Thursday, 29 November 2012

Unhallowed Ground - Daniel Mills

Unhallowed Ground is a novella set in the 1890s in New England, telling the story of young Henry Feathering and his experience at Bittersweet Lodge. He first travels to the lodge when his sister dies and his uncle who resides there becomes his only living relative. On his way, he runs into the St. James siblings, Justice and Clemency who are visiting cousins that live in the same town. Henry falls in love with Clemency and intends to marry her. His uncle, however, seems averse to this idea.

I have to say that the first sixty or so pages of this novella are wonderful. They are written in a delightful style that has a real 1890s feel to it. There is the feeling of creeping darkness about Bittersweet Lodge, the worrying overtones that accompany Henry and Clemency's engagement. This whole sense of wrong that overhangs the whole story creates a great atmosphere that really keeps the reader going.

It's in the last five or so pages that the novella falls apart. Being a novella, Mills knew he only had so many pages to conclude this story he's been weaving. For whatever reason, however, it seems like it came out of nowhere to him. Strings and connections that the reader has been waiting make sit ignored in the corner while the climax becomes a confusing set a paragraphs that are hard to decipher. Even the narrator at the end admits that it feels like a bunch of puzzle pieces that have not come together. Each piece is very intriguing and interesting, they just never come together to create that perfect picture.

I really wanted to like this book and I definitely did for most of it. I'm just disappointed in the slapdash ending that seems a bit like a cop out. The painting, the death, the grave, the aunt, Clemency's behavior. All of it had the potential to be a story of tragedy and loss but instead it becomes a bit of a confused mess. I want more in my ghost stories or at least a ghost I can point to and know why.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Pantomime - Laura Lam

Pantomime is a book I picked up on a whim from Netgalley. It looked kind of interesting and I was feeling like a good fantasy/YA novel after finishing some rather heavy other reading. It looked right up my alley. 

Pantomime tells the story of two characters, Iphigenia "Gene" Laurus, a nobleman's daughter who hates life in skirts and uptight manners and Micah Grey, a runaway who joins the circus as an aerialist's apprentice. Both have a secret they're dying to keep and an interesting connection to their world that even they aren't aware of yet.

I absolutely adored Pantomime. Not only did it create an interesting world that is once both recognizable and foreign to the reader but I could honestly say that I had no earthly idea what was going to happen next. The world of R. H. Ragona's Circus of Magic was intricately woven, each character feeling real and knowable. I always think books set in circuses are interesting and this one, by also having fantasy involved, was definitely a new and exciting take on the idea.

Mostly, though, I was incredibly excited by and interested in the way Lam plays with gender. In this book, no character is defined by gender but gender becomes fluid, as Micah and Gene explore different aspects of their character and try to determine just what they want to be. I really, really enjoyed this as I've seen a few characters similar to Micah and Gene in recent books that I don't think managed to use this malleable gender idea to the same degree. In this, it doesn't seem weird or foreign or odd but just a natural instinct to explore and create. I absolutely loved this and wish more books would explore this idea as Lam has, without prejudice but with a simple curiosity.

I can honestly say that, as I was reading, I had no idea where the book was going and in fact, it surprised me many a time. There is one instance roughly halfway through the book where you realize something about Micah and Gene where, although I had all the clues to put it together, I never actually caught on until that moment. I remember I was reading it on the train and genuinely went "…ooooooh!" I can't remember the last time I was that surprised by a reveal. I'm honestly very impressed. It definitely added to my opinion of the book.

I really enjoyed Pantomime and look forward to the next book in the series because, the way the book ended, there has to be another coming. I want to know more about Gene, more about Drystan (who I love!) and see what all of this Penglass nonsense is about. More please, Miss Lam!!

Pantomime comes out in February 2013 from Strange Chemistry.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

[Duel Review] Night Has a Thousand Eyes - Cornell Woolrich

The first thing I have to say about this book is that every time I think about it, I get this song stuck in my head. Which isn't a horrible thing because I like that song but I can't be grooving out to late fifties pop songs all my life, Woolrich.

