The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August - Claire North

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August reminds me greatly of Doctor Who. There are 3 possibilities:
1) I am that kind of a fangirl. Everything reminds me of DW.
2) It is merely a coincidence.
3) It really does have a lot of similarities.

Judge for yourself.
(Background knowledge of DW is not required to read this review).

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The story began, like many time-travel stories do, at the end:

I am writing this for you.
My enemy.
My friend.
You know, already, you must know.
You have lost.


The facts are these:
- It is two of them against the world.
- A maniac causing the destruction of the world before its time; vs
- A madman trying to save it, because he is the only one who could.
- A story spanning multiple lives/incarnations.
They could be Harry August vs [identity is a spoiler] or they could be the Doctor vs the Master.

Just saying. To continue:

“The world is ending,” she said. “The message has come down from child to adult, child to adult, passed back down the generations from a thousand years forward in time. The world is ending and we cannot prevent it.

Time travel in this story is not the usual kind of time travel to the future or past via time machine/device or special powers involving travelling through time or whatnot. It works, instead, like this:

There are people, living among us, who do not die. It says that they are born, and they live, and they die and they live again, the same life, a thousand times.

I had been born again exactly where I had begun, back in the snow, back in England, back in the past where it had all begun.


Fortunately, there is the option of living it differently. Harry August lived a very varied first fifteen lives, and narrated the differences and similarities of each. After all, being forced to live the same life in exactly the same way, repetitively, would be so tediously boring. But when people like him make different life decisions, doesn’t it affect the world, or does the world, so to speak, compensate around them?

“In every life we lead, regardless of every death we pass,” I said, “the world around us is unchanged. There is always rebellion in 1917; there is always war in 1939; Kennedy will always be shot and trains will always be late. These are linear events which do not vary, as far as we can observe, from life to life. The only variable factors are us. If the world is changing, we are the ones who change it.”

The concept of time being in flux vs fixed points in time. Fascinating.

Also, for anyone to whom this may concern:
This book is not to be read for romance. Although there is a little, a very little, of it:

Run away with me, I said, just for a night. The world will turn, all things will end, and people forget.

It did not work out, of course. But that’s because she was not the sort of woman who believed that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt up in the philosophy of men (quoting Shakespeare now, I am) It’s not her fault she was linear and had only one life.

----------

And finally I attach, if only to commemorate it, a discussion between two people living their non-linear lives, under the guise of the professor and the undergraduate student; on the theoretical effects of time travel. It’s nothing you wouldn’t have heard of before if you’re accustomed to the time travel aspect of the science fiction genre, but I like it anyway. Not a spoiler, but under a cut due to its length:

 

“A man travels back in time…” I began, and at Vincent’s immediate flinch of distaste I raised my hand and said placatingly, “Hypothetically speaking, a thought experiment if you like. A man travels back in time and sees the events of the past unfolding like a future before his eyes. He steps out of his time machine–”

 

“Immediately altering the past!”

 

“–and his very first act is to post his younger self the winning riders at Newmarket. Result?”

 

“Paradox,” declared Vincent firmly. “He has no memory of having been posted these numbers; he never won at Newmarket. If he had, he may not have built the time machine and gone back in time to post the numbers to himself to begin with–logical impossibility.”

 

“Result?”

 

“Impossibility!”

 

“Indulge the hypothesis.”

 

He huffed furiously, then exclaimed, “Three possible outcomes! One: at the very instant that he makes the decision to send himself the winning numbers, he remembers receiving them and his personal timeline changes, thus he self-perpetuates his own existence as without the winning numbers he could not have built his time machine. Paradox within that being that nothing can come from nothing, and his initiative, his causal event, is in fact an effect, effect preceding cause, but I don’t suppose we’re dealing with logic in this scenario. Two: the whole universe collapses. Rather melodramatic, I know, but if we consider time as a scalar concept with no negative value then I really see no other way, which seems a shame if all we’re discussing here is a little bet at Newmarket. Three: at the very instant he makes the decision to send himself the numbers, a parallel universe is created. In his universe, his linear timeline, he returns home having not won anything at Newmarket in his life, while in a parallel universe his younger self is rather surprised to discover that he’s a millionaire and carries on quite happily thank you. Implications?”

 

“I have no idea,” I replied brightly. “I merely wished to see if you were capable of lateral thinking.”

(show spoiler)



Gilded Ashes by Rosamund Hodge

Gilded Ashes (Harperteen Impulse) - Rosamund Hodge

Gilded Ashes is a dark fairytale retelling of Cinderella, with a twist of dark fantasy that I found more engaging than the romance itself.

Maia, the impoverished orphaned daughter of the noble Alastorides family, lived as a servant in her late father’s house. Her fairy godmother was the dead spirit of her own mother, who had died many years ago but never left; because at her deathbed, she had called upon the Gentle Lord, the prince of demons, and made a bargain with him.

The Lady Alastorides was depicted to have done this out of love; she had thought that to become a ghost would be a small price to pay to protect her little daughter. I call that hardcore, incurable insanity, for obvious reasons. The price to pay for striking bargains with evil would always be higher than one could ever foresee. And it was; Lady Alastorides obtained the power to control demons – the sight of which would drive humans mad - and she commanded them to destroy anyone who made Maia upset.

She had forgotten that ghosts have no pity. That’s how I learned to smile. Father married again, and I smiled. Father died, and I smiled. Stepmother slapped me for the first time, and I smiled so hard I thought my face would crack.

Actually, an astonishing ratio of characters in this novella made similar bargains due to reasons relating to a rather skewed perspective of love. However. Maia is not one of them.

