Talking Books

Book Review of Mischling

28664920The Holocaust must be one of the most written-about events in history – and so this makes it a risky bet for a novelist.  You need powerful storytelling or a real angle.

Affinity Konar definitely comes at it from a different angle, telling the story of a set of twins who catch the eye of infamous Dr Josef Mengele at Auschwitz.  Pearl and Stasha are those twins so intertwined that Stasha often answers to Pearl and resents anything that reinforces their separateness.  This unfortunately makes them fascinating to Mengele, who longed to explore this kind of connection, purposefully protecting one twin whilst damaging and deforming the other to watch it impact the pair.

Konar definitely exposes the world of Mengele’s ghastly twin experiments and uses some astonishing language to describe the strange beauties of the environment even in the most horrid places in the world.

“Night. It had forgotten it should not be so beautiful in Auschwitz.  There was no stopping it’s velvet sway..”

But beyond language and conception, there isn’t much original about the story Konar tells.  Some takes place in Auschwitz, but there are also long and meandering sections afterwards.  The title too is a strange misnomer… ‘Mischling’ is the German term for a person of mixed race.  Is it meant to suggest that each twin is merely the product of the mixing of both?  This seems limiting and redundant.

Although Pearl and Stasha make interesting characters and the nature of their “twin-ness” is heartwarming, I’d save my reading of the Holocaust for Eli Weisel’s Night or even Martin Amis’ Times Arrow instead.  These have real power.

Book Review of Carve the Mark

carve the markVeronica Roth’s Divergent series was so incredibly popular, that publishing a new storyline, especially one markedly different, must elicit some angst – for the author and readers alike.  And while I haven’t read that many positive reviews of her latest offering Carve the Mark, I ended up really enjoying it.

Much less dystopian than Divergent,
is pure science fiction.  It concerns itself with two peoples who live on the same planet – the Shotet and the Thuvhe – but cannot live in harmony. The Thuvhe live quietly and peacefully while the Shotet pillage and scavenge, and violent existence best represented by their tradition of carving a mark on their own arms each time they take a life.

Naturally, a young man and a young woman from each culture are thrown together and fall in love.  But its a little more complicated than that.  This is a galaxy with two particularly interesting features. Firstly, oracles make the fates of important people public – and this causes political manipulation to attempt to challenge or protect fate.  The second, is the energy source known as the ‘current’ which flows around them all, and gifts each inhabitant with a particular ‘currentgift’. Cyra, our Juliet character, can make others feel pain, but the cost is that she lives in constant pain herself.  Akos, kidnapped from Thuvhe by Cyra’s brother as he was fated to serve them, is gifted with the ability to block the currentgifts of others – and thus relieve Cyra’s constant pain.  Eventually they come to mean something more to each other than forced companions and Cyra is forced to confront her brother – a violent dictator – and take a stand for the rights of others.

There’s more to the story than this, including the brother of Akos who becomes a willing oracle to the Shotet and an underground rebellion.  Overall, I thought this was a well-realised fictional world with interesting moral quandaries and the beginning of a tasty story.  Definitely worth a look.

Book Review of The Girl Before

thegirlbefore.jpgThis is the kind of book you know is going to have legions of female fans – and no doubt will be made into a movie as well.  It’s very much in the style of The Girl on the Train – an entertaining mystery, cleverly told and deep in fiction’s mainstream.

In two different narratives separated by a handful of years, two women move into an architectural experiment, a home so minimalist that it actually trains the tenant to change and let go of unnecessary thoughts, feelings and possessions.  Each woman is running away from a tragedy, and the house seems like a safe haven – and the architect an irresistible bonus.

But nothing is quite as it seems and the reader becomes increasingly alarmed as the house takes on a slightly sinister role for both, and both engage in highly controlled relationships with its designer.  But then both women learn the woman who lived there before them died in mysterious circumstances….

This will keep you guessing and entertained right towards the end.  A good choice for holidays any teacher friends.

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.