Night is a classic 40s detective noir novel. Late one night while walking home, a young detective meets a girl about to jump off a bridge. When he gets her down, she's nearly catatonic and tells him that she's terrified of the stars. He takes her to an all night cafe and slowly the story pours out of her, a story about predictions and family histories and coming death. With that, a race against time begins as the young detective gets the rest of his team involved in the case.

The idea of this novel is great. I love detective novels, I love race against time novels, everything should have come together to meld into a really great, fast paced narrative. For me, though, it just never seemed to until the very end. I really enjoyed Jean telling her story in the beginning, as she went through the events that took her to the bridge. After that, though, there is a jarring transition to Detective Shawn's police department and characters the reader is never introduced to all of the sudden have the center floor. It was a bit hard to jump in feet first like that, even if I did want to know what was going on.

I did enjoy the way the characters were drawn, Tompkins in particular. The reluctant psychic has a really lovely apathetic and resigned air to him that I really enjoyed reading. I even warmed up to the other police detectives as time went on. I just wish we had gotten a bit more introduction before they were all of the sudden in the lead. Lt. Shawn and Jean were both interesting, perhaps only because they were in the center of the action but still. It did have the fast, out of nowhere romance of a noir piece but that's more stylistic than plot driven, I think.

Overall, I really enjoyed the plot. However, it seemed kind of like a very small story stretched out beyond its limits. I think it could have made an excellent short story just as well as it could have been a novel, if not better. Parts seemed written just to make a chapter longer rather than to add anything of significance. I would have even preferred if a few things that were explained in the last few pages were left to the imagination. This was definitely a story that could have left things hanging, although I suppose it did on some counts. 

Also, it has perhaps the most cringe inducing suicide reference I've read in a novel. I actually had to stop for a second and try and figure out how it even worked. Dear me.

I liked the book but I was never jumping up and down to read it. I wish it were a bit less dry and a bit more developed. The plot, however, was really interesting and if you like 40s detective fiction, then it's definitely up your alley.

This is my review of Woolrich's Night Has a Thousand Eyes. You can read Colin's review here.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Lilith - Toby Tate

I love a good horror story. Unexplainable things, mysterious voices, giant monsters, it's all up my alley. So, when I saw the description of a new book called Lilith, it sounded like just my kind of book. I was excited to read a horror novel and made it the next book for me to pick up.

Lilith tells the story of Hunter Singleton and his wife Lisa who are invited aboard the USS Gerald Ford in a group of media to write an article about the boat. However, strange things are afoot upon the ship. Crew members start doing strange things and as a deadly hurricane makes its way towards Manhattan, things take a turn towards the worst.

I wanted to like this book. I like monster books. I like spooky stuff. I'm not the hugest fan of military books but they can be really good. However, this book was hard to read. So many things rubbed me the wrong way and I could not get over it.

Firstly, the characters. Hunter is the definition of a Gary Stu, a character too perfect to exist in real life. He's charming and kind and has a super hot wife and at one point, a demon(?) kidnaps him to be her sex slave. Yes, that is a thing that happens. Also, he just so happens to have knowledge of everything forever. He was in the Navy, he's smart enough that the CIA lets him in on classified information and my personal favorite, as they are wandering some homeless tunnels, he criticizes the tunnels but understands that at least they're shelter because he was once homeless. … what?

This is the second book featuring Hunter and Lisa which is something I hadn't realized going in so I can forgive some lack of characterization due to not having read the first book. However, there is absolutely no character depth whatsoever. The only motivation I spotted in any of the characters in the entire book was lust. Because there is a lot of strange sex going on in this. Which leads me to another point:

There is a lot of strange sex in this book. Now, I get that sex is a thing that happens in a lot of books and most of the time, it fits in with the plot and the reader moves on. Not so here. There are random sex scenes between characters that will never be mentioned again. There is a disturbing amount of description about female characters and how exotic and hot they are whereas male characters are only described by what race they happen to be (aka I think one of the characters was black.) It felt creepily like reading someone's fantasies than a forward plot development. Although there was a reason for the sex, it still was gratuitous and uncomfortable for the reader.