“There are a lot of things I want,” I say quietly and deliberately. “But I think I will keep what I have.” The Gentle Lord laughs again. “Then you are wiser than many. Farewell, Maia. I do not think we will meet again.”

The romance:
Lord Anax, heir to the dukedom of Sardis, had to choose a bride in the upcoming ball, whom he intended to pick at random. He snarked at everyone and behaved like a petulant spoilt brat; as Maia found when her stepsister tasked her to deliver secret letters to him.

“A letter? When your master could use the morning post? You’re here to spy or steal or—”
“A love letter,” I say. “From my lady.”
“Of course.” He releases me, looking disgusted. “Another young lady who saw me only once but loves me more than life itself. Or is she one of the ones who sees me almost every day and weeps in secret because I never lower my eyes to hers?”
“There are a lot of them?” I ask. I always imagined that girls with money and fathers would be less desperate.
“Oh, dozens, though your lady is the only one bold enough to write me directly. Most of them just recite poems to a nameless cruel beloved in my presence. Or they have their brothers write me letters demanding to know my intentions, since I was so profligate as to say ‘Good morning.’ So tell me: Was it love at first sight, or did I slowly grow in her heart like ivy?”


Overall the romance was rather boring, but the dialogue was quite amusing to read at times :D




Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez

Love in the Time of Cholera - Gabriel García Márquez, Edith Grossman

Love In The Time Of Cholera is as much a love story as Wuthering Heights was – which is to say, it’s not a love story at all. It’s a story about an obsession disguised and perceived as love.

My complaint is not about Florentino Ariza waiting for the supposed love of his life for over 50 years. However, that fact alone does not qualify it as a classic timeless love story, thank you very much; especially when you consider that Florentino Ariza was the kind of idiot who lived with his head on clouds and never really knew the woman he claimed to be so in love with. They were infatuated with the ideal that each dreamt the other up to be, since they never really knew each other. The entire affair that started in their youth consisted of love letters filled with the sort of thing that teenagers fancying themselves in love wrote to each other and literally zero face-to-face conversations. I’m not opposed to the author writing this kind of story, not at all, but I’m opposed to the idea that this is a great love story. Obsession and lust isn’t love.

And there’s a lot of lust in this story. Every character slept around, and while I’m not opposed to men who slept around while “waiting” for their “true love”, I do not like it; and I reserve the right not to like such characters (there are exceptions). But the problem I see with this is mainly the idea that all these carnal activities are depicted as love as well. I agree that it’s possible to love more than one person, but I do not agree with the perception that lust = love. But you could say that Florentino Ariza, being an idiot, does not know the difference. That is quite possible.

About the writing:
I found the prose tedious to read, not at all lyrical or poetical like some people claimed it was. But then again, preference is a subjective matter that varies from reader to reader. Within the first 10 pages I understood why I DNFed this years ago when I checked it out of a library, and nevertheless I persisted reading through the rest of the book. I believe my perseverance is to be congratulated.




Cotillion by Georgette Heyer

Cotillion - Georgette Heyer

Cotillion was not an easy book to review, despite being one of my all-time favourites, or perhaps because of it. It’s one of those sham engagement stories, a concept totally overused by today’s standards, wherein two people pretend to be in a relationship and end up falling in love. Yes. But when written as a regency romance, by the incomparable Georgette Heyer, the underrated author who created the genre itself... who wrote that time era with more accuracy than possibly any other author in history - it’s a classic. It just is. Of course, I’m probably bias in her favour, but there you have it.

Named after a French dance of multiple partners, Cotillion tells the story of Kitty Charing, a destitute orphan brought up by a rich but miserly guardian, whose reins on the purse-strings are of the “strictest economy”, meaning that Kitty never had a pretty dress in her life or anything beyond the bare necessities. At 19, her guardian declared his intention to leave her his fortune – if she marries one of his nephews. With that preposterous notion in mind, he summoned the nephews to his country estate for Kitty to pick.

‘It’s about my Will,’ he said. ‘I’m an old man now, and I daresay I shan’t live for very much longer. Not that I care for that, for I’ve had my day, and I don’t doubt you’ll all be glad to see me into my coffin.’ Here he paused, and with the shaking hand of advanced senility helped himself to another pinch of snuff.

The act of advanced senility was entirely put on, as shown almost immediately afterwards:

Mr Penicuik, finding his audience to be unresponsive, abandoned his pathetic manner.

Uncle Matthew Penicuik had five nephews for Kitty to choose from – you can’t count the one who was already married and thus not invited but turned up anyway - and she favoured the handsome playboy Cousin Jack, who was so sure of her hand that he refused to turn up and propose to Kitty as was expected of him. The very piqued Kitty therefore left her home, with the vague but adventurous idea of travelling to London on her own, only to run into yet another of her cousins.

Her lip trembled. She replied with a catch in her voice: ‘I am running away!’
‘Oh, running away!’ said Mr Standen, satisfied.


Freddy Standen, late to answer the summons of his great-uncle because he’d fortunately recalled the horrors of the dishes served at Uncle Matthew’s dining table, often chosen more with regard to the host’s digestive difficulties than to the tastes of his guests, had chosen to dine at a country inn instead. There he met Kitty, who was desperate to escape. Possibly due to having imbibed too much punch, or moved by her tears, or both, he agreed to pretend to a sham engagement with her, because Kitty, having been isolated and ruralised all her life, only wanted (she said) to visit London, of which she’d heard aplenty but had never seen.

