Review

Review: After Alice by Gregory Maguire

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2 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

There is a definite trend for Alice in Wonderland related things at the moment, what with the 150th anniversary of the books publication in 2015. Since then I’ve seen countless retellings, spin-offs and books loosely inspired by the works of Lewis Carroll. Therefore, anyone writing one of these such novels has to work extra hard to make theirs stand out from the crowd, and sadly, apart from the gorgeous cover, After Alice didn’t really manage the job.

Following the tale of Ada, a friend of Alice who is very, very briefly mentioned in Alice in Wonderland, After Alice demonstrates how Wonderland has changed after Alice’s visit. Which is to say, not much at all. Following Alice’s journey almost step for step, Ada meets the various denizens of Wonderland – the walrus and the carpenter, the White Rabbit, the Duchess, the Red Queen – but, unlike Alice, her interaction is minimal and not half as entertaining. Ada seems to have none of Alice’s curiosity in ending up in Wonderland, and therefore the reader is not exposed to as much as they could be.

There were a lot of things I did not particularly enjoy about the novel. First, the purple prose, clearly trying to emulate Carroll’s style of writing, but falling slightly flat. Secondly, the sudden switches between tenses for no apparent reason – it would go from past to present tense and back without explanation, which threw me off a bit. And finally, this book shows a much darker side to Alice and her family. Considering that these were real people, and at times they appear almost vulgar and grotesque, I actually felt almost uncomfortable at their portrayal.

Every character felt flat and stereotyped, and the frequent switches between point of view (both Ada and Alice’s older sister, Lydia) made it too disjointed to feel like an adventure. Ultimately, I had a lot of trouble concentrating on this book, and it never managed to fully pull me down the rabbit hole and into Wonderland.

Review

Review: Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye

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5 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free, in exchange for an honest review.

Jane Eyre is one of my favourite books: after reading it first at school aged 16, I then re-read in 2014. This time round, without the need to analyse every little detail, I absolutely fell in love with it. Ever since then, I’ve been looking out for any Jane Eyre inspired books or retellings, which is why I was so eager to accept a copy of Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye.

Jane Steele is not strictly a retelling of Jane EyreJane Eyre is in fact one of the favourite books of the protagonist, and she often references it. Her story mirrors that of Jane Eyre’s, with some differences, and there are many small references to parts of the book. However, the main difference between this Jane and the original? Jane Steele is a killer. It might seem like a rather outlandish and ridiculous idea, but actually it works so well. Jane Eyre is already a Gothic novel – the huge house, a mysterious employer, strange noises at night and of course the goings on in the attic… Lyndsey Faye takes all of this and adds even more.

This Jane is not the one we know – she is not meek, but cool and cunning. And despite being a killer, she is a likeable character. The book describes her as a ‘serial killer’, but I wouldn’t go as far as that. She kills when she has to – for self-defence, or to protect others, rather than just picking targets at random. But despite knowing from the very beginning that Jane is a murderer, when the murders happen they are still shocking and brutal. Jane Steele is practically the opposite of Jane Eyre in every way – she is confident, sexual, more experience with life, not to mention has slight murderous tendencies… yet despite this, I could easily tie the events of this book back to the original.

There are other differences too. Instead of a ward from France, Mr. Thornfield (Rochester) has a ward from India. Mr. Thornfield is also a lot more open and talkative than Mr. Rochester, but still very mysterious. Lyndsey Faye also reverses some events from the book, e.g. Charles Thornfield spooking Jane’s horse as she is riding down the lane, as opposed to the other way round, which was how Jane Eyre met Mr. Rochester for the first time.

Beautifully written, with a tone that truly evokes the original, Lyndsay Faye’s Jane Steele is a truly gripping book, perfect for fans of Jane Eyre who are looking for something a little bit different. I’ve read a faerie version of Jane Eyre (Ironskin), but I never expected to come across something like this! It is incredibly clever and still original enough to stand out, whilst still drawing from the major events of Jane Eyre. I liked that Jane Steele referenced Bronte’s work herself, somehow that grounded it even more. And if my review isn’t enough to convince you, know that this also comes highly recommended by the Jane Eyre expert herself, Charlene!

 

Favourite Quote:

[Jane, on meeting Mr. Thornfield for the first time] “If I were to kill this very intriguing man, I wonder how difficult he would make the task?”

This stood out to me so much, because it is definitely not something that would have come out of Jane Eyre’s mouth!

jane eyre gif

Review

Review: Holy Cow by David Duchovny

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2 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

This book was… uh, not really my kind of thing. At all. I read it in about three hours, but seven pages into it I already hated the tone and the awful jokes. So by that point, I was truly glad it was only 250 pages or so.

Holy Cow follows a young cow who learns the truth about ‘meat farms’, and decides to move to India where she won’t be eaten. She is joined by her friend Tom the Turkey, who wants to go to Turkey, and a pig called Shalom who has recently coverted to the Jewish faith and decides to move to Israel. The only problem – well, they’re animals, and can’t just waltz onto a plane.

