Tag: fiction (page 1 of 3)

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.

Back from the Dead…

Okay, it’s been a while, but I do feel like I’ve been temporarily departed from this world for the last couple of months. That’s because I’ve been redrafting and self-editing another version of Arete: Descendants. It’s finally done and after lots and lots of reading up on freelance editing companies, it’s been sent off to Bubblecow.

I’ve heard some really good things about them from other independent authors. Here is a very insightful review and a sample of the service in case you’re shopping around by Aidan.J.Reid, a thriller author. I found this one really thorough and it helped me decide which editing company to choose. I’m sure it’s going to be a very rewarding process too and look forward to learning how to improve the story when I get back the edited manuscript and editor’s report.

The other thing I’m looking forward to doing this month is getting on with developing an idea I started back on a writing course earlier in the year. I’ve signed up for my first Nanowrimo and aim to get the first draft of ‘Extension’, a Young Adult, Dystopian novel done by the end of the month. With book baby number one being taken care of over the next month by an editor, it seems the perfect time to get onto developing the next one. Let me know if you’re taking part. If you’re in London, especially North East, I may even be able to meet you in the real world and leave my hermitage for a write-in, where we can get back to the imaginary world, of course, that we writers inhabit best.

(Image from Shutterstock)

 

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)

Book Review: The Scarlet Thread

Thought I’d give this D.S.Murphy book a try as I wanted to read a little more in the Myth and Legend category of Amazon. (Technically my series that I’m releasing in March will be in this so I should be reading more from here). Although, it can be categorised as Urban Fantasy too so….

Anyways, I enjoyed bits of this. I’ll say some good things first. The heroine is painted well: Kaidance, a disillusioned teen girl, living in a kind of juvenile detention centre.

Quickly, we come to understand that she’s not a bad person, just that she’s got freaky powers that led her parents to put her in here unjustly. (Going to add here – I think there was a little too much backstory drawn out in the first two chapters to do with this, which halted the momentum of the story.)

I particularly liked the first meeting/interaction between Kaidance and Puriel.

“Before I could stop him he licked his thumb and brushed it against my cheek to wipe away the blood…That’s when I saw the stars. I thought I might have blacked out. My vision was filled with millions of them, whole galaxies, everything converging together into one blinding light, and then nothingness. Just empty, black void.”

I’ve been looking a lot at first meetings between the love interests in YA Fantasy books and I thought this was nicely handled. It also alluded to the vast, mind-boggling world Kaidance will soon find herself in.

Okay, other than that I found the next bit – when they get to a kind of house/training camp way too Percy Jackson-esque and the characters (stroppy, antagonistic girl), (hot, nymphomaniac guy)  a bit of a cop out. I’m definitely up for using the Greek Gods and their well-known characters as a foundation to build a character, but not to find anything unique and different in them is disappointing.

Lastly, I’d say it was a great pity that it was only part one of the story. The way it ends mid-battle scene is…unfulfilling.

Checking out D.S.Murphy’s stuff  – I’ve seen that he has a lot of useful info about self-publishing, promoting your book and other useful stuff. So definitely worth having a look at if you’re considering self-publishing.

Courtesy of: https://southridgeblog.com/2014/04/16/the-scarlet-thread-part-3-john-316/

Book Review: Disgrace

Disgrace by J.M.Coetzee has sat, untouched by my bed for at least the last two months. Shameful….disgraceful you might say (or I would). Such an interesting and insightful book that when I finally picked it up I devoured it in just two sittings.

It tells the story of David Lurie, a Communications professor at the university of Cape Town. Shortly after the novel opens, David has an affair with one of his female students (something that we understand is not an uncommon occurrence for him). However, this time, the student files a complaint and David must face charges of harassment. At the hearing before his colleagues he is willing to admit he is guilty, but is unwilling to off any contrition. In turn he is forced to resign.

David ends up on his daughter’s farm in rural South Africa and it is here he comes to reflect on his past, with particular regard to his relationship and his treatment of women. Discussions with his daughter, Lucy lead David to re-evaluate his views on women. But it is only after he is attacked on the farm and his daughter is raped that David really begins to empathise with women. And in Lucy we are presented with a character at the opposite end of the scale from David. Lucy is willing to humble herself in an extreme manner as she believes that in this post-apartheid South Africa a life of humiliation is what she should settle for.

