Tag: book review (page 1 of 4)

The Elementals – Book Review

This has been on my TBR list for ages. I now have the whole series to work through…not a bad thing! Would definitely recommend this book and have put it in my YA book giveaway that I’m running this month!  

 

 

 

Descent

MC, Nicole doesn’t know she’s a witch! The story is a gentle descent into the magical world. However, it was the typical setting of a high school, where the story begins and plays out – so a star off here for me.  In her new class, her teacher uses magic and Nicole discovers she is a witch. (The reason for her ignorance is explained later when her family history is explored.) A quiet, approachable girl, Kate takes Nicole under her wing, promising to catch her up on the witchcraft stuff.

The unavailable hot guy, Blake is thrown into the mix early on. And the blending of witchcraft and Greek mythology starts. “Did you know that we – meaning everyone in our homeroom – are descended from Greek gods?”

We see Nicole develop her witchcraft, with descriptions of using energy, visualised as colour.

There’s a malevolent undercurrent in the use of energy with stories about how Danielle (Blake’s girlfriend) has used energy to hurt people. Blake too, hints at there being another side to their powers.“…once a witch takes someone else’s energy – from a human or another witch – their body stops producing energy of its own. They become leeches…until they’ve taken it all.”

.“…once a witch takes someone else’s energy – from a human or another witch – their body stops producing energy of its own. They become leeches…until they’ve taken it all.”

Depth

After the intro into this world, the outlines of its dangers, the real story starts when the witches do meditation one night when a comet is due to be visible. Although the rest of there class is there, it is only Nicole’s group (Blake, Danielle, Kate and Chris) that feels different afterwards. Gradually, they come to realise that they can control one of the four elements, earth, air, fire and water. The fifth, being aether. Darius, their teacher and one of the Elders of Witches, gives them a prophecy that he reckons pertains to them, about the five elements. About midway through, they are attacked by a “two-headed scorpion-tailed dog monster”, a Chimera of sorts, and there is a sense of real danger. I enjoyed their first battle in the playground here, with fireballs.

Ascent

When they reach the end of their quest to solve the prophecy, the object they find waiting for them, is being guarded by another mythological creature, a harpy type woman, half bird, half woman. The reasons for them being led here and what is at stake escalates quickly. The exciting battle scene is well-written and paced, with plenty at stake for our MC. And…even better, there is a nice twist at the end, another secret that Nicole is forced to bear alone. This very much made me want to read on, and I’m looking forward to reading volume two.

Heart of Mist – Book Review

This isn’t my usual choice of read as I generally prefer urban-fantasy but I looked at one of the prequel stories that Helen Scheuerer released prior to Heart of Mist and it was so well written and the character voice so strong, that I was really looking forward to reading the full book on its release. And it did not disappoint!

 

 

 

Descent

The beginning is gritty, visceral and emotionally-raw. “Bleak’s gut clenched as she vomited onto the dirt that spun before her.” We meet MC, Bleak, struggling to live with the magic she has, or “her condition” as she terms it, early on. We quickly learn that Bleak’s condition means that she can hear people’s thoughts. And, despite her defensive and surly manner, her drinking and pick-pocketing, we quickly come to empathise with her.

There is brilliant exposition and characterisation woven through the story as skilfully as Bleak ties her fisherman’s knots!

The regions of the world are wonderfully introduced in such ways as the goods throughout the market and in the descriptions of the soldiers early on in the narrative. There is a lot of world-building, with lots of names, history, and religion to get to grips with but all this is interspersed extremely well throughout the narrative.

Depth

I thought the characters were all very well fleshed out. Particularly Fiore and Swinton. Bleak is rescued by Henri, a proud warrior and queen of the Vallians. These people are a warrior clan that live in the forest and have a strong matriarchal society. A fifth of the book in, we’re introduced to Dash, who lives in the main city in Angovia. As the story progresses, it becomes apparent how much the Ashai, (people with magic) still exist in the populace. I got really into the narrative from Bleak’s point of view and struggled a little with the shift to Dash. I think this is a personal preference though as I tend to like stories narrated from one or two viewpoints. Still, I was very invested with Bleak, Swinton (captain of the guard) and Henri (warrior queen) as all of these characters were involved early on with Bleak. I felt the shift to Dash’s narration (although understandable for developing the wider world) detracted a little from the immediacy of the story.

After Bleak’s defensiveness, her surliness, her closing herself off for so long, I would have liked more to pass/happen between her and Bren when he found out the enormous secret she had kept all her life from him. It was true to character for bleak but it was annoying how she did just walk away. There’s a fantastically gory scene three-quarters of the way in when Bleak comes into her magic in a way we haven’t seen. All the anger and pain she’s been keeping at bay seeps out and the events definitely linger with you.

Ascent

I was very eager to see what happened to Bleak by the end of the book. There is plenty left open-ended and I will definitely be purchasing a copy of the next book in The Oremere Chronicles.

Firebolt: Book Review

I thought this was a fun, lighthearted read. I enjoyed the fast-paced entry into the story. However, I thought putting the MC, Elena straight into school in the world of Paegeia was a little bit dull and predictable. Not to mention that it meant that there was a lot of info-dumping whilst not much else was going on plot wise. It’s fine when a character is learning about the world, and I understand you need this, but it made the middle really lag.

 

 

 

 

Descent

As I said, entry into the world was fast-paced and good fun, with plenty of drama in the first chapter. The MC’s voice is infused with typical teen melodrama: “…the engine and the hard rain on the roof, a percussion that became a soundtrack to my misery. Utter loneliness consumed my heart while I stared at the white picket fences…” Her angst about constantly having to move around is instantly overshadowed when we find out the reason she and her dad are on the run. DRAGONS!

Depth

This is where the story fell down….or didn’t rather! Elena has to learn about the world of Paegeia and most of the middle is info-dumping through the vehicle of lessons in the school – anatomy, history and weapons classes, as well as through her two friends, Becky and Sammy. She learns about Dragonians and the dragons and the partnerships/relationships these form. This is interesting but I couldn’t help but think it could have been executed in a more concise and exciting way so that the information about all the dragons and the history of the world wasn’t so overwhelming.

Ascent

I did read this very quickly because, despite the annoyances above, I really enjoyed the story and once Elena and her friends got out of school, I was very curious to see events unfold. I just kinda wish that had happened sooner! Am tempted to read on in the series when I want another fun-filled read.

 

 

 

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.

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.

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)

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