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review 2018-05-25 22:00
"An Argumentation Of Historians - The Chronicles of St Mary's #9" by Jodi Taylor
 An Argumentation of Historians: The Chronicles of St. Mary's - Jodi Taylor,Zara Ramm

 

 

So the last St. Mary's book, "And The Rest Is History"mangled my emotions with great skill, putting me through much more angst than any allegedly light story about time-travelling historians has a right to. In her introduction to "An Argumentation Of Historians", Jodi Taylor says that her publishers asked if she could make this volume a little less depressing.  I think she managed that, but only just.

 

When Max says towards the start of the book:

"It had been a bad year but it was over now. I could look forward to the future"

I'm sure not a single reader will believe her.

There are lots of good things in this chronicle of St. Mary's. I was immediately back at home watching St. Mary's muddle through with stout hearts, awful luck and a reckless excess of pluck. We started off at a joust with Henry VIII and at the burning of Persepolis with Alexander the Great. It was all good stuff.

 

When it turned out that Clive Roland was back as the big bad and I became less pleased. This is a man with all of Time to choose from who still chooses to spend his energies plotting revenge on Max. He's apparently clever enough to avoid the might of the Time Police yet too dumb to kill Max on sight. I've had enough of that. I'd like a new bad guy. or at least the slow, painful and definitively final excoriation of this one. I found myself saying: "New balls, please!"

 

Then Jodi Taylor did it again. Just as I'd grown dissatisfied, Max ends up, lost, alone and with no hope of rescue in England in 1399 and we are treated to an engaging story of her efforts to make a life for herself there. This part of the book, which seemed like half of it, is wonderfully done.

 

The plot twist at the end holds up and explains a lot of the action but I didn't find it as satisfying as the 1399 section.

 

This was a good St. Mary's episode with some evocative pieces and it moves the story arc along but I'll be happier if/when we get a different big bad on the scene (although I'd be happy to applaud clever and violent revenge in the meantime.

 

 

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review 2018-05-02 22:51
The Glass Spare by Lauren Destefano
The Glass Spare - Lauren DeStefano

Well, I liked this! A lot, in fact. I don't know if it's because I went in with barely any expectations, or if I'm just in the mood for this kind of book, but I can tell you that I totally enjoyed this whole story. Kudos to Destefano, seriously. I've been in a weird place with YA Fantasy lately and I feel like I'm just always setting myself up to dislike books. Hahaha. This one proved me beautifully wrong.

 

Cliffhanger ending was expected, but I definitely want the next book. 

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review 2018-04-26 19:27
"The Trick To Time" by Kit De Waal -Highly Recommended
The Trick To Time - Kit de Waal

I chose"The Trick To Time" by Kit De Waal as one of the six books I wanted to read from the sixteen books on the 2018 Women's Fiction Prize Longlist and I'm delighted that I did as it is one of the best books I've read so far this year. I recommend the audiobook version of "The Trick To Time" as Fiona Shaw's narration is perfect. Hearing the voices of the two Irish Aunts nicknames Pestilence and Famine, I was transported back to listening to my grandmother and her sister who spoke in exactly the same way.

 

I went into the book without reading the publisher's summary and I'm glad I did as it reads like the summary of a different book entirely, suggesting either magical realism or a historical romance.

 

For me, the strength of "The Trick To Time" is that exists purely to tell the story of how the main character, Mona, came to be Mona. The story is told in two parallel timelines: Mona as she reaches her sixtieth birthday, living alone in a seaside town in England, making dolls and providing some mysterious service to some of the women who visit her shop and Mona as a little girl, growing up in Ireland and then moving, in her late teens, to Birmingham to make a new life for herself.

 

The thing that most engaged me about the book was understanding how the little girl playing on the beach, and the young woman going nervously to her first dance in Birmingham, became the calm, strong but sad woman who makes wooden dolls. The parallel timeline structure of the book kept this at the centre of my attention and kept surprising me, not through the use of tricks or crazy plot twists but by how real and honest the changes in Mona seemed. I'm the same age as Mona and when I look back, I also wonder how the boy I was became the man I am. I was there and I yet I understand Mona's journey better than my own.

 

I was delighted to see that the sixty-year-old Mona isn't presented either as an old-woman far along the crone road or a woman still pretending to be twenty. Mona knows herself, she knows what's happened to her, she recognises the compromises and limitations in how she lives now and she has still a strong desire to find a way to live her life.

 

There is a real sense of time passing and perceptions changing while the people themselves remain who they have always truly been as if time simply wears away the bits of themselves that they'd only dressed up in in their youth.

 

This is a deeply empathic book about the nature of grief, the enduring impact of loss and the effect of time on emotions, memory and our own sense of identity.

 

I won't put spoilers in this review so I won't talk about the central trauma of Mona's life, except to say that it made me angry and it made me cry and it filled me with deep admiration for the service that Mona provided to others in later life.

