writer, editor & phd candidate

Category: Reviews Page 2 of 18

Review: The Bhagavad Gita

The Bhagavad Gitat book cover

Details: The Bhagavad Gita, trans. Juan Mascaró (Penguin, 1962). Original date c. 500 B.C.

Category: Religion: Hinduism; Philosophy: Ancient India

Setting: Ancient India

Key Words: Philosophy, Religion, Poetry

In Brief: Reviewing a work that is a sacred text for a lot of people is a complicated endeavour. Here, I am discussing it entirely as a piece of literature, and as that alone it didn’t really work for me. In this particular translation, I didn’t find a lot of beauty in the language, and the content was repetitive. I am not a philosophy person, and The Bhagavad Gita didn’t change that fact.

Review: The Fog (James Herbert)

The Fog book cover
James Herbert, The Fog (New English Library, 1975)

Category: Adult Fiction: Horror: Non-Supernatural

Setting: 1970s  South England and London

Keywords: Biological Weaponry; Epidemics; Madness

In Brief: A fast-paced and entertaining read, with high stakes and high-level violence obscuring a rather bland cast of characters.

Plot: A fog causes a mass outbreak of extreme violence.

Protagonist: Male, lower-middle-aged public servant, surprisingly adept in the action hero role.

Female Characters: Very few. Only two continuing characters, neither much more than an outline of “naïve young love interest” or “doctor”. Apart from the doctor, everyone doing anything remotely useful in here is male.

Diverse Characters: A gay man and a lesbian are in here briefly; homosexuality is not depicted well. Cast is almost entirely white.

(content warnings beneath the cut)

Review: “The Popularity Plan” by Rosemary Vernon (Bantam, 1981)

The Popularity Plan book cover

Series: Sweet Dreams, #2

Genre: YA Romance

Setting: Contemporary USA

Quotable: “Don’t worry, Dad. Mom’s not going to let them make me into a wanton woman.”

The Good:

  • The protagonist, Frannie, has a realistic reaction to her newfound popularity, but ultimately she understands it for how performative it is.
  • Frannie’s parents are present and active in her well-being.
  • The writing is engaging and the book is a swift read.

The Bad:

  • Frannie’s friends are horrible bullies, and yet she’s always the one apologising to them.
  • Ronnie isn’t very well developed as a love interest

The Unbelievable:

  • Frannie arranges dates with five different boys in a week and that just earns her a reputation as a girl who doesn’t want to settle down yet. In 90s Australia, that would’ve earned her a much worse reputation than that. (Unfairly, of course, but still.)

Review: The Dark

Title: The Dark

Author: James Herbert

Read: 10th – 15th June, 2020

Published: 1980

Setting: London, England / the near future

Key Words:

  • good vs evil
  • science vs paranormal
  • philosophical
  • extreme violence
  • human nature
  • life after death

Thoughts:

  • strong building tension
  • genuine high stakes
  • interesting concept
  • forgettable characters
  • abrupt ending

(content warnings under the cut)

Review: The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon

Author: Stephen King
Read: 7th-8th June, 2020
Published: 1999
Setting: Contemporary New England, USA

Key Words:

  • child protagonist
  • lost child
  • suspense
  • supernatural (maybe)
  • divorce
  • isolation
  • survival
  • bad parenting
  • poor decisions

Thoughts:

  • good writing
  • overlong
  • excellent sense of place

Review: P.S. I Love You

Title: P.S. I Love You

Author: Barbara Conklin

Series: Sweet Dreams, #1

Published: 1981

Setting: 1980s Palm Springs, USA

Key Words:

  • first love
  • romance
  • holiday romance
  • class/wealth
  • divorce
  • family
  • young adult
  • illness
  • loss

Thoughts:

  • simplistic writing
  • genuine emotion
  • likeable protagonist
  • good love interest

(content warnings under the cut)

Book Review: The Last Days of the Romanov Dancers, by Kerri Turner

The Last Days of the Romanov Dancers book cover

The Last Days of the Romanov Dancers is set in Russia between 1914 and 1920, which means that it documents not just the end of the Imperial Russian Ballet, but also the end of the Romanovs themselves. It was a period of great upheaval for Russia, and for all those affected by the Great War, but Kerri Turner manages to create a narrow focus for a reader’s attention so that the weight of historical detail doesn’t become too overwhelming.

Her two main characters are Luka—a newcomer to the Imperial Russian Ballet—and Valentina, who has been in the company longer, but shares Luka’s modest upbringing. While both interact with actual historical people, such as Rasputin and the Romanovs, the peripheral nature of their involvement means that the reader can sympathise with them more readily, even faced with displays of wealth and indulgence while the working classes starve. Here, Luka’s guilt about his position of privilege works to reassure a modern audience where perhaps Valentina’s enjoyment of wealth does not. I think I would have enjoyed a little more of an evolution in Valentina’s nature, but her character is likely more realistic as is!

I am not a great reader of modern (that is, in terms of publication, not setting) adult romance, so I was a little worried from the blurb that this novel would be heavy on the romance and light on the history. On the whole, I need not have worried. There was a section in the middle of the book where the romance took centre stage for a while, but most of the time I was happily immersed in history and ballet.

The descriptions of dance and the world of the performing arts are where Turner’s writing is at its most exciting and emotive. Her own experiences as a dancer and dance teacher inform the novel wonderfully and, while the passion of the romantic relationship may have failed to thrill me, the passion for dance seemed almost tangible. I’m not a dancer, but I understand the love of one’s artform, and I thought this was conveyed wonderfully throughout the book.