‘I do not want neatness and propriety!’ interrupted Kitty, her cheeks flushed, and her eyes sparkling. ‘I want elegant dresses, and I want to have my hair cut in the first style of fashion, and I want to go to assemblies, and rout-parties, and to the theatre, and to the Opera, and not—not!—to be a poor little squab of a dowdy!’

Having prevailed upon Freddy to pretend to be her fiancé, Kitty realises her dream of visiting London for one short, delightful month, after which she plans to cry off the engagement and return to Arnside. During that time, she and Freddy fell in love so gradually that I had no idea exactly when the tables turned, but it went from this:

He spoke severely to both ladies, which drew a giggle from each, and provoked Meg into rallying him on his unlover-like behaviour. Blushing deeply, he then bestowed a chaste salute on Kitty’s cheek, saying apologetically: ‘Forgot!’

To this:

Never seem to have any time to do anything but look after Kit! If it ain’t seeing to it that Meg don’t persuade her into buying a shocking bonnet, it’s driving with her all over London and showing her a lot of tombs and broken-down statues you wouldn’t think anyone would want to look at, let alone pay to look at!’

*smiles*

In romances I like couples who make each other better; Freddy and Kitty are one of those couples. She was always getting herself involved with her friends’ tangled affairs and trying to help them (without much success). So Freddy, who had previously lived the lifestyle of the privileged but brainless son of a wealthy family, finds himself cracking his head to solve the problems for her instead. It was really quite amusing. See the character development:

‘Daresay I shall think of a way,’ said Freddy. He observed a curious expression on his father’s countenance, and said with slight concern: ‘Anything amiss, sir?’

‘No—oh, no!’ replied Lord Legerwood, recovering himself, ‘I almost believe that you will think of a way, for I perceive that you have depths hitherto unsuspected by me, my dear boy.


As for Kitty, she outgrew her fairytale dreams of knights in shining armours, in favour of Freddy, who was no handsome prince, but could always, always be relied upon.

I daresay Freddy might not be a great hand at slaying dragons, but you may depend upon it none of those knight-errants would be able to rescue one from a social fix, and you must own, Meg, that one has not the smallest need of a man who can kill dragons!

True words, indeed.

1 9



The Quick by Lauren Owen

The Quick: A Novel - Lauren Owen

PLOT TWISTS.

This book had two plot twists – one major, one minor - unfolding themselves very, very early into the story – within the first 100 pages, in fact - and such books are therefore rather difficult to review without giving too much away. But since it’s been out for a while, either you know of it already or you don’t. I was in the latter category, because the moment I found out that there were PLOT TWISTS, I delved headlong into the book in a blind, reckless fashion, knowing nothing except the title and the cover, which should give you a (rather useless) clue. Big clue alert: Don’t look up the genres.

As historical fiction this was beautifully written, the kind that takes the reader back in time (and space) to 19th century old London town, with the glitter of the wealthy and the grit of the slums, when Queen Victoria reigned on her and Oscar Wilde wrote his plays. This is the best feature of the book.

And that’s all I can tell you that is spoiler-free. Proceed with caution.

About 50 pages into the book I abruptly realised that the main characters were gay, and had this horrified what-have-I-done moment because while I am empathetically not against same-gender relationships (my stance leans towards a couldn’t-care-less, none-of-my-business lackadaisical attitude) – that said, I did not sign up to read an entire book on it, you know? Then I thought about it and figured that a same-gender relationship set against the backdrop of that repressed Victorian era in which such depravity – if you’d pardon the term – were looked askance upon, for which Oscar Wilde famously ruined his life and career, could potentially be interesting. It will also inevitably end with tears that aren’t mine. *cue evil laughter* I might actually read a whole book on that.

So I decided to hold off the DNF status.

And then around page 100 the story suddenly switched tracks entirely and became a story about vampires (and here I’d been thinking that particular hype had fizzled out. Damn. How wrong I was.) While the story wasn’t entirely uninteresting, it did not add anything new to the genre either. Everything’s been done before, most notably by Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which also took place in the 1800s. The Quick even utilises a similar journal entry narrative style when it came to this part, and the vampires were the traditional versions as per folklore beliefs, eg fear of garlic, steel, inability to enter houses without invitation, ability to heal quickly, etc – which were admittedly preferable to *sparkles*, to me at least.

At over 500 pages it’s far too long for a story that could be told in half the length.

(show spoiler)



The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith (Cormoran Strike, #1)

The Cuckoo's Calling - Robert Galbraith

Decided to read this after I finished The Silkworm, because Luna Landry was mentioned thirteen times in Silkworm, so how could I not? Well then, so here we have Strike, previously of the army but now turned private investigator, hired to investigate the apparent suicide of famous supermodel Luna Landry by her distraught brother. The story chugged along slowly at first, and then gained steady pace as the story develops – although, I tend to skim through chapter beginnings, and there were a great many of them.

Despite having guessed the murderer early on in the story (I tend to do this. Fiction, after all, becomes predictable after you’ve read several dozen novels of a specific genre) and having confirmed my suspicion as correct via flipping to the end (I tend to do this, too) I read on, because I have this question, that I just couldn’t figure out – why. Not why the murderer committed the crime, that was obvious enough in this case,

but why did he bloody dig his own grave? That was, to quote Strike, bat-shit crazy, man. 

(show spoiler)

 

But we got the answer to that, I suppose.

All-in-all, it was alright, although I prefer Silkworm. Warning for excessive profanity, but you should know that already.