 

Mona is a working-class Irish woman, living as an immigrant in Birmingham at the time of the IRA bombing that unleashed so much pain and hate.  Her ambition is simple: to make a family with the man she loves. By today's standards, they have nothing but they have enough to live independently and dream of a life filled with children who are loved and cared for with: "A roof on the house, food on the table and a coat on the hook".. I recognise those kinds of circumstances and that simple ambition but I rarely see it in books that are nominated for literary prizes. I also recognise the situation of being an immigrant and just trying to make your way. I like the matter-of-fact way this was dealt with: no polemics, no dog-whistle posturing, just an honest personal narrative.

 

The writing is beautiful without being flowery. From the beginning, I understood that there was more going on than I yet knew about and that understanding filled me with pleasant anticipation of a real story worth waiting for. It was a story that caught me by surprise time and again, up to the final chapter, but each surprise made more sense of Mona's life and actions rather than feeling like a magic trick.

 

Although this is Mona's story, the other people in it are more than cyphers. They are people with histories and emotions and opinions of their own and they rarely take the path that convention or cliché would channel them to.

 

For example, Mona's father is a complex and compassionate man. When his still-young wife is dying and Mona, his daughter, is playing on the beach to avoid her mother's illness, he finds her and persuades her to spend time with her mother. He says:
 
"One day, you will want these hours back, my girl. You will wonder how you lost them and you will want to get them back. There's a trick to time. You can make it expand or you can make it contract. Make it shorter or make it longer." 

The gentle, sad truth of this sets the tone for the whole novel.

 

I'll be reading Kit de Waal's back-catalogue and anything else she publishes. I think she's an extraordinary talent.

 

4480If you'd like to know more about her and how she wrote "The Trick To Time", take a look at this Interview with Kit de Waal in "The Guardian" covering:

"The novelist on her Irish heritage, the passing of time and why she’s glad she didn’t start young"

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review 2018-04-20 03:03
Heroes of the Frontier
Heroes of the Frontier - Dave Eggers

This was tough for me. I love Eggers' work, and so much of this is what I would expect from him, but there are parts that just left me irritated, confused, or extremely stressed out for this unprepared, ill-equipped, mother of two, who displays an almost stunning lack of judgment when she takes her children on an inspired but completely unplanned trip to Alaska. The children, of course, are perfectly sweet, beautiful, wise little Yodas, who manage to charm even when they are at their worst.

 

Despite this, I was rooting for Josie. I bookmarked my audio-book and listened to one part several times — describing how we went from 4 parent visits a year at school to 46-hours' worth of recommended involvement (in a month). So, I cheered for Josie, even when she did some super questionable things (did anyone besides Josie not figure out the jumpsuits immediately?). And I almost made it all the way through. With about an hour or so left, Josie composes some music, and the story went from completely unrealistic yet kind of sweet and brave, to you have got to be kidding me. I considered Josie's musical scoring a charming affectation, a cute little character trait, but this was completely bizarre and almost offensive (to all musicians, everywhere, and I am not a musician). It went right off the rails for me after that.

 

There are some awesome, radical, refreshing ideas here about parenting and life, and it would have been so great if the rest of it had measured up to that great promise. Based on some other comments, I am guessing the geography is not well-researched, which seems a shame, and also easily avoidable. Any Eggers fans out there? Curious to know your thoughts.

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review 2018-04-18 22:34
"Big Vamp On Campus - Half-Moon Hollow 5.5" by Molly Harper - fun novella for fans of the Hollow
Big Vamp on Campus - Molly Harper

Visiting Half-Moon Hollow is a guilty pleasure that I indulge in when I'm looking for an éclair read: a lightning flash of escapist fun that is light and simple but packed with good things.

 

"Big Vamp On Campus" is a mini-éclair, a novella in the Half-Moon Hollow series, that focuses on Ophelia, one of my favourite characters, and captures her during a period of transition.

 

In previous books, Ophelia, a 400-year-old vampire who looks sixteen and wears a Hello Kitty backpack, has been the Big Bad: a power-hungry bureaucrat with a lethal temper and a reputation for spectacular acts of violence.

 

"Big Vamp On Campus" follows on from Ophelia's dastardly deeds in "The Dangers Of Dating A Rebound Vampire". Ophelia has lost her powerbase and is being punished by being sent to college "to engage in a normal college experience" so that she can demonstrate that she can control her homicidal impulses.

 

What follows is a pleasant slice of college life in which Ophelia gets to try out being normal by doing exotic things like making friends with nice people who have no agenda that she has to worry about or respond to. True, Ophelia still unleashes violence on her annoying vampire roommate but no actual torture is involved and the roommate really is unpleasant.

 

Ophelia was always more than a self-serving, paranoid, manipulative predator. With her blood-mate and her sister, she is capable of demonstrating passionate loyalty and her own peculiar brand of affection. What makes this book work is seeing Ophelia explore that side of herself and expand the radius of the circle that contains US rather than THEM.

 

This is a fun book for the fans but not the right place to start. If you're new to Half-Moon Hollow, I recommend that you go back to "Nice Girls Don't Have Fangs" and take the journey from the beginning.

 

I recommend the audiobook version, read with skill by Amanda Ronconi. Click on the SooundCloud link below to hear a sample.

 

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