Review Wednesday | The Night Brother (ARC Review)

I was given this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I know that I give a big spoiler in the first paragraph but it would be very difficult to talk about without giving it away! You do find out in the first couple of chapters!! -R

The Night Brother follows Edie and Gnome, siblings who in many ways couldn’t be more different. Edie is introverted, intelligent and resolutely hated by her mother. Gnome is outgoing, adventurous and uncouth – not to mention hero-worshipped and spoilt rotten by the mother he deems stupid. They are linked, quite literally, by one slightly inconvenient fact; they live in the same body. Edie is in control during the day, and Gnome at night. The start of the novel shows Edie unaware of what is happening – she believes Gnome to be a friend, a Peter Pan like figure who takes her on adventures while her mother and grandmother are sleeping. Her grandmother eventually reveals the truth in an attempt to help her find her peace with the situation.

I’ve spoken before about how difficult it can be to get historical fiction right, and this is possibly magnified in making LGBT+ characters and themes take centre stage. I was so glad to read LGBT+ characters that are realistic and proud (if that pride is strictly confined to their own friendship groups and secret gay bars), and the theme of gender fluidity is certainly explored in different ways here.

The premise of “one body, two souls” could have gone many ways, particularly considering how this is dealt with in The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, which is obviously an actual Fin de Siecle period novel with a similar theme. The plot borders on ridiculous at times due to the nature of this, but I felt that for the most part it brought it back quite well. I would have liked a better explanation of the “family curse” and more of a back story for the whole thing though.

I was quite sceptical of this book. Garland’s descriptions are beautiful, and the first chapter certainly draws you in, but I did begin to get disillusioned with the whole thing at times. I felt some attempts at adding ‘darkness’ were a little lost on me – the mother comes off quite pantomime-y, and a certain scene with a certain doctor just seemed far too fast and confusing – though on doing further research I did find out that his practices weren’t unheard of, which was somewhat of a shock to me (though it really shouldn’t have been).

The characters were very strong, though, and this compared with the descriptive language kept me hooked. There are some striking scenes that I really connected with, though I wasn’t convinced by it all – particularly the ending, I must admit. In all though it was an enjoyable book with some wonderful LGBT+ characters, who are well worth meeting.

See you soon,

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Last Post (this was embarrassingly long ago I’m so sorry): Review Wednesday | The Muse

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Review Wednesday | The Muse

Like most artists, everything I produced was connected to who I was – and so I suffered according to how my work was received. The idea that anyone might be able to detach their personal value from their public output was revolutionary.

The Muse had a lot to live up to. Jessie Burton’s first debut novel, The Miniaturist was a bestseller and as such her second novel was hotly anticipated. As a bit of a historical fiction fan I thoroughly enjoyed The Miniaturist and was looking forward to reading more of Burton’s work.

The Muse is set in two time periods and locations – Andalucia 1936, shortly before the beginning of the Spanish Civil War, and London 1967. The narratives follow four women and the painting that connects them.

In Spain, Olive Schloss and her family arrive at their new home, a villa near Andalucia. Teresa Robles and her brother Isaac introduce themselves and Teresa is soon hired as the Schloss’ maid. On learning that Isaac paints, Olive’s mother commissions him to paint a portrait of the two of them for her husband. The results are unexpected and lead to a series of events culminating in Isaac Robles gaining popularity 30 years later as a forgotten voice of war.

Odelle Bastien meets the charming Lawrie Scott, who she encourages to bring a painting of his to the gallery she works at. On seeing the painting her employer, Marjorie Quick looks as though she’s seen a ghost. It is a shock to Scott that his painting turns out to be an original Robles – he inherited it off his mother, but how did she get it?

Writing two time periods is really hard, trust me on this. Not only are there two narratives and two stories, but having them in different time periods is basically setting yourself up for anachronisms. Everything from the clothing to the technology to the food is different. Despite a few linguistic issues Burton seems to do well at avoiding anachronisms. She does, however, write in a very flowery manner which can be distracting. Flowery can be good (I just spent three years with other pretentious literature nerds remember) but there are times where the dialogue is jarring – Isaac and Teresa speak limited English and ask what some simple words mean, while simultaneously understanding long, rambling sentences. In terms of plot I found the pacing a little off; the story is slow to begin with, but once it gets interesting moves very quickly. The idea is brilliant and I did enjoy it, but there were times when my interest was waning and times I felt it could have been slowed down.

The Muse is a lovely second novel, and while I preferred The Miniaturist it certainly lives up to expectations. I love Burton’s work and will be eagerly waiting to see what she does next.

See you soon,

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Last Post: A Bookshelf For… A Year Later

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A Bookshelf For… A Year Later

A few days ago Always in the Write turned one and yes, I’m still celebrating. I’m truly amazed that I haven’t quit yet if I’m honest – I don’t like being a quitter but I know what I’m like and didn’t have high expectations of myself! What better way to celebrate than the first in that one series I mentioned ages ago and haven’t touched since my A Bookshelf For…series! Here are my top books I’ve reviewed for each month, along with links to the full reviews if you’re interested. It’s been quite the year, with some damn good books taking centre stage.

