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review 2018-11-15 03:29
The Golem and the Jinni (Audiobook)
The Golem and the Jinni: A Novel - Helene Wecker,George Guidall

They say there are no new stories and only seven basic plots, and that is certainly true. Trying to find new ways to retell stories and spin those plots has been the tasks of authors and storytellers since the moment right after the very first story was ever told, and every once in a rare while an author comes along who can bring something truly fresh to the scene. This is such a book. 

 

It's been a long time since I've been this impressed by a book. Maybe it helps that I'm not especially familiar with golems or jinnis, though the mythology used here is on point with what I do know of them. The magic comes in putting these mystical creatures in turn-of-the century Big Apple and putting them both in positions that require them to examine and test their very natures. The supporting cast is equally as fascinating, from Ice Cream Selah, Maryam Faddoul, Arbeely, Rabbi Meyer and Michael Levy, to name a few. They're all trying to figure out life, figure out their place in it - even when they think they know what that place should be - and watching as the author weaves their various storylines together like the Fates at their loom. 

 

This was enrapturing, made even more so because I couldn't figure out where the story was going or how it would all be resolved. For every thread I managed to tie together, there were several others that I couldn't see how they connected. And I really didn't want to. I was happy to just sit back and allow the story to unfold in its own time, and it didn't disappoint.

 

The narrator, George Guidall, does a wonderful job capturing the many characters and bringing their cultures and neighborhoods to life. 

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review 2018-11-13 20:16
A powerful and poignant drama recommended to book clubs
The Swooping Magpie - Liza Perrat

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (author, check here if you are interested in getting your book reviewed) and was provided with an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

This is the fifth of Liza Perrat’s novels I read, so you won’t be surprised to hear that I am a fan. I have read her historical novels in The Bone Angel Series, and also The Silent Kookaburra, set, like this novel, in the 1970s. It seems that the author intends to write a new series of independent novels, set in Australia in the 1970s, reflecting the everyday lives and realities of women in the period, and this is the second one. All of the author’s novels have female protagonists and closely explore their subjectivities and how they adapt to their social circumstances in the different historical periods. They might be fictional but the pay close attention to details and are the result of careful research.

Here, the main character is Lindsay Townsend, who narrates the story in the first person, in three different time periods, the early 1970s, the early 1990s, and the final fragment, set in 2013. The first part, and the longest shows us, Lindsay, when she is about to become 16. She is (at least on the surface), a very confident girl, clever, pretty, with plenty of money, from a good family, although not all is at it seems. She seems to lead a charmed life, but her home life is rather sad, with a violent father more interested in keeping up appearances than in looking after his wife and daughter, and a mother hooked on pills and spending as much time as possible out of the house on her charity work. Despite all that, Lindsay is not a particularly sympathetic character, and I know that might be a problem for readers who are not that keen on first-person narratives, as placing you in the skin of a character you don’t like might make for an uncomfortable reading experience, even if it is for a very good reason. She is a typical teenager, overconfident, and a bit of a bully, showing no sympathy for anybody’s circumstances at the beginning of the book. She dismisses her peers, feeling superior to all of them, and, as usual at that age, she believes she knows better than anybody and is invincible. That lands her in a lot of trouble, as she falls for one of the teachers, with consequences that readers might guess but that, at the time, don’t cross her mind. At a time when society was far less tolerant of alternative families, and women’s liberation had not taken hold, Lindsay is faced with an impossible decision and is suddenly confronted with a reality miles away from her everyday life. Her intelligence (unfortunately not accompanied by common sense) and her stubbornness don’t provide her with any answers when confronted with a teenage pregnancy. Faced with hard work, and thrown in the middle of a group of girls from different walks of life and social classes, she discovers what she is really made off and learns a very bitter lesson.