The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (Cormoran Strike #2)

The Silkworm - Robert Galbraith

Since I have not read The Cuckoo Calling, I cannot compare The Silkworm with its predecessor, but I certainly liked it better than The Casual Vacancy, a book I wish I hadn’t read. It was either really boring, or I had no appreciation whatsoever for contemporary British realistic fiction about a small town in which nothing happens. I suspect the latter.

 

The Silkworm is a mystery thriller in which a murdered author, Owen Quine, whose last unpublished novel of the same name (Bombyx Mori, Latin for silkworm) painted vile caricatures of people he’d known in real life. When he was discovered to be murdered in a manner identical to the murder of the self-insert character of Quine himself in Bombyx Mori, things begin to get interesting, because only a handful of people have read the unpublished manuscript. They also happen to be same people that Owen Quine befouled in his book.

 

When Strike obtained a copy of the manuscript – through unorthodox means – his reading of Bombyx Mori paralleled my reading of The Silkworm, which I suspect was intentional, especially when Strike began reading during the half time of a football match and missed the resumption of the match due to being engrossed in the book. Very suspicious, if you ask me, for a book published in the midst of the FIFA World Cup.

 

Also, because someone asked me whether there was any (ongoing) romance in this book, the answer is none. There was no boss/assistant romance, and I think it is great when an author does not feel the need to write an obligatory romantic relationship for whatever reasons.

 

But speaking of on-going relationships…

 

‘William and Kate are engaged,’ said Robin.

‘Who?’

‘Prince William,’ said Robin, amused, ‘and Kate Middleton.’

‘Oh,’ said Strike coldly. ‘Good for them.’

 

This amused me.

 

Strike’s relatives amused me, too:

 

‘I had to take a call from my aunt,’ said Strike. ‘An hour and ten minutes on the medical complaints of everyone in St Mawes, all because I told her I’m going home for Christmas.’

 

Don’t we all have relatives like that.

 

Prose

The story dragged for the first 1/3 of the book, after which it became more interesting.

 

The Lula Landry case from The Cuckoo Calling was mentioned 13 times throughout the book. I think the author is trying to tell us something.

 

Warning:

Lots of swearing in the dialogues. Like this:

‘Would you like a tea or coffee, Pippa?’ asked Robin kindly.

‘Co… fee… pl…’

‘She’s just tried to bloody knife me, Robin!’

‘Well, she didn’t manage it, did she?’ commented Robin, busy with the kettle.

‘Ineptitude,’ said Strike incredulously, ‘is no fucking defence under the law!’ He rounded on Pippa again, who had followed this exchange with her mouth agape.

 

 

Ending with a random quote:

 

difficile est longum subito deponere amoren,

difficile est, uerum hoc qua lubet efficias… …

 

it is hard to throw off long-established love:

Hard, but this you must manage somehow…




The Forbidden Library by Django Wexler

The Forbidden Library - Django Wexler

The Forbidden Library is a middle grade fantasy novel about the magic of books; books that are magic and books that are not, and books with fragments of magic within.

Every so often, a particular word or phrase or sentence achieves a meaning that goes beyond the natural. If I were to look at it, I would see only dry letters on paper, but to you they would express a flicker of power.”

Alice is a Reader, which means that she has powers related to books. Prison books, portal books, books that lead to the bottom of the ocean and a hundred other things. Experienced, trained Readers use prison-books to cage up monsters; and if you’re a Reader, you can Read yourself into the book to face it. If you defeat the monster, it bends itself to your will.

If it defeats you, you die. For real, apparently.

Reading yourself into a book is wonderful, fascinating magic.

The print moved, with a crawling sensation that seemed to go straight from the page to the back of her eyeballs, and formed itself into familiar English words.
Alice read:
Alice opened her eyes in another place entirely. It was dark after the brightness of Isaac’s fire.


Her words then become reality, and Alice finds herself inside the book.

Most Readers start their training young.

“Seven!” Alice said. “You fought some kind of monster when you were seven?”
“It was only a sort of lizard-fish,” Isaac said, almost apologetic. “I hit it with a stick.”


Alice Creighton was twelve years old when she went to live with her Uncle Geryon, the owner of The Library. His house was as strange a place as his library, with invisible servants, very much like the castle in Beauty & The Beast; and as Alice sneaks around she meets a very strange cat, oddly reminiscent of the cat that another Alice in another story met. But with a different name:

“Politeness demands,” he said, “that I introduce myself. You may call me Ashes.”
“Ash?” Alice repeated.
“Ashes.” The cat bristled. “Or, in full, Ashes-Drifting-Through-the-Dead-Cities-of-the-World, but Ashes will do.”


Ashes turned out to be a watch-cat of sorts for the Library, the very place that Alice wanted above all things to enter.

Can you help me get inside?”
He gave her a long, yellow-eyed stare. “Of course.”
Alice blinked. “Really?”
“I am half cat.” He cocked his head, an oddly human gesture. “The operative question, young lady, is will I help you?”
Alice felt like giving him a kick.


For which I do not blame her in the slightest.

“Are these other worlds inside the books? Or do they exist anyway, and the book only opens a doorway to them? If nobody had written the book, would the place it goes to still exist? Or—”
“They exist,” Ashes said. “You’ll drive yourself mad thinking like that. People have, believe me. It’s like wondering whether the inside of your closet still exists when you shut the door. Keep on down that path and you end up thinking the whole universe is a dream of someone in someone else’s dream, or some such nonsense.


Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum. I smell Inception.