Something also gratuitous and uncomfortable for the reader was the amount of Navy speak going on in the text. I get that using jargon is helpful for creating atmosphere and believability but between the amount of it and the fact that none of it was explained, it made it incredibly hard to follow what characters were talking about. I still don't know what the CHENG was, although I think it was a person. Or maybe a robot. Or maybe a sex robot? This reader will never know. Or she will because she just googled it. However, I shouldn't have to google "CHENG navy" to find out it meant Chief Engineer. Because an author can just write that. 

I'm going to skip over the fact that the main villain hates the Navy because a sailor ran over her dog when she was a child. That just feels like rubbing salt in the wound at this point.

To be honest, it's a miracle I made it through the whole book. It became more about giggling through its absurdity than actually reading it very early on. I would not recommend this book and I would honestly wonder how this got published in the first place. There is a lot of good horror out there. Don't waste your time with this.

Lilith comes out in January from Dark Fuse.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Fifty Shades of Mr Darcy - William Codpiece Thwakery

Yes, this is a book than exists. It is a parody of both Fifty Shades of Grey and Pride and Prejudice and describes itself as 'for people who love Pride and Prejudice and hate Fifty Shades of Grey.' As I fit both of those categories and I could use a bit of a giggle, I gave it a go.

This is usually the part of the review where I give a basic plot outline. I don't know if I really need to do it for this book. It's exactly what you think it is. An entertaining device is that it continues to break the fourth wall, mentioning things from Shades that wouldn't be around during the 1820s and then laughing at itself. 

Also, Mr. Collins is Phil Collins. And they have him quote his own songs repeatedly. It is much funnier than it should be.

As it is a parody novel, it does try a bit hard at times, making jokes out of nothing and doing its best to remain funny. However, it has some great material to work with and the juxtaposition of a horribly written pretty vulgar novel with the ultimate in manners and subtlety makes for some great lines. 

"Mr Darcy had made no protestations of love. In fact, he had made his intentions plain from the outset. 'I do not make love, Miss Bennet,' he had told her. 'I bonk. I have it off. I get my end away. I roger. I boff.'"

"Mr Bennet, you will, of course, be paying a visit to Mr Bingley when he comes into the neighborhood.'

Mr Bennet raised his eyes at last. 'If he shoots, plays pool or has a shed, I shall. If he is one of those newfangled metrosexuals, I shall not.'"

"Mr Darcy stared at her for a long moment. His brow creased, and his expression was pained, as if he was torn between two choices - a cheese sandwich vs tuna mayo, maybe, or between pride and desire.

All of a sudden, he stood and gave a curt bow.

'Laters, Baby,' he said stiffly, and turned upon his heel."

It's silly and short but good fun if you're in the mood for some laughs. If any of those quotes had you giggling, you should pick it up.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Frozen - Mary Casanova

I received the galley of Frozen from NetGalley and University of Minnesota Press. I thought the book looked very interesting and wanted something halfway serious to read, considering I had something quite silly to read as well and knew I need to break it up. Something mysterious and historically sounded right up my alley.

Frozen tells the story of Sadie Rose, a teenager growing up in the early twenties in small town Minnesota. She was taken in by a wealthy family when she was found as a child by the body of her frozen mother. She has been mute ever since. She has few memories of her mother and has grown up feeling a bit like an outsider as the family, despite loving her, has still yet to adopt her over ten years later. 

At the start of the story, Sadie Rose finds some photographs in the shed one day while the family is out and realizes that they must be pictures of her mother. With the introduction of this new stimulus, Sadie finds memories returning to her and her voice beginning to work for the first time in years. But she also finds a wariness to speak and new suspicions being raised about her past.

