Talking Books

Book Review of Into the Water

into-the-water-672x1024Many authors stumble when it comes time to follow up a phenomenally successful first novel – but instead, Paula Hawkins has no doubt given her legions of fans more of what they are looking for in the intriguing, if lightweight, Into the Water.

Into the Water is set in the fictional town of Bickford in the gloomy north of England, famous only for it’s drowning pool and the dark history of troublesome women finding their end in it.  Years ago, it was accused witches but more recently, a young mother and in just the past few weeks, a young local girl and the mother of her friend.  It is the death of this final woman, Nel Abbott – a writer and photographer fascinated by the history of the drowning pool – that sparks this story. Although Nel’s death and the one that proceeded it, have all the earmarks of a suicide, the motives for such actions are a mystery to those closest to them.

The story eventually unravels through multiple narrators, and it has the same feminist bent of The Girl on the Train, where poor women are suffering for the choices of violent and disturbed men.

Behind all of this though, is the story of two sisters.  Estranged for years, as one uncovers the reasons for her sister’s death a tremendous family misunderstanding is revealed, leading to a period of renewal amongst the grief.

There’s a lot to like here and Into the Water won’t fail to engage Hawkins’ legion of fans. The same dark sense of mystery and foreboding accompanies this tale.  It might even pick her up a few more.

Impressed Review of Strange the Dreamer

Laini Taylor’s recent trilogy, which began with Daughter of Smoke and Bone, was a Strange the Dreamerterrific foray into fantasy fiction.  So I grabbed this first in a new series with some interest.  It’s always difficult to begin a new series, letting go of old characters who you might not feel quite finished with, and embracing a whole new world and storyline.. but Taylor has created yet another compelling fantasy world here.

Strange the Dreamer starts with two stories that soon become intertwined.  Laszlo Strange (Strange being the name given to orphans or unclaimed children in his land) grows up in a terrible monastery before finding his first real home in a library.  A lover of stories and fairytales, he makes a particular study of a land known only as ‘Weep’ – the real name being obscured by magic.  So when citizens of Weep appear – he begs to go with them and make his dreams come true.

But Weep has many secrets… including a history of rebellion against evil Gods that threatens to arise as teenage Godspawn test out their powers high above the city.  One has power over dreams…

This is a love story, an adventure and the start of something special.  I loved the story, the characters and the symmetry of not one, but two Strange Dreamers in the novel.  Clever plotting, intricate characters and overall a roaring tale.  You’ll love it.

Book Review of The Left Hand of God

the-left-hand-of-godI’d heard a lot about The Left Hand of God, and had it marked on my to-read list for some time. But I was disappointed with the plot, which wasn’t really epic in scale.

Thomas Cale was raised a Redeemer, a soldier for fanatic religious zealots. He was abused and mistreated from childhood and eventually turns his back on the order when they murder and rape women.

He and his friends make their way to a safe city where he meets and falls for the princess he eventually is sworn to protect.

Cale’s military prowess and the love story dominate the narrative, although interests develops in the very last portion of the text, when the Lord Redeemer most responsible for his mistreatment reveals he is the centre of a prophecy. By forcing the princess to betray him, he lures Cale back to his cause, ultimately leaving the pathway open for more interesting things (hopefully) in subsequent books.

Heartfelt Book Review of A Monster Calls

lt91o1jl2pnflThere is something really special about this Patrick Ness novel, a passion project he picked up after the death of Siobhan Dowd, an author he admired.  The concept of the novel is entirely hers, the execution his.

At the centre of the novel is a young boy called Connor.  Connor’s mother is battling cancer and he is doing what he can to look after himself and keep life together. His father is largely out of the picture and his only other relative, his grandmother, is strange and distant.

One night he is visited by a Monster.  It doesn’t look too scary – after all, it has taken the form of a Yew Tree, but it does tell some unsettling stories.  In fact, it promises Connor three stories in exchange for Connor telling him one true one. If the story Connor tells is not true – he will eat him.

The stories are unsettling and difficult for Connor to understand, but each helps him deal with his situation and release the feelings he has been holding inside.

There is a thoughtful beauty about the whole concept – imagined by Dowd during her own terminal illness.  Quite a good read for young adults too.

Book Review of The Fate of the Tearling

This Erika Johansen series began with huge promise, but failed to quite meet the mark towardsFate2.jpg the end.  While still an entertaining read, the excitement of the first book about the original characters and the promise of secrets revealed never quite panned out.

Although, there is still a lot to like about this book.  The ending is unexpected and somewhat original. After the storming of the second book, our hero Kelsea does – in general – become the person we hoped she would, and generally ends the series worthy of our admiration.  Plenty goes on and you won’t be bored.

However, the key secrets of the series are never really explained, and too many antagonists or too easily dispensed with or explained away.  It feels like Johansen changed directions somewhere after the first book, and we are still trying to find the connection even up to the end of the third.

I hear she is planning some more books set within this world from the perspective of other characters. I’m interested enough to have a look – especially if Mace or the Red Queen are set to be focal points – but not enough to be hanging on the edge of my seat.  A shame.

Book Review of His Bloody Project

his-bloody-projectI always try to read a couple of the Man Booker nominations each year – although I find I’m rarely sophisticated enough to agree with the winner. This year’s winner – The Sellout – drove me a little mad. I haven’t given up on it entirely, but certainly I’ve given up on it for now.

His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet was another matter. Subtitled Documents Relating to the Case of Roderick Macrae, the novel is styled like true crime, but in reality is totally fictional. It’s a vivid portrait of life in a small Scottish croft in the years proceeding 1869, and the bloody murders that occurred and subsequently gripped the imagination of the wider public. Part portrait, part social commentary His Bloody Project is both intelligent and readable. The characters are engaging and well-realised, particularly the murderer Roddy Macrae, who is an interesting blend of intelligence and naievety. This makes his trial all the more interesting – is he a cold-blooded killer or someone not capable of making a rational decision? Worth a look – more accessible no doubt than some of the other nominees.

Book Review of As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride

AsYouWishInconceivableTalesFromTheMakingOfThePrincessBrideFeatured.jpgLike many other people with any kind of sense of humour, I count The Princess Bride amongst my favourite films.  You laugh, you cry, you fall in love with gentle giants and swashbuckling pirates.  Hours and hours and hours of my childhood were devoted to watching and re-watching it, until I could quote all those memorable lines as readily as many of the actors themselves.

For some reason though, I held off reading this book – Cary Elwes’ behind the scenes look at making the film.  Why?  Perhaps because I did not want to be disappointed.  I didn’t want the book to bore me or reveal tension between my most beloved of characters.  But, after a nudge from a friend who is also a fan, I thought maybe it was time.  (And let’s face it – who doesn’t respond to the nudges of tall, dark and handsome men?)

But As You Wish did not disappoint.  Every moment is a delight, reaffirming how special The Princess Bride really is – even to those who starred in it.  Elwes talks about every aspect of making the film – from his initial meeting with the director Rob Reiner to discuss the part, to meeting all the other actors and how he related to each of them.  Robin Wright is apparently every bit as beautiful and charming in person, and much of the book is really a dedication to Andre the Giant – who sadly passed away in his forties.  There is some suggestion of tension – I’m guessing maybe Mandy Patinkin was a little intense to work with. But even this is dealt with respectfully – with full credit to Patinkin’s professionalism as an actor (and perfectionism as a swordsman).

There are stories of takes gone wrong,  injuries, nights out, in jokes – everything you would want to make you feel like you were part of the story.  It seemed to be as magical for them as the film was for us – and this is a great way to feel a part of that.

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