So there you have it. A word of warning for those who do not like to read incomplete book series: This book is not a standalone. It is the first book of a series that begins with a quest for a very special book reputably hidden in the Library, with a monster inside that is very nasty indeed; and it ends with questions from the beginning remaining unanswered, and new questions besides. Enjoy.




Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

Tell the Wolves I'm Home: A Novel - Carol Rifka Brunt

The story began when a dying artist decided that he wanted to paint a final portrait of his nieces. I thought this book was going to be Uncle Finn’s life story, told after his death through the eyes of the two people who knew him best – his niece June, and the love of his life Toby.

Instead it turned out to be a rather strange love triangle.

June had always thought that she was Finn’s closest friend, and that he had nobody else. She never met Toby while her uncle was alive, so the existence of this gay lover, while acknowledged, did not feel real. The uncle & niece had a very close relationship – they were the sort of people that the term “kindred spirits” were invented for. He was her uncle, her godfather, and her first love.

And then he died.

That’s when June discovered she knew very little of him after all, and there were things about Finn that weren’t Finn at all. See, this is what happens when people live double lives, and there was this big, important other half of Finn’s life that June didn’t know about, because it wasn’t her half. And she’s only finding out now, after his death, when she can no longer ask him about it. The people you spend time with changes you. So how much of Finn that she’d known was really Finn himself, and how much of it was Toby?

It’s like we’ve known each other all these years. Without even seeing each other. It’s like there’s been this . . . this ghost relationship between us. You laying out my plectrums on the floor, me buying black-and-white cookies every time I knew you would be coming over. You didn’t know that was me, but it was.”

And then you have the siblings’ rivalry, although I wouldn’t call it rivalry, per se. It was more of bitter resentment between siblings who were once close to each other and then drifted apart; one of whom did not handle the loss very well. Finn and his sister’s relationship parallels June’s relationship with her sister Greta; and with the example set by their mother no wonder Greta acted as she did, making life difficult for June. Because that’s exactly what Finn’s sister did to him. There is a fine line between love and hatred; sometimes the line gets blurred.

Then there was June and Toby and their rather strange relationship, two people united by their mutual love for a dead person. A bit morbid, really, if you think about it. Theirs was a very wrong, very impossible love, but it does work as a love story because of June herself. June was no stranger to loves perceived as wrong by society. Her first love, after all, was her uncle, even though it was unrequited, and then Toby, who seems to reciprocate her feelings. And it works because June is this sort of person:

I want to imagine wrinkled time, and forests thick with wolves, and bleak midnight moors. I dream about people who don’t need to have sex to know they love each other. I dream about people who would only ever kiss you on the cheek.

This paragraph, I think, describes June best, and in some ways it resonates with me. I really, really like the concept of this kind of relationship; the idea two people could be in love with each other without falling into bed together, because in today’s world love has become synonymous with lust and sex. But it does not have to be so. You can build a whole world around the tiniest of touches.

(show spoiler)


About the prose – I may be in the minority, but I found it monotonous at times, which is understandable; given that it revolves around the life of a sixteen-year-old.

I think it would be better told entirely in retrospection from a future June, or even narrated by a younger June as events unfold, in comparison to the author’s choice of switching incessantly between the two perspectives.

Every. Single. Chapter makes a reference to some famous novel or movie. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing, or a bad thing, because I don’t know why it’s necessary and what the author may be trying to convey with all these little tributes – the last time I read something like this was in the The Inkheart Trilogy, where every chapter began with a quote from a famous book.

Lastly, about the portrait – it makes it presence known throughout the story, but the portrait in itself is not very important except for the fact that it exists, is titled Tell the Wolves I’m Home, and is continually being defiled by its inheritors.




Heads Will Roll by Lish McBride

Heads Will Roll - Lish McBride

Back when Julius Ceasar ruled the Roman Empire, gladiator games were all the rage. Humans – usually criminals – fought with wild animals for the cheap entertainment of an audience that cared far more for a “good show”, than the lives lost and bloodshed.

This story is a gladiatorial game with mythological creatures. Here, unicorns are fighters.

[…] train them like you train dogs for a cage match. Get them young, young as you can. Starve them. Beat them. Slip blood into their milk. Give them a taste for it. Keep them hungry and angry all the time. Pervert them until they don’t know which way is up anymore. That’s how you make a unicorn, a natural pacifist, a fighter.

This story is also prologue to the Necromancer series, which is a bad, bad thing for people like me, whose to-read list of books is numbered in the hundreds. It does not help that I like the characters and the way they were written and don’t mind reading more of them.

The unicorn of the story is Steve, nicknamed Phantom. Neither of the names are what people would associate with unicorns. He wasn’t trained to the methods above, but when he enters a fight with his partner Lena, it always ends unexpectedly, because they weren’t there to play by the rules, they were there to beat the rules. Chaos reign, and then they ride off heroically – or at least, that’s the plan. The second part doesn’t always happen, but is the preferred ending, anyway.

We’re supposed to be badasses, walking off into the sunset, the smell of victory in the air. Your sneezing fit is ruining our image.”




American Gods by Neil Gaiman

American Gods - Neil Gaiman

American Gods revolves around the idea that gods are alive when people believe in them; and that when people travelled to new lands seeking new life and fresh opportunities, they took their old gods with them – and then, with new beliefs and new ideas, created new gods.

In the midst of this we have Shadow, an ex-convict fresh out of prison, armed with coin tricks and little else. Almost immediately after leaving, he finds himself being recruited by a mysterious stranger, who turns out to be more than what meets the eye. The old gods and new gods have apparently decided that they could not co-exist, and therefore a storm is coming. The war has started, but the battle is yet to come.