Something I really liked about Frozen was its setting. Although the twenties as a period are quite vogue right now, it's always the flappers, bootleggers and jazz musicians that tend to get the attention. This took that same era and looked at it from another angle. Sadie has heard talk that women's right to vote may happen soon. She still worries about walking to town by herself and that it's inappropriate for her to go out on a canoe with a boy. This is a new and refreshing time period to read a book set in and I really enjoyed it. The research was clearly there and the world felt fully realized.

The plot itself is also very intriguing. You know right from the start that Sadie has a mysterious past that is obviously going to be explored as the book goes on. Why is Sadie mute? What happened to her mother? Is there something nefarious with her newfound family? 

For the first two thirds of the book, the plot surges on, drawing you through with references to prostitution, bootlegging and murder. There's obviously something shady in Sadie's past. There are also colorful characters that she encounters, from Owen the local boy to Victor the reformer to Trinity, the party girl. Each escapade ties the story closer to the ultimate mystery and keeps you reading.

When I got to about two thirds in, though, I looked at how many pages where left and began to worry that Casanova wouldn't have time to wrap up all the plots that she had gotten going. There were only so many pages and a lot more the reader needed to know. That is the only disappointment I found in this book: it wraps up too quickly and neatly. Some things that really needed to be explored more where paved over in order to give the book a neat ending. Sure, Sadie comes into her own and gains her own voice, so to speak, but it seems that she recovers from some facts too quickly and doesn't explore other mysteries that one would think she would want to know more about (a certain unexplained death comes to mind.) When the book ended, I felt there was too much that hadn't been explained satisfactorily to me. I wanted more.

So I suppose that's not the worst criticism: to have wanted more. I did enjoy the characters, especially the manic depressive Trinity who added some Zelda Fitzgerald-esque drama into the mix. I just wish more would have been explored.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Wolves in Winter - Lisa Hilton

I honestly don't even know where to start with this one. I was given it to read by my friend Lizzy who was doing work experience at its publisher at the time. She had just finished it and had liked it, although she had issues with it. I'll read pretty much anything, like historical fiction and thought the cover looked cool. I'd give it a go.

Wolves in Winter tells the story of a girl named Mura Benito. Born to a Nordic mother and a Spanish father in Toledo 1492, she has very interesting coloring and is seen as abnormal by the people of the town. When her father is taken in by the Inquisition, Mura's life of fending for herself and trying to find a place in the powerful political machinations of the day begins.

Mura (also known as Mora) is passed around from place to place. She's in the court of the Medici's, she's on the road with circus performers, she's a priceless slave for the Countess of Forli. In each place, things become difficult for Mura, she makes new friends and enemies and always counts on only herself for her own survival.

Is this book interesting? Yes. The plot jumps from place to place, in important parts of Italy's history. The only downside is that the back cover of the book gives away the plot for about two thirds of the novel. There aren't any real surprises because you already know where Mura's journey is going to take her. I was disappointed by that. 

Another thing that is a bit confusing is the writing style. For the most part, it is consistent and easy to follow. Even when there are "mystical" things happening, such as the visions Mura has at times, there isn't an issue with the writing style. It's when it comes to specifying things that may be important, such as some physical differences with Mura and other girls, that the author is incredibly vague, even though it is a very important plot point. It's very frustrating.

Overall, though, the main issue I have with the book is the author. The author just makes me uncomfortable. When you google her, the first result after her homepage is an article she wrote for The Guardian several years ago about her views on cheating. Although I try not to let my views on the author cloud my reading of the book (and I didn't find the article until after I had read it), I still found myself looking back at the book with a weird feeling in my gut. Although I did like parts of the book, I don't know if I could read another Hilton again.

If you like historical fiction or are curious about this time period, I would say give it a go. However, be prepared for really working to decipher what Hilton's trying to hint at in the story. Most of the time, it's rather important and will confuse the heck out of you if you don't figure it out in time.

Wolves in Winter comes out today (November 1, 2012) from Atlantic Books.