But oh – they can.

I just didn’t quite get where this book was going. The characters used slang like ‘totes cray-cray and ‘amazeballs’, as well as actually saying ‘OMG’, and every time slang was used I found myself grinding my teeth (pls pay for my dental work Mr. Duchovny, thanks). And let’s forget all about that dreaded word, the worst one ever… ‘bae’. No. No no no. Please don’t ever use that in a book – okay, maybe it would work in a book where the characters are all teen HUMANS, but there is no excuse this time.

There were also about 50 mentions of ‘my editor told me to do this so I will…’ as well as pop culture references and even a reference or two to porn. This entire book felt like one atrocious mess.

The only redeeming feature was the illustrations, which were really quite cute. Elsie was only a likeable character when she was being serious, but sadly the moral of the story was pretty much downplayed and hidden behind all the ‘humour’.

Try again, Mulder.
you tried

Review

Review: Boy21 by Matthew Quick

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4 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

I’ve noticed a formula with all of the Matthew Quick books I’ve read so far. They all feature:

  • a main character (or characters) with quirky habits or personal issues that go deeper than they initially appear to
  • an emphasis on the importance of family and friendship, no matter how rocky the relationship, or how difficult things might be
  • a particular hobby or interest that the main character has a real passion for – and it’s not always healthy

So far this formula has worked very well for Quick – and Boy21 is no exception. It’s very much his writing – simple yet unique, thoughtful and very centered around character development. When we first meet Finley, he tells us the short, sweet story of how he met his girlfriend, Erin. They have known each other since they were kids, and their relationship to me felt so genuine. They’re so supportive of each other with their basketball careers. The one element I didn’t quite understand of their relationship was that they broke up every basketball season, then got back together after. I understand why, so they wouldn’t distract each other, but I don’t really understand how they could do it if their relationship was so great. Or maybe that’s the point, they’re so trusting and comfortable with each other that they know three months not even talking each year will be fine?

Russ’ introduction, on the other hand, was crazy. And very sad. Convinced that he is in fact an alien called Boy21, who will be ‘collected’ by his parents in a few months, he refers to Finley as ‘Earthling’ and asks him questions such as where his ‘dwelling pod’ is. Neither Finley, nor the reader, know whether Russ is actually convinced that he is an alien or whether he has just put up this very elaborate front to try and keep the pain of his parents’ murder away – and it’s heartbreaking. In his more lucid moments, Russ proves to be a great friend, and in a strange role reversal, manages to coax Finley out of his shell.

Although Finley was at times a rather spineless character – his main ambition seemed to be to follow Erin around wherever her basketball career might take her, and stay with her for the rest of his life – he was a genuinely selfless guy, prepared to help out Russ, even if his very presence threatened one of the things that meant most to Finley – his place on the basketball team.

Overall, a wonderful story about how different people deal with loss, and a great coming of age tale. My main complaint was that I was bit lost amongst the basketball terminology at times, but that’s about it! A definite recommendation for anyone who has previously enjoyed Quick’s works, as well as those of YA contemporary authors such as John Green.

Review

Review: Doctor’s Notes by Rosemary Leonard

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3 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Last week I discussed the careers of book bloggers, and shared with you all that I aim to one day be a museum curator. But what I somehow failed to mention (don’t ask how) in that post is that my current job is a medical receptionist. It’s an interesting job, both enjoyable and very stressful at times. So when I saw this book on Bookbridgr I had to request it, to compare Rosemary’s stories to my own experiences!

There were some truly hilarious stories, and others that were really quite shocking. For example, within the same week Rosemary saw three teenage girls who’d all recently gotten pregnant and were happy to keep the baby as their boyfriends had proposed. And then a couple of weeks later, all three girls came back with another problem. Turns out they all had gonorrhea, had all been seeing the same man, who had gotten them all pregnant and proposed to each and every one. Although on occasion the detail in some tales was a bit grisly and graphic, the information about various medical conditions was fascinating. And of course there were bits that were possibly only funny if you work in a GP surgery – such as rushing to fulfill QOF targets before the end of the financial year (which we were doing at the end of March this year).

However, whilst it was quite enjoyable, at times it felt a little… uncomfortable, in a way. Obviously when it comes to healthcare there is a MAJOR emphasis on confidentiality, and this felt almost like it was breaching that trust at times. I know the names and identities were changed but still – what if someone featured in the book read it and recognised themselves? Sure, no-one else could, but that person would feel humiliated and betrayed. And then of course that left me feeling conflicted over whether I should really have found some of those stories funny, as they happened to real people and had real consequences. The writing style also reminded me of ‘true life’ stories in those trashy magazines that we love to hate (‘My father is also my brother!‘, I married a serial killer!‘ etc). Unfortunately, what let the book down the most in my eyes was how judgmental I felt Rosemary was at times. She makes far too many comments on class and appearance, and whilst I understand that doctors may see people in a different way because they’re used to making visual assessments, there was really no need for it here.