Old gods
Back in my day, we had it all set up. You line up when you die, and you answer for your evil deeds and for your good deeds, and if your evil deeds outweighed a feather, we’d feed your soul and your heart to Ammet, the Eater of Souls.”
“He must have eaten a lot of people.”
“Not as many as you’d think. It was a really heavy feather. We had it made special. You had to be pretty damn evil to tip the scales on that baby.


Awesome. I’ve always wondered about this part of the Egyptian mythology.

Background knowledge on Norse, Greek, and Egyptian mythologies in particular is recommended (but not entirely necessary), because the book isn’t going to point out and explain the respective gods and their personal brand of powers. It could be quite fun, though, to play Spot-The-God.

“Hey," said Shadow. "Huginn or Muninn, or whoever you are."
The bird turned, head tipped, suspiciously, on one side, and it stared at him with bright eyes.
"Say 'Nevermore,'" said Shadow.
"Fuck you," said the raven.


Odd, random references, too. I had to google this and found a video about a raven saying Nevermore. Anyway, this cracked me up. Sometimes I wonder about my sense of humour.

And new gods:
“I got hijacked by a fat kid in a limo,” said Shadow. “He says to tell you that you have been consigned to the dung heap of history while people like him ride in their limos down the superhighways of life. Something like that.”

The new gods were constantly trying to get Shadow over, because for some reason both sides want Shadow on their team. I like Shadow, sometimes. He’s not a very interesting guy, but he could be brave, even if it is the courage of those who had nothing to lose.

“And if you die?” asked Mr. Nancy. “If it kills you?”
“Then,” said Shadow, “it kills me.”



My thoughts
I’m not sure about the ordinary paperback version, but my copy is the 10th Anniversary Edition and thus had 12k words extra. I suspect this includes some of the short stories that are seemingly not relevant to the main narrative scattered throughout the book; glimpses into the lives of immigrants and their respective encounters with deities from their homeland. For example, Essie Tregowan, who was in my opinion a mild version of the infamous Moll Flanders, but with less notoriety and fewer babies. Some of the vignettes had revoltingly gross scenes, eg. a man swallowed by vagina. That’d wake you up if you were falling asleep reading. Although I’m sure some of the Gaiman fans were more revolted by the idea of falling asleep reading a Gaiman book.

Reading was slow; prose was good but yours truly was not hooked. I did not find it objectionable, however, therefore I persevered. In the midst of the plethora of 4 & 5 stars given by my friends and the booklovers community, I find myself only able to give this a 3. My honest opinion.




These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer

These Old Shades - Georgette Heyer

For a book like this, I'd say you're wasting time reading reviews, because please just get hold of a copy and read it yourself. Not because of its length - my paperback copy numbers it at 347 pages - but because it's so easy to read, so fun, that you're either going to finish it in no time, or you'll not finish it at all.

The story began with Justin Alastair, the Duke of Avon, buying a child from the gutter because of the boy's resemblance to his nemesis, the Comte de Saint-Vire. Titian hair paired with black eyebrows was an unusual combination indeed, and he strongly suspected that in the child, he may have found the means for his revenge at last - a revenge that has been brewing for two decades, because he wished to ruin his enemy thoroughly, and in the most bloodthirsty way possible.

So he took the boy home and made the boy his page, to the astonishment of his guest, Hugh Davenant.

It was no secret that Léon/Léonie was actually a girl in disguise, dressed up as a boy by her foster brother. A delightful character, once she got over her shyness. She was also, as it turned out, a rather violent young lady:

 

  • “I tried to kill her once,” said Léon naïvely. “With the big carving-knife.”
    “Her hatred is not incomprehensible,” said Justin dryly.

 

  • “I should like people to fight over me,” Léonie said. “With swords.”

    He flaunted her in Paris, and attracted no little attention.

    “Saint-Vire was admiring your page, Justin,” Davenant said. “He is exciting no little attention.”
    “No doubt.” Avon snapped his fingers imperiously, and Léon came forward. “He is almost unique, my dear Comte. Pray look your fill.”


    Throughout the tale, Avon continually sought for evidence to destroy his enemy, while the Comte de Saint-Vire endeavoured, repeatedly, to remove the most discriminating evidence - Léonie herself - from Avon's clutches. This was made more difficult for him when Avon decided it was time for Léon to be a lady again, and adopted her as his ward. It was a game they played, in which Léonie was both a weapon and a jewel, culminating with a satisfying final showdown between the two enemies.

    The romance

    “When last I saw Léonie—Léon she was then—it was ‘Yes, Monseigneur’ and ‘No, Monseigneur.’ Now it is ‘Monseigneur, you must do this’ and ‘Monseigneur, I want that!’ She twists him round her little finger, and, by Gad, he likes it!”

    Alastair/Léonie's relationship was delightful to read. Heyer did not play coy, there was no love triangle. The main issue was their significant age difference; at nineteen, she was half his age.

    “She is twenty years behind him!”
    “Do you think it signifies? I would not give Justin a bride his own age. I’d give him this babe who must be cherished and guarded. And I’ll swear he’d guard her well!”


    True to the case, His Grace of Avon found that he had forgotten his old quarrel with the Comte. He still sought revenge, but for what the heroine has suffer in her childhood due to her father's abandonment, than for himself.

    And I leave you with this:

    “Léonie, you will do well to consider. You are not the first woman in my life.”
    She smiled through her tears.
    “Monseigneur, I would so much rather be the last woman than the first,” she said.



Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige

Dorothy Must Die - Danielle  Paige

Dorothy Must Die took me a very long time to read - nearly a month, when I usually finish books this length (400+ pages) in 1-2 days, max. The problem, despite the interesting premise and the promising setup, was that I found this book so boring to read. I'd rather read anything else - I read at least 20 other books in between the first page of this book to the last.

By all rights I should've loved this book. Featuring a dystopian Oz, many years after the events in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Dorothy has now returned, turned completely evil, and is the de facto ruler of the kingdom. The once idyllic land now lay barren, mined for its magic; and apparently, losing its magic to Dorothy would mean the end of Oz.

Thus, Dorothy must die.

I don't know why they can't just scheme to steal her shiny red pumps and kick her back to Kansas for good, but you know. That would make the whole story significantly less blood thirsty.

Reading this story is like reading fanfiction. I love reading fanfiction, I've once spent an entire year reading nothing else; and this is a story of an original character in Oz. It's fanfiction, albeit published, and despite whatever other label you want to slap on it. Fanfiction is not a derogatory term (where I'm concerned), just because a novel is published doesn't always mean it is better. But I digress.

Amy Gump is a social outcast with a bit of an inferiority complex, a lousy name, a missing father and an alcoholic mother. An underdog who will later shine, you just know it, and this sort of formulaic character has been written many times into many different books. It's just not new. I'm not won over, despite 400 pages of her. She has very little personality. There needs to be more originality, I feel, and don't tell me that it can't be original because it's fanfiction. There's no such thing.

Dorothy:
She was both exactly and nothing like I could have imagined. This was not the same girl I’d read about. She was wearing the dress, but it wasn’t the dress exactly—it was as if someone had cut her familiar blue-checked jumper into a million little pieces and then put it back together again, only better. Better and, okay, a little bit more revealing. Actually, more than a little bit. Not that I was judging. Instead of farm-girl cotton it was silk and chiffon. The cut was somewhere between haute couture and French hooker. The bodice nipped, tucked, and lifted. There was cleavage. Lots of cleavage.

The blatant sexualisation of Dorothy's character is a hit-or-miss, I guess. Yet another thing that I do not find necessary, but *shrugs

All the characters brought over from the classic Oz story have been warped and twisted. My favourite is The Tin Woodman and his metal army, but the description was long-winded, took up half a page, and boring. The Lion's was better:

He was barely recognizable as a lion at all. He looked like a monster, like some warped nightmare version of the king of the jungle. He was huge and golden, with bulging, grotesque muscles and a filthy, snarled mane. His lips were curled back, baring a mouth crowded with sharp, long, crooked fangs.

I get it, but I'm not impressed with the prose.

The romance/UST
I'm even less impressed with the unnecessary love interest/love triangle.

1. Nox was assigned to teach Amy magic. He likes her ! And of course (she thinks) he is totally hot.

2. Pete, described by Amy as a "hot park guide", likes her two too!

"Ever since I saw you, I just had a feeling. I feel responsible for you.”

Eurghhhh.

He even stole a kiss! Bad boyyyyy.

(show spoiler)

[Insert eyeroll]

I do, however, like the Tin Woodman's unrequited love for Dorothy. It amuses me.

“It’s useless,” the Tin Woodman said. “Everything I do, I do for her. And still, she will never love me the way I love her.”

Hah!

Verdict: The entire book feels like a pretentious attempt to attract the attention of movie makers. Not recommended; or I recommend reserving judgement until the next 2 books of the trilogy and goodness knows how many side novellas there's going to be.




Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma

Forbidden - Tabitha Suzuma

This is not a story about a forbidden romance. It's more than that. It's a story of a dysfuntional family, centering around two children barely of legal age, forced to grow up before their time because of their irresponsible parents. An absent father and an alcoholic mother meant that the two eldest had little choice but to wise up and be stand-in parents for their younger siblings - and it's no easy task. It was a stressful burden, and it showed.

Lochan and Maya's alternate POVs were used to tell this story, and (good news!) it wasn't difficult to distinguish the identity of the narrator in each chapter. Lochan was rather prone to long-winded thoughts, which could be a bit boring at times, so I skimmed. He was also very much an introvert, so much so that it was verging on being a psychological problem (the inability to communicate with non-family members). I'm not sure if his condition made sense to me, because none of his other siblings had it - even though he'd endured worse than them, yes; of the 5 children he was probably the most unwanted and his mother spared no pains to remind him so. Their parents were horribly unfit to be parents.

Logan was a complex character. He couldn't help himself, and wouldn't let others help him. He was so terrified of what would constitute "help" from outsiders, and rightly so, because whether he liked it or not, him and Maya were not fit, either, to take care of their siblings, anymore than their parents were. He wouldn't be the first of elder siblings in the history of the world to bring up the younger ones, but society these days in the country he lived in would not allow him to. There was a pervasive undercurrent fear of being found out and separated by the authorities.

Maya, in comparison, felt more normal as a person. The beauty of the writing in this book is that the characters felt - to me - like real people; their thoughts, actions, emotions and struggles felt real.

The romance

A love so taboo that it is not even included in a conversation about illicit relationships.

It's no secret that the romance in this book, such as it was, consisted of an incestous relationship between the main characters, who were siblings. Throughout the tale I was sitting there, thinking that this could well be hormones talking, because they're in their late teens and it would not be surprising for them to fall in love with somebody, and who else would you expect someone like Lochan to fall in love with, if he was going to? Being a loner, he was totally unexposed to society, the only girl his age that he was able to talk to was his sister.

