in the Carpathian Mountains

(Image from http://www.yoshay.com/when-literature-meets-history/)

Book Review: White is For Witching

 

Oooooo….a birthday book from one of my lovely sisters and what a treat. Been meaning to try out a Helen Oyeyemi after reading some good reviews and I wasn’t disappointed. Devoured this in two sittings.

Set in a large house in Dover, the two main narrators are twins, Eliot and Miranda Silver, who are in their late teens. The prologue opens with a series of fractured narratives – where we learn the girl, Miranda is missing.

The characters are all painted vividly throughout this book and with each passing page, you want to lap up more. I found myself fascinated by each of the characters, where ordinary details usually passed over were lingered over by Oyeyemi. For instance, the father, Luc, who isn’t a major character in the book is still crystal clear in the reader’s mind. His introduction was:

“He wooed his wife with peach tarts he’d learnt from his pastry father. The peaches fused into the dough, with their skins intact, bittered and sweetened by burnt sugar…His fingers are ruined by too close and careless contact with the heat; the parts that touch each other when the hand is held out straight and flat, the skin there is stretched and speckled and shiny. Lily had never seen such hands. To her they seemed the most wonderful in all the world.”

And yes, it’s a story about food in part. The girl, Miranda suffers from the condition of Pica (eating things that aren’t food, such as chalk, soil, etc.)

But the most interesting aspect of the story is the way in which the house impacts on the family. We come to learn that it has done so over the course of generations of Silvers.

A little taster without spoiling hopefully:

“I am here, reading with you. I am reading this over your shoulder. I make your home home. I’m the Braille on your wallpaper that only your fingers can read – I tell you where you are. Don’t turn to look at me. I am only tangible when you don’t look at me.”

The Soucouyant, is said in folklore, to inhabit the flesh of an old woman who strips it off at night.

(Image from: veryoddthings.tumblr.com/post/65240426394/they-hide-in-the-dark-soucouyant-the)

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