Overall, The Last Days of the Romanov Dancers is an excellent debut from Kerri Turner and I look forward to her future publications.

(Thank you to Harlequin Books for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review.)

Review: The Cracks in the Kingdom, by Jaclyn Moriarty

cracksSometimes it is good to be given books you’ve not specifically requested. If I’d seen the first The Colours of Madeline book in a shop or a library, I would’ve picked it up due to Jaclyn Moriarty’s name, but likely put it back down again when I read the blurb and realised it was fantasy. If I’d done that, I’d have missed out on reading an amazing series.

The first novel, A Corner of White, was a lot of fun. ‘Quirky’ is the word that seemed the best way to describe it, and the reviews I’ve read show that I wasn’t the only person to feel that way. With The Cracks in the Kingdom, however, I think the series has developed into something much more than quirky. It’s moving and exciting and intriguing, and I often found myself torn between wanting to rush through the pages to find out what would happen next – and why – and wanting to take things slowly, so that I could really appreciate the language and Moriarty’s great grasp of both character and style.

Although The Cracks in the Kingdom is the second book of a trilogy, it didn’t feel incomplete. There are still things left unfinished and questions left unanswered, but I didn’t feel cheated, because it still read like a complete novel, with enough resolution to counter the loose threads. That said, I’m still going to be grabbing the next book as soon as I can get my hands on it – not only because I want to find out what happens, but also because I’m pretty certain that I’ll be guaranteed a jolly good read.

The Colours of Madeline is an excellent example of just how good YA can be when it breaks away from carbon-copy fads and finds its own voice and concept in the hands of a talented author. It’s nice to know that I don’t have to say goodbye to Cello just yet.

(I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)

Review: Lord of the Flies

lordfliesI found this pretty disappointing, to be honest, and I’m not sure how much of that is due to it being a bit dated in the modern era of more explicit violence and horror and how much of it is just my own tastes. The thing is, I generally really appreciate it when things are left up to the reader to read between the lines and to understand, instead of be told, but here it felt more like unfinished plots and ideas. I needed to know more about why exactly the boys were on the island to accept it as the basic premise, I needed Simon’s story to be related in a clearer manner and I needed there to be more consistency when it came to the narrative. At times, there were chunks of purple prose thrust into the story as description, but at other times there was a coarseness to the narrative that indicated it was being told with the voices of its characters. To me, that meant that neither style entirely rang true.

I do believe, though, that part of the reason Lord of the Flies didn’t work for me was that its depiction of violence and the “beast” inside humankind just doesn’t scare the modern reader. It shies away from description when it talks of violence against humans, which is particularly interesting when the pig hunting is narrated with great relish. (I personally skipped those scenes, because I can’t deal with cruelty to animals, even in fiction.) We know the twins have been hurt, but we’re given no hint of how. I understand the boys’ unwillingness to think about what happened during the ‘dance’ after the fact but, for a modern reader, accustomed to graphic depictions of violence on the news, let alone in fiction, the dance itself is powerless. As for the inner beast, I wasn’t fully convinced by the book’s depiction of it. I personally needed a greater attention to the changing psychology of the characters. I wanted more of a journey, and I think that could have been achieved by narrowing the focus to fewer boys. (Also, when you have a large cast, naming characters Ralph, Roger and Robert is just plain confusing.)

I’m sad that Lord of the Flies was a bit ‘meh’ for me, because I’d always thought it sounded right up my alley – both as a reader and as a writer. Perhaps the true glimpse of human nature can be found in the fact that I needed it to be darker and more messed-up for it to work.

Review: The Skeleton Key – Tara Moss

The Skeleton Key coverWhen I received The Skeleton Key in the mail, I wasn’t sure it would be my kind of book. I’m a bit (okay, a lot) over paranormal romance at the moment, so I was worried that I might find myself wading through just the kind of novel I’m avoiding right now. As it turned out, I really needn’t have worried. There’s a hint of romance here, but the emphasis is strongly on the paranormal, and the book as a whole is much more Buffy than Twilight. I actually recommend it strongly to Buffy fans, because Pandora is from a similar kind of normal-but-kickass-chosen-one mould. (Try to say that one three times quickly.)

Although I haven’t read the first two books in the Pandora English series, I didn’t struggle at all with picking up the premise and the universe. Tara Moss creates an interesting world full of all the usual paranormal types, and manages to avoid the same-old-same-old trap. There are vampires – sorry: Sanguines – here, but there is a refreshing lack of uniformity when it comes to their characterisation. Deus (whom I loved) is a very different character to the undead supermodels who plague Pandora’s existence.

One of the things I liked most about The Skeleton Key was the humour that marked the narrative and the character voice. There’s a healthy sense of irony here, and that makes the occasional genuinely creepy moment stand out even more. The key villain of the novel is suitably discomforting and, while Pandora largely operates on instinct and employs extreme powers she doesn’t fully understand, I didn’t find this annoying. Her resignation to her responsibility as the Seventh and her commitment to doing the very things she doesn’t yet know how to do somehow made up for the relative ease of her achievements.

Pandora is nineteen, and The Skeleton Key very cleverly walks the (fading) line between young adult and adult fiction. There are no pubescent dramas to distance the book from adults, and there is nothing within its pages that could be considered too ‘old’ by younger readers (or their parents). The idea of crossover appeal is often thrown about these days, but I think it’s an apt descriptor for this series.

All-up, I found The Skeleton Key a light and enjoyable read and I shall definitely look up the first two books in the series – even if my arachnophobia does make me a little nervous about The Spider Goddess

(I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)

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