I read a few reviews on this novel that put forward that it was poorly executed, in that it was too moralistic, that the attack on Lucy is too much of a coincidence and is shoe-horned in to bring David to the revelation that his behaviour is the similar to the rapists. Or that it is too much that David goes back and has dinner with the father of the student he had an affair with, having a heart to heart with the man who should despise him. In one  someone said that David wasn’t even a believable character, more of a plot device.

Yes, this is a moralistic novel, but there’s nothing wrong with that. And was carried straight through the narrative. David’s voice is self-absorbed and cynical. He isn’t likeable, but he isn’t supposed to be.

The very opening line is strong in voice:

“For a man of his age, fifty-two, divorced, he has, to his mind, solved the problem of sex rather well.”

He says of his students. “He has long ceased to be surprised at the ignorance of his students. Post-Christian, posthistorical, postliterate, they might as well have been hatched from eggs yesterday.”

There is so much in this book to love – the character coming to terms with his identity as individual and father, as well as his sexuality within these parameters. Questions about power and subjugation, about pride and humility, and how all these things affect a person’s humanity.

 

Book Review: Pure

Pure by Julianna Baggott was recommended to me by my brother ages ago – finally got round to reading it. A YA Dystopian novel that is definitely unique. The story takes place after a nuclear detonation and features a world where some survivors are living in a Dome, shielded from the detonations, whilst the others are victims living outside and bear the marks of the detonations.

It is this grizzly world on the outside that is captured so well that captivates: people have become fused with objects (one of the main characters, Pressia has a doll head fused over her hand). This new world becomes more horrific with people fused to animals, to the earth and to one another. It’s the fantastic world-building that keeps you reading and is its greatest strength.

On the downside, I found that telling the story from so many viewpoints weakened the story and I wanted to get back to the MCs Pressia and Partridge. Another issue was that I felt that there was a lot of backstory interjected about how the world used to be, which slowed down the pace and to my mind was unnecessary at certain times. Okay, last annoyance I’m going to mention is that the threat/antagonist (I’m not going to ruin it by saying what it is) becomes all too knowing and far-reaching. I felt the antagonist cheapened itself and the whole story because of this.

I want to say lastly that I found the way Pressia was schooled by her grandfather in how it was in the past very touching. There’s a lovely poignancy built up in some of the contrasts to the present with what used to be. For instance OSR, who control and govern the people outside the dome take part in death sprees now and then, killing those they hunt down. The sound of this deadly game conjures up this thought in Pressia:

“Her grandfather refers to the different chants as bird calls, each one supposedly distinctive.”

A good read on account of the unique and fascinating world building.

(Image from http://elfinal-delahistoria.blogspot.co.uk/)

 

Book Review: You Are Not a Stranger Here

 

I recently read Adam Haslett’s debut collection of short stories, ‘You Are Not a Stranger Here’ released in 2002. I read this article, ‘The Perpetual Solitude of the Writer’ on the Literary Hub about the mindset of the writer and found Haslett’s take on it very interesting, hence trying his book.

So glad I did. There are interesting and varied narrators in this collection. The themes and ideas aren’t that varied – such as mental illness, sexuality, loss, but they are explored in depth.

Some of my favourite parts were the way a Bruegel painting in ‘The Good Doctor’ becomes so alive, but sinister because of the story relayed around it. There are some supernatural/inexplicable tales in this volume too, which were interesting. In ‘Divination’ we experience the strange with the main character in alls its subtlety:

“It had stilled a part of Samuel’s mind he’d never realised hd been moving. A tiny ball in the middle of his brain had spun to a halt. It scared him. He’d always thought fear would be something fast, a thing that pushed you forwards.”

My favourite though was ‘The Volunteer’ in seeing the world through the eyes of Elizabeth, where her family’s history collides with her present in such an intense and disturbing way.

“Elizabeth begged for the doctor to give her something to blunt the vicious pain in her abdomen. In the moments of reprieve, she’d open her eyes and from the walls of her bedroom see the dead generations staring down at her: daguerreotypes of gaunt women and Simian-faced men, stiff as iron in Sunday black, posed as if to meet their maker.”

(Image from http://www.gettyimages.co.uk/)

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