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Review Wednesday | Book Review – Daughters of the Witching Hill

“‘You were meant to be more than a common beggar, our Bess. You could be a blesser. Next time you see a sick cow, bless it. Say three Ave Marias and sprinkle some water on the beast. Folks will pay you for such things’ […] What nonsense. The Church Warden would have me whipped and fined for saying the Ave Maria – and that was but mild chastisement. Catholics were still hanged in these parts”

**Real events that happened 400 years ago can’t have spoilers but I won’t spoil anything non-factual**

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Can Monkmania Change Views On Academia?

If you’re in the UK, you may have heard a new craze in the lead up to the University Challenge Final. I am, of course, talking about Monkmania – the love of Eric Monkman; Economics student, head of Wolfson College, Cambridge’s UC team and all-round genius. His eager attitude, facial expressions and sheer brainpower have won over the country.
Now, I’m not naïve enough to believe that all the attention Monkman has garnered is positive; in fact, most probably like him “ironically”. They love to mock him, rather than genuinely love him. He’s a novelty that they’re probably already bored of at the time of publishing this. I put it to you, however, that this sudden wave of attention for University Challenge, Monkman himself and academia in general, could be good.

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Review Wednesday | Book Review – Wormwood

It is London, 1756. In his Bloomsbury attic sits Dr Sabian Blake – astronomer, scientist, and master of the Kabbalah. Dr Blake is in possession of the Nemorensis, an ancient leather-bound book that holds the secrets of the universe. Scribbled into one of its margins is a mysterious prophecy and deciphering it could prove the key to saving London from a catastrophic fate. But there are others interested in the Nemorensis too, for more sinister reasons . . .

Wormwood is an allegorical fantasy novel, with strong Christian imagery throughout. The story centres around a book called the Nemorensis, seen by some as a fount of knowledge and others the Devil’s work. Dr Sabian Blake, owner of Nemorensis at the beginning of the book, finds a prediction in the book of a comet, Wormwood, falling to Earth and destroying London.

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Review Wednesday(ish) | Book Review – The Golden Tup

I was given this novella in exchange for an honest review. Sorry it’s late! 

The Golden Tup is a novella, originally published in a collection called The Red Grouse Tales – named for the pub in which the stories were told by the author’s friends. The idea of a collection of stories originally verbally told, while an ancient tradition, has become quintessentially British to me. This may be to do with the sheer amount of Victorian fiction I’ve read with this theme, but I am partial to these kinds of stories.

With this in mind, the story is more a story-in-a-story. It opens with the storyteller and her friends. One of the friends enquires about the main characters of the actual story, leading to this being told. The Golden Tup reminds me of The Turn of the Screw in many ways, the obvious similarities in format being one of them.

The darkness and ambiguity in the story also reminds me of James’ work. The Golden Tup is incredibly dark in many ways. The main story focuses on a young couple who move into a long-abandoned farm house. They live a relatively happy, peaceful existence; until things ominously take a turn for the worst. Their tale mirrors that of the previous tenants in many ways, shedding light on why the property had been unoccupied for so long. Garland uses supernatural and religious themes that work well with such a rural, traditional setting. I like the use of Milton’s Paradise Lost, although I did find that this was forced at times.

There were several parts where the writing fell slightly short for me, but that is almost forgiven by the format of the tale. This is a ‘campfire’ sort of story, made to be told in a raw and natural way. It isn’t intended as perfectly polished literary narrative, and that works in this instance. It is the kind of story I can imagine people telling based on shocking headlines or local dramas – if there’s one thing I know about villages it’s that both imaginations and gossip run wild.

This adds a sort-of quaintness to an otherwise depressing and quite shocking tale. It is grounded in the more realistic setting of the pub in which it is told. The rural, quaint overtones are again comparable to many Victorian works of this kind, such as Frankenstein. There’s an element of fun that works to engage the reader further in the tale.

Overall I really enjoyed this story. It was short enough to read on a train journey but engaging enough that I would want more, and may get hold of the full collection. It is a nice little horror story to sink your teeth into, with some interesting motifs and themes.

See you soon,

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Sneak Peek Saturday!

So I don’t think this will really become a thing because I really don’t write creatively anywhere near as often as I should, but I’ve had these characters/this story kicking around for a really long time now and I’ve not really done much with it. 

Over the last 6 years or so I’ve had periods of time in my life where I’ve had the luxury of being able to do the writer-y thing and sit in a coffee shop and work for hours; bliss, right? This hasn’t been possible recently, but it is how I started the idea this piece is a part of. I worked in a charity shop over the summer of 2014 and in the quieter periods there was a lot of staring out of the window while stabbing myself with the tagging gun  being a totally competent employee with perfect hand-eye coordination who could tag clothes and daydream at the same time. I once watched an older lady eat lunch at a bench opposite the shop under an umbrella – on a perfectly sunny day. That’s how the main character of the actual story, Lyza (the grandmother in this extract) came to be. I’ve got my characters mapped out and a few small extracts like this but working out a full plot is a challenge and a half. It’s meant to just be a really fun, silly little story! 