Although Lindsay herself is not likeable, especially at the beginning of the story, when she goes to St. Mary’s we learn about the varied experiences of other girls in her same circumstances and it is impossible not to feel touched and care for them. We have girls from the rural outback, abused by relatives, others who are the children of immigrant families who have no means to look after their babies, and with Downey, the little aboriginal girl whose story is, perhaps, the most heart-wrenching because she is a child herself, we get a representation of the scale of the problem (and a pointed reminder of the aboriginal experience in Australia). This was not something that only happened to girls of a certain social class or ethnic origin. It happened to everybody.  Through the different timelines, we get to follow the historic and social changes that took place, how laws affected adopted children and their biological parents, and we also get a picture of the ongoing effect those events had on those women, the children, and their families. We have women who never want to learn what happened to their babies, others who try but cannot get any information, others who get reunited with their children many years later, some who suffer ongoing negative consequences from their experiences, whilst others manage to create new lives for themselves. But the wound of the loss is always present.

The author deals with the tragic topic skilfully. If at times some of the scenes seem to have come out of a horrific version of a fairy tale (there are characters who are like evil witches, and Lindsay and her friends confront tasks that would put Cinderella to shame), and the degree of corruption and conspiracy stretches the imagination, we only need to read the news and listen to personal accounts of women who have been in such situation to realise that, whatever the concessions to fiction, the writer has done her research and has managed to capture the thoughts and feelings of the many women affected by this issue.

The action is set in Australia, mostly in Wollongong, New South Wales, with some events taking place in Sidney and other areas of the country. I have always admired the author’s talent for recreating the locations of her stories and for making us experience them with all of our senses, submerging us in the smells, the sounds, the tastes (I don’t know some of the foods and labels included, but they do add to the feel of authenticity), the flora and fauna, the clothing, the music, and the language of the time. Although forced adoptions are a widespread problem and it has affected a number of other countries (we might not know its full scale yet), the realistic location (and the family connection and research the author refers to in the author’s note at the back of the book) makes it more immediate and real still.

The story is extremely well-written, with enough description, both of the place and of the period, to ground the action without making it drag, but although it manages to combine action and surprises with reflective passages, the strongest point of the novel is its exploration of the psychological effects of losing a child, especially in those circumstances. The author manages to capture the thoughts and feelings of the character and through her conversations; we also get some insight into the experiences of others. In the first part of the book we have a young girl, and we get to share her thought process, her hesitations, doubts, and we feel trapped with her by a situation she is not in control of, and even though we might not have much in common with her, we do empathise and get to see things from her point of view. We do suffer with her and her friends, and although we might not like everything she says or does, we appreciate her kindness and the way she gets to bond with the other girls at St. Mary’s. Lindsay lives through much heartache, and grows and changes as a result, but people reading this book need to be aware that there are disturbing scenes and the topic of adoptions and depression might hit close home for many.

This is another great novel and although it can be read simply as fiction, I would recommend it in particular to readers interested in adoptions, particularly forced adoptions, and the perspectives of the families involved. I think it would make for a great book club choice, as the subject is one that will interest many readers, and it will bring much discussion, and the author includes a detailed list of some of the resources she has used to research the topic, providing extra material for those interested. Personally, I felt more empathy for other characters than for Lindsay, but no matter how much or how little we like each individual who went through such experiences, this novel will give readers pause and make them reflect upon the horrors that have been enforced in the recent past in the name of morality and decency. A powerful and poignant novel, to add to the catalogue of an accomplished and talented writer.

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review 2018-11-13 01:56
Review: Kiss Me at Christmas by Valerie Bowman
Kiss Me at Christmas - Valerie Bowman

Reviewed for Wit and Sin

 

Lady Regina Haversham has long been holding out for a love match. But as she nears thirty, her uncle is determined to see her wed. Regina knows she cannot put off her uncle’s chosen suitor forever, but she’s determined to at least have control over who she loses her virginity to. And there’s only one man she wants: famous Bow Street Runner Daffin Oakleaf. Though he’s tempted, Daffin turns Regina down. That would be the end of it, except it seems that someone is targeting Regina. With her cousin out of town, Daffin is the one tasked with protecting her. Close quarters have a way of bringing down barriers, but given the difference in their stations, Regina and Daffin will need a Christmas miracle to get their happily ever after.