Overall, a light and quick read – occasionally cringe-inducing and able of making the reader feel rather uncomfortable – but interesting nonetheless. Worth the read if you work in a similar environment, if only for the familiarity.

Review

Review: Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick

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4 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock was initially a difficult book to read. Not because it’s badly written in any way – I requested it as I really enjoyed Matthew Quick’s previous novel, The Silver Linings Playbook. It’s just so full of raw emotion, with a protagonist that you simultaneously feel sorry for and dislike – at least for half of the book.

From the very beginning it is a tragic and detailed story. We’re introduced to Leonard (or rather, he introduces himself) on the morning of his eighteenth birthday. This is when he reveals his plan: to kill a fellow classmate, and then himself, using a World War II handgun. It is unusual in that it has footnotes, and lots of them, in which Leonard explains background information and rambles on about previous events and his innermost thoughts. I really liked the footnotes, as they were a very intimate look into Leonard’s life and mind. Another incredibly clever and particularly sad part of the book are Leonard’s letters from his future self. His favourite teacher, Herr Silverman, encourages Leonard to write them – and he does, even though he has no intention of reaching this future. It’s just so sad, how he has created this perfect life for himself in the future with a beautiful wife and loving daughter, in a post-apocalyptic yet peaceful world, but he’s just so sure he will never even reach that age, let alone have anything like that in his life.

Leonard decides that before he kills himself, he will leave gifts for important people in his life. Four different people, and how very different they are. His elderly neighbour, with whom Leonard shares a love for Humphrey Bogart movies, helps the reader to see a softer, more caring side. A fellow student and violin virtuoso, who really demonstrates that Leonard (ironically) appreciates the little things in life. A pastor’s daughter, who reduces Leonard to just a regular teenage boy. And finally Herr Silverman, his favourite teacher, for whom Leonard shows great respect.

I mentioned that it was difficult reading for the first half. Before you find out exactly just why Leonard is on this path, he seems incredibly judgemental and condescending, constantly looking down on his peers, and just not a likeable character in the slightest. Then the pieces come together and you find out why he is struggling so much – abandoned by his drunkard of a father and unsure if he’s even still alive, neglected by his fashion designer mother who spends most of her time in another state, and one massive reason that suddenly hits you like a ton of bricks when you read it, leaves you reeling and completely changes your perception of Leonard.

The irony is that, for someone who is so intent on killing themselves, Leonard sure thinks about life a lot. He has quite a philosophical view, more so than his classmates, and he is incredibly intelligent. His narrative voice definitely reminded me of Pat in The Silver Linings Playbook – it’s funny how these characters who are seen as ‘unstable’ often have a better grip on life than those who are ‘normal’. In conclusion, Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock is a haunting and tragic story, that completely flips your view of the protagonist halfway through – leaving the reader feeling incredibly judgemental themselves.

Review

Review: The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

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5 out of 5 stars | Goodreads
Set in early twentieth century Alaska, this book has a bleak setting, made ever harsher by Eowyn Ivey’s fantastic prose. From the very first chapter, the reader has a real idea of how tough life is out there, how remote and isolated everything is, and how hard the homesteaders must work to simply survive. In a landscape like this, family life and happy moods are something to cling on to, to keep you going through the cold, winter months. But for Jack and Mabel, life is difficult. Not only do they have to work through the harsh weather, but Mabel is still struggling to cope with the grief of losing a child a decade past.

Suddenly, a young girl starts to appear around their homestead, and over time they earn her trust. Their longing for a child is evident, and the girl’s presence turns a miserable landscape into something magical and wonderful. Ivey’s writing is especially effective here – pointing out the beauty of nature, how the snowflakes fall on eyelashes, the many wild flowers and plants, the variety of animals.

The characters are also wonderfully written. Mabel, whilst at first seemingly weak and fragile, proves herself to be headstrong and hardworking. Jack is stubborn and perhaps a little gruff, but softens up. The Snow Child’ herself is as much of a mystery to the reader as Jack and Mabel, which gives everything a bit of an ethereal feel.

The relationship between Jack and Mabel is very realistic – they are not a passionate couple, they are an old couple, familiar with each others ways, the initial spark long gone. The Snow Child brings them back together, reignites that spark, and that is one of my favourite parts of the story – seeing these two people, who clearly love each other very much, finally appreciating each other once again. Mabel gains confidence, her grief lessens although there is still a melancholy air about her. Jack softens, the wall between him and his wife breaking down.

Overall, this was a beautifully written book that explored various themes – relationships, loss, grief. I especially liked how all of the Snow Child’s speech was written without any quotation marks, as if she was talking directly into the heads of the other characters. It made her all the more mysterious. This should hopefully appeal to many groups of readers – those who like fiction, and those who like something a bit more fantastical.