This attraction between them had always been there. We were introduced to Lochan's character in a chapter narrated by Maya and vice-versa - it was pretty clear that they both recognised the other as physically attractive. However, recognising each other's attractiveness does not necessarily means romantic attraction - it was later on, in two separate incidents, when they were unable to deny any longer their feelings for each other. When Maya was in denial, she described their relationship akin to being "twins", as opposed to her post-denial assertion that they're "partners" and "equals". She can't see him as her brother anymore, now that she's faced her feelings for him, but her sisterly love for her other brother Kit remained unchanged.

Their circumstances in this story was a very important factor, because all these circumstances combined made their romantic love for each other feel so natural. Which makes this, I feel, an admirable piece of writing, albeit a rather controversial one. I'm not sure, however, that if they would fall in love with each other if they'd been born as siblings in better circumstances, because I think humans these days are indoctrinated not to fall in love with their own siblings; they have to be really isolated, like Lochan and Maya were, in order for something like this to happen.

This review has turned out to be much longer than I expected. Therefore I shall end it with this very short verdict: Worth a read.




Suffer the Children by Craig DiLouie

Suffer the Children - Craig DiLouie

I was totally intrigued with the premise of this story.

One day, the children died.

All the children. All over the world.

It was a pandemic called the Herod's Syndrome, named after King Herod from the Bible. That guy who killed firstborns because he was told that a baby was born that night who would one day become king. But this is worse. Worse, even, than the 456 event from Torchwood (I did not watch that tv series, but heard of it) where an alien race known as 456 demanded 10% of the children population on Earth.

Because when all the children die, and if no children could be born anywhere without being affected by Herod's, then the human race could very well become extinct in the long-term. In the short-term, it becomes a socioecology problem, because how are so many little corpses to be buried all at once? Mass graves, rotting bodies everywhere, world in chaos with grieving parents mourning their children. And then...

Three days later, they come back.

And the parents were so happy to see their children; apparently alive (or at least bearing the appearance of not being dead), that they took the little corpses in, despite the stench of rot and decay. Because those children are still their children, and they're back.

This is where the line between the rights and wrongs begins to blur, because as a reader and an outsider, decidedly detached from the events of the story, it is easy to perceive what they're doing as wrong and yet so understandable and easy to sympathise with.

And then the children asked for blood.

With blood, they stop being dead. They become the children they once were.

I have a bit of difficulty seeing this with my mind's eye, actually. I can't see how the half-rotting corpses, with discoloured skin and gray teeth and whatnot, could possibly look alive again, with healthy skin and shining eyes, the way they were before the Herod Event struck.

But this life, such as it was, had an expiration. Every pint of blood gives them an hour.

Too soon, they die again. And need more blood to live ...

And that's when things get ugly, and progressively uglier as you read on. The story is told from parents' POV, therefore you get firsthand narration on the things that parents would do (anything), the lengths that they would go to, in order to keep their precious babies alive.

Having read it, I'd expected it to be more shocking, but I think it's a pretty good story and rather well thought-out. Without unnecessary gore and violence to increase shock value, which is definitely a plus.




Maleficent by Elizabeth Rudnick

Maleficent - Elizabeth Rudnick

Here we have Maleficent, the wicked fairygodmother to Aurora, aka Sleeping Beauty. The princess is the side character here; this is Maleficent's malevolent and magnificent tale, in which she is both the heroine and the villainess. Unlike the Disney adaptation, which was maledicted with instalove and inexplicable evil that seemed to exist solely to be evil, Maleficent here is a morally grey character, although still a bit inexplicable at times.

 

I do not know how much freedom the author has been given in this novelisation effort, but it reads like a faithful transcribe, with minimal fleshing out of characters and events. Therefore, it is subject to the same shortcomings that movies generally face: the short duration utilisable to tell the story usually necessitates in cutting off corners when it comes to, for example, world-building and character development. I have not watched the movie, though, so I cannot confirm this.

 

The story is told in a narrative matter-of-fact writing style, giving the impression of telling instead of showing. I felt like I was being told what happens in the movie, scene after scene. I'm sure the actors brought the characters to life, with gestures and body languages, which are sadly lacking in this book. Character study/Introspection is weak, hardly delving into the characters' thoughts - everything extra added seems to be on the surface.

 

In summary, the fairies of the moor are in a state of perpetual warfare with humans, for land and freedom. In the midst of this, you get a fairy/human love story, and I am not a writer, so if you want to know more, you should read the novella. It's only 130 pages long. Or just watch the movie, because I suspect that would be the better option. You'll find out why Maleficent becomes wicked, and it leads on to Sleeping Beauty as we know it (by which I mean the modernised version by Disney), but retold with some twists, some snark, some clichés, and a whole load of redemption.

 

Example of the writing in this book that I do not like:

-For some reason Maleficent becomes the de facto leader of a battle between fairies and humans, without any explanation as to why, since there should be others older and more experienced than her. Apparently the movie decided to skip the reasons why, and the book decided to follow suit?

-There is hardly any description of the Moors in which the fairies lived. We're told that it is beautiful and has a lake full of jewels (because it's necessary to the plot), and the rest is simply left to the imagination.

-Poor description of a battle sequence: They moved forward and backward, their motions a terrifying mockery of a romantic waltz. - and that's all she wrote. Right. I have read canon-compliant fanfics written better than this.

 

I believe this book would work excellently as a bedtime story narrated by a parent to his/her child. As a reader, though, I expect the characters between the pages to come to life for me, instead of needing life breathed into it, and this falls short of the mark.