Kiss Me at Christmas is a warmhearted, sparkling holiday romance. Regina and Daffin absolutely charmed me; they’re both incredibly likeable and they have wonderful chemistry. Regina is open, curious, and kind while Daffin is protective and devilishly handsome. Physically, intellectually, and emotionally Regina and Daffin are a match and their romance builds from flirty and sweet to spicy. Yet while it’s clear they’re meant for each other, class differences aren’t always easy to overcome, even if Daffin is close friends with Regina’s cousin.

The romance in Kiss Me at Christmas makes the pages of the story fly by. But the romance is intertwined with the mystery of who is trying to kill Regina. At first, I enjoyed this subplot and had my theories about who was behind everything. Unfortunately, a mystery needs to have a satisfying – or at least logical – conclusion and this one was both unsatisfying and seemed to come out of left field. It felt manufactured for plot reasons, which was a pity because Daffin and Regina are such entertaining characters that you can’t help but feel they deserved better. This isn’t an insignificant quibble, but I still honestly enjoyed this book anyway. There’s a buoyancy to Valerie Bowman’s writing that just lifts me up whenever I read her books and Kiss Me at Christmas is no exception.


FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

 

Source: witandsin.blogspot.com/2018/11/review-kiss-me-at-christmas-by-valerie.html
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review 2018-11-12 21:18
The Lady's Guide to Petticoats and Piracy (Montague Siblings #2)
The Lady's Guide to Petticoats and Piracy - Mackenzi Lee

While I enjoyed The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue, I found it uneven in the way it handled both the historical and fantasy aspects of the story. It felt like neither one really got their fair share of the story, and both suffered as a result. So I was hesitant to give this one a try and probably would've passed it up if one of my groups hadn't chosen it for the book of the month.

 

This was a little slow to start, and Felicity drove me up the wall at first with her selfishness and single-mindedness. Ambition is all well and good, but when it comes hand in hand with stepping over anyone who gets in your way, I can't really back that person up. Thankfully, Felicity does a lot of growing up over the course of the book and it was fun to watch. 

 

I also really appreciated that this book examined all aspects of feminism and femininity, and didn't just focus on the "women can do men's work" aspect of it, because what is men's work anyway? It's a ludicrous concept. But so often in literature and media, girls or women who exhibit more "manly" traits - being good at fighting/killing, being aggressive, etc - are applauded, while women who are traditionally feminine are not. Just look at the different receptions that Arya and Sansa Stark get. This book shows that there's more than one way for women to be independent, strong and self-assured. With Felicity, Johanna and Sim, we get three such women as they go out into the world and figure out how to make their own way in it. It does get a little head-bashy at times, but this is still such an important message that girls need to learn and hear (there's no wrong way to be a woman), that I didn't mind it too much when it got a little preachy.

 

Also, Felicity is ace/aro and I identified so much with her on that aspect of herself. Because really, kissing? Ew. In addition to her is Sim, an African Muslim lesbian/bisexual (we don't really know; it doesn't really matter), and some cameos by Monty and Percy, so there's lots of LGBT+ rep in this book. 

 

I'm confused about who the girl in the cover is supposed to be though. Felicity has red hair, Sim is black, and Johanna doesn't come in until about a third of the way through, though the hair color's a match. But the story is told from Felicity's POV. *shrugs* It's a cool cover. :D

 

I thought the historical aspects were much better handled here than in the first book, and were given much better detail and attention. The fantasy elements too were better handled and integrated into the story, though it takes awhile for them to show up. 

I was still bemused about some of it though, in particular that Johanna doesn't bat an eye at learning that dragons are real. It makes sense for Felicity to take it in stride, given the previous book, but Johanna didn't know magic and alchemy and such were real until that moment. How about some doubt, at least? "I'll believe it when I see it" maybe. Something.

(spoiler show)

Johanna and Felicity both display some uncomfortable (but appropriate for the time) colonialist attitudes at points that I wanted to shake them for. 

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review 2018-11-12 17:22
Review: “The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle” by Stuart Turton
The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle - Stuart Turton

 

~ 5 STARS ~

 

 

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