Wednesday, 28 June 2017

A Monster Calls / Patrick Ness

5 out of 5 stars
The monster showed up after midnight. As they do.

But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming…

This monster is something different, though. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor.

It wants the truth.



 “The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do.”

That’s when our worries plague us—in the middle of the night when there’s nothing we can do except stew about them. Your nightmare is now interrupted by real-life worries that are worse. Deal with it!

I’ve lived through a similar situation. I was at my father’s side when he died, after three weeks of lingering in hospital after a car accident. I went through all the stages of grief, repeatedly. Denial, bargaining, anger, depression, acceptance. I had the advantage of a couple of decades of experience more than Conor, but the emotions are the same.

I can’t even remember who I was talking to on the phone, days before Dad died, when I said, “Why can’t this poor man die? What’s holding him here?” Because his life was never going to be the same. He would never be physically or emotionally whole again. His life would simply have been a frustrating struggle and he didn’t deal well with frustration. All in all, it was a relief when he made the decision to let go. I was grateful that he was able to leave, but I have missed him every day since then.

I shed a lot of tears towards the end of this book. I think it would be an excellent offering to any young person who has lost a parent or whose parent is on the brink of death. It’s okay to be angry. It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to be relieved when that parent is released from pain. Whatever you feel, it’s okay.

Apologies to my real-life book club for choosing yet another “cancer book.”

The Bitter Seed of Magic / Suzanne McLeod

4 out of 5 stars
On the surface, Genny's life seems ripple-free right now. Finn, her sexy boss and -- well, Genny's not sure what else she wants him to be -- has stopped pushing for a decision on their relationship. The seductive vampire Malik al-Khan has vanished back into the shadows. And the witches have declared her no longer a threat. But unless Genny can find a way to break the fertility curse afflicting London's fae, she knows this is just the lull before the magical storm.

Then a faeling -- a teenage girl -- is fished out of the River Thames, dead and bound with magic, and Genny is called into investigate. As she digs through the clues, her search takes a sinister and dangerous turn, exposing age-old secrets that might be better left buried. Then another faeling disappears, and Genny finds herself in a race against time to save the faeling and stop the curse from claiming its next victim -- herself!
 


  ***2017 Summer Lovin’ Reading List ***

On the most obvious level, this is just a very good story, chock full of magic, mystery, and action. Faelings are being killed and Genny is trying to figure out the motive and the perpetrator. In the meantime, she must also be aware of the curse put on London’s Fae community, preventing them from reproducing and putting them at risk of “fading.” Prophecy seems to indicate that Genny is the key and all of the Fae communities are lobbying to provide her with a baby-daddy in order to break the spell.

When I read the book with the curse very much in front of mind, I couldn’t help but think of all the women in the world who are forced to bear children, whether they want them or not. The whole issue of who owns women’s bodies—the women themselves or their families or husbands? Does the community get a say?

For me, this was the best book so far in this series, and I look forward to the next!

Hunted / Kevin Hearne

3 out of 5 stars
For a two-thousand-year-old Druid, Atticus O’Sullivan is a pretty fast runner. Good thing, because he’s being chased by not one but two goddesses of the hunt—Artemis and Diana—for messing with one of their own. Dodging their slings and arrows, Atticus, Granuaile, and his wolfhound Oberon are making a mad dash across modern-day Europe to seek help from a friend of the Tuatha Dé Danann. His usual magical option of shifting planes is blocked, so instead of playing hide-and-seek, the game plan is . . . run like hell.

Crashing the pantheon marathon is the Norse god Loki. Killing Atticus is the only loose end he needs to tie up before unleashing Ragnarok—AKA the Apocalypse. Atticus and Granuaile have to outfox the Olympians and contain the god of mischief if they want to go on living—and still have a world to live in.



  ***2017 Summer Lovin’ Reading List ***

This installment of the Iron Druid is basically just one very long chase scene, but despite that, Hearne manages to make some progress which I appreciated. Oberon is present, in full force, being a wolf hound with opinions and hilarious comments on many issues. Granuaile is finally a fully-fledged Druid in her own right and is learning to be a powerful warrior woman. Hearne, the Hunter, makes an awesome appearance and the Irish gods and goddesses make more meaningful appearances.
Towards book’s end, there are two wonderful new characters added and their possibilities will keep me reading onwards!

A perfect fluffy summer read!

Friday, 23 June 2017

The Lord of the Far Island / Victoria Holt

3.5 out of 5 stars
Lovely Ellen Kellaway was rescued from a bleak future by her newly discovered guardian, Jago Kellaway, Lord of the Far Island, off the wild coast of Cornwall. There, Ellen was drawn deeper and deeper into the secrets of a past as alive and threatening as the present. There Jago offered her the fabled Island Necklace worn by the mistresses of Kellaway Castle. But was it a promise of happiness -- or a dark symbol of death . . .?

  ***2017 Summer Lovin’ Reading List***

I think this may have been the very first romance novel that I ever read in my life, at around age 11 or 12. I remember how much I loved the book at that age and that is probably influencing my rating today.

Talk about Gothic! A heroine who is an orphan, living with distant family members as a Poor Relation? Check! Beautiful & spunky? Check! Mysterious goings-on? Check! Subtly threatening handsome man with secrets who arrives in the nick of time to save her from the horrid fate of governessing? Check! New family members who maybe aren’t as into her as she is into them? Check and double check! A second handsome and more straightforward man as a foil for the intense, dark one? Checkeroo!