 Just for some context, as this is an extract therefore not really meant to be read alone, Wyn and Lyza are vampires, Janey is half vampire but her dad Cal (Wyn’s husband) is a fire demon. Janey’s two, so trying to control her powers in the human world is tricky, to say the least. This extract is really, really short but I hope you enjoy it all the same.

 

‘Janey, we’re going to be late.’
‘I don’t want a hat!’ Janey screamed, throwing the straw hat onto the floor and stomping her foot. Wyn scooped the hat up and put it back on her daughter’s head.
‘You have to wear it, you’ll burn otherwise.’

‘No.’ Janey glared at her mother in defiance. Wyn jumped behind the sofa, just as two rays of orange shot from Janey’s eyes and scorched the wall where her knees had been only a second before. The hat followed and Janey ran off. Wyn heard her struggling up the stairs, and took her chance.
‘Just like her father. Right then, desperate times call for desperate measures.’ She went to the wicker box next to the sofa and pulled out a thick, velvet throw. She swept out of the room, catching her daughter halfway up the stairs. In one smooth motion she had her covered from head to toe in the blanket, rushed outside and strapped into her car seat.

‘Hi mum, I’m really sorry but we’re going to be late. Janey would rather burn holes in the sofa than wear her hat. We’re on our way but I need to go to the shop and get another throw first, she’s gone through another two this afternoon.’
‘You should just let her go outside without it, she’ll be happy to wear it then.’
‘Oh let’s just give her garlic bread as well while we’re at it, shall we? I’m not letting her burn, mum.’
‘I’m kidding darling, just get here when you can. I’ll get Henry to speak to her when you get here, she’ll listen to him.’
‘Thanks mum, see you soon.’

Wyn parked the car and sighed in relief as she looked in her centre mirror; Janey was fast asleep. She silently prayed that she’d stay that way, at least until she could get her back in the car. She put on her own hat, a black sunhat with large rims, before gently placing the straw hat on Janey’s head.

‘Mumma?’ Janey rubbed her eyes, waking up just as they were at the checkout. She looked around, confused.
‘Well, look who’s awake! Hi there pretty girl!’ Wyn smiled at the cashier, an older woman with a strong Southern American drawl. ‘And isn’t that a lovely hat you’re wearing!’
Wyn froze, worried that Janey would get angry if she realised she was wearing the hat again. Janey, on the other hand, seemed quite happy to accept the compliment, giggling.
‘Thank you.’ She said, looking angelic. Wyn almost rolled her eyes as the cashier took a lollipop out of the box at the till.
‘Is she allowed one? My treat for being so good.’
‘Yes, thank you. You’re very kind.’ That’s why she was being so agreeable, Wyn thought, anything for sweets.

I know it’s short and unpolished but I hope you enjoyed – unfortunately not had much time this week but I will be back with a review for you on Wednesday! 

See you soon,

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PS I know the photo has nothing to do w this, I just didn’t have anything relevant! Plus it’s only part of my face so like, sneak peek? Kinda? It’s a stretch.

Last Post: Review Wednesday | Book Review – Paris For One and Other Stories

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May be where I got Cal’s name from. Maybe. [x]

 


Review Wednesday | Book Review – Paris For One and Other Stories

I was given a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Paris for One and Other Stories is, as you might expect from the title, a book of short stories. The book features the titular Paris for One, more of a novella than short story, followed by 10 shorter stories of varying lengths.

Paris for One, the main story, follows an anxious Nell as she travels to Paris for the first time. What was supposed to be a romantic weekend with her uninterested boyfriend soon turns into a journey of self-discovery and of Nell finding her courage. The story also follows Fabien, a Parisian writer who was left heartbroken by his now ex-girlfriend a few months before the story begins. He is working on a book but lacks the motivation and confidence to finish it.

Okay, so you can probably see where this is going. I can’t say the story isn’t predictable, but it’s well written, charming and sophisticated.

All of the stories follow similar themes of romance and self-discovery. Relationships are the central theme for this collection. There are marriages, new loves, break ups and old friends. Couples who can’t make it work and couples who work through thick and thin. The protagonists are all strong, realistic women. Some of the stories are set in Paris, but this isn’t a running theme.

As a historical fiction junkie, it comes as no surprise that my favourite story in the collection is Honeymoon in Paris. I adore when stories combine the past with the present, but it is so easy to get wrong that I approach these kinds of stories tentatively. Moyes got this trope completely spot on, however, with her tales of Liv and Sophie. It was only on googling the book for this review that I learned that this is a sort of mini-prequel to a novel based on the two women, The Girl You Left Behind – it’s safe to say that I will be giving that a read!

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I was in London when I started it and I feel like it would be a perfect commuting read. The stories are gripping but wrap up nicely, and can be read in short periods of time. While I have found myself wanting more from some of the stories, they work wonderfully as stand-alones and are all paced really well.  They might not be deep, brooding or particularly “literary”, but these are lovely little stories to brighten your day with and help restore some of your faith in humanity. I hadn’t read any of JoJo Moyes’ work until now, but I can see what all the fuss is about.

See you soon,

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Last Post: Spoiler-Free Thoughts on Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

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