I believe it was my mother who introduced me to Victoria Holt and she & I read our way through many of Holt’s novels. This was very much a nostalgia read—it reminded me of my teenage reading years and reading with Mom. I can definitely see where works like this one set my tastes in romantic fiction, leading to my current affection for paranormal romance.

Death in Cyprus / M.M. Kaye

4 out of 5 stars
Twenty-year-old Amanda Derrington is on an extended cruise with her uncle when she decides to make a short side trip to the sun-washed island of Cyprus. But even before the ship arrives in port, there is a suspicious death. Once the passengers reach the island, it soon becomes clear that the death was in fact an act of murder. What Amanda had meant to be a pleasant excursion quickly takes a turn for the worse.

  ***2017 Summer Lovin’ Reading List***

I love these older murder mystery/romance mash-ups written by writers like M.M. Kaye and Mary Stewart. Dating from the 1950s, they were written in an era where book heroines were more innocent (and worried about their reputations) and the social classes were more firmly entrenched.

I owned all the Kaye’s Death in … series at one point in my life and read them all multiple times. I wasn’t more than three pages into this one when I realized that I already knew who the murderer was, but I still enjoyed the reading process. The descriptions of Cyprus were beautiful and made me wish I could visit Villa Oleander and picnic in the Cyprean countryside. Kaye spent time in Cyprus as a British army wife, so no doubt was able to describe terrain that she was familiar with and obviously fond of.

Reading this now, as an older person, I realize how excruciating the effects of class are and how much personal income has become the new way to distinguish between classes (rather than whom one is related to). The characters in this novel often marry for money (George Norman and Alastair Blaine both depend on their wives’ money for their comfortable life style) and it was a foregone conclusion by their friends that it was a reasonable choice. Interestingly, it was men marrying for financial advantage, rather than the usual women in this case, perhaps Kaye pointing out that it’s a two way street.

This time around I also noticed how Persis, the American writer, is so very stereotypically American—she is loud, brash, demanding, and not the slightest bit retiring. Plus, she is attracted to British men for the same reason that many North American women are, that enticing accent. Still, she is a good friend to Amanda, our heroine, and courageous when required, so the impression is not at all negative.

An excellent nostalgia read, a great way to spend a lazy summer evening.

The Curse of the Pharaohs / Elizabeth Peters

4 out of 5 stars
Victorian Amelia Peabody continues to journal her Egypt adventures, toddler Ramses left in England. Husband Radcliffe Emerson's old friend Lady Baskerville fears a curse killed her husband Sir Henry, and soon engages the attentions of American Cyrus. The will funds continued excavation. But a lady dressed in white floats, flutters, spreads fear, and more death.

  ***2017 Summer Lovin’ Reading List***

It’s official—I adore Amelia Peabody-Emerson! Modern feminist sensibilities injected into a Victorian heroine. She loves her husband and her son, but she needs some mental stimulation and some physical labour to keep her occupied.

I loved that Radcliffe and Amelia have nicknamed their precocious son Ramses after the demanding and flamboyant Pharaoh. He takes after both of his parents, needless to say, in his intelligence and his firm opinions! I appreciate Amelia’s (sometimes unwarranted) self-confidence and her delight at being able to escape the boredom of motherhood and running a household. What could possibly be better than returning to Egypt to explore a newly discovered tomb with her beloved husband? Well, achieving that task while still having cooling baths at days end and tea whenever necessary, that’s what!

Peters manages to give us plenty of potential murderers and lots of unusual characters to provide intrigue and comedy. Amelia brandishes her parasol with abandon and barges her way to a solution with panache!

Mr. Rochester / Sarah Shoemaker

3.5 stars out of 5
"Reader, she married me."

For one hundred seventy years, Edward Fairfax Rochester has stood as one of literature's most romantic, most complex, and most mysterious heroes. Sometimes haughty, sometimes tender-professing his love for Jane Eyre in one breath and denying it in the next-Mr. Rochester has for generations mesmerized, beguiled, and, yes, baffled fans of Charlotte Brontë's masterpiece. But his own story has never been told.

Now, out of Sarah Shoemaker's rich and vibrant imagination, springs Edward: a vulnerable, brilliant, complicated man whom we first meet as a motherless, lonely little boy roaming the corridors and stable yards of Thornfield Hall. On the morning of Edward's eighth birthday, his father issues a decree: He is to be sent away to get an education, exiled from Thornfield and all he ever loved. As the determined young Edward begins his journey across England, making friends and enemies along the way, a series of eccentric mentors teach him more than he might have wished about the ways of the men-and women-who will someday be his peers.


 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 because I enjoyed the first half of the book so much. The author remained very true to Brontë’s Jane Eyre and even managed to incorporate aspects of Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea. I have to admire that!

The first half of the book, dealing with Edward Fairfax Rochester’s life before he meets his Jane, was the most enjoyable for me. I loved the back-story that Ms. Shoemaker created for him—the vulnerable, sensitive little boy who missed his mother and was ignored by his father. She obviously spent a great deal of time on the question, “What made Mr. Rochester into the man who met Jane Eyre?”

Once Jane appears in this text, however, there are constraints. You don’t mess with the Jane Eyre story, after all. For me, things changed at this point. Instead of the colourful, free painting that Shoemaker began with, she was reduced to paint-by-number. She introduced some interesting ideas that aren’t in Brontë’s original, but then has to wrap them up swiftly and neatly in order to fit into the accepted canon.

In short, very true to the original work and another interesting look at an old favourite.