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review 2018-09-03 23:46
An extraordinary satire with a narrator for the centuries and quite a twist
Scorn - Paul Hoffman

I am writing this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, if you’re looking for reviews, I recommend you check her amazing site here) and I thank her and the publisher for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

When I was first approached about reviewing this novel I was beyond intrigued. It sounded like something utterly unique and out there. I wasn’t sure it would suit my reading taste, but I knew I had to read it because it sounded like nothing I had read before. And although it took me a while to get to it, I am happy to report my first impression was right. This book is… extraordinary.

Yes, this book is extraordinary because it is out of the ordinary, pretty much so. If we try to define its genre, we’ll have many difficulties. Is it a thriller? There is a pretty special serial killer (those of us who regularly read thrillers know that they are becoming more and more bizarre and extreme, but this one is beyond the usual, even by modern standards) and a series of murders and desecrations connected by a several cryptic clues (yes, crosswords also come into it), but it has too many other elements that do not fit in well with this genre. There are mystery and police-procedural elements to a point, and a couple of interesting and quirky detectives (Scrope and Lister, both from the upper crust with outstanding education, interesting connections, and an armed forces background), and a female PC, Molly Coates (a heroine of the working classes, from the North of England and from as different a background as possible to the dynamic duo but as clever).

There is a paranormal/fantasy element (well, there is a wolf/shifter involved, and there are references to other creatures that might fit into a number of different categories), but the plot takes place in the world we live in (scarily so at times) or a close version of it with ‘interesting touches’ (some fictional, some are a matter of interpretation). There is a scientific explanation for some of the events (involving the Large Hadron Collider) that could put one in mind of science fiction novels, but this is not the main focus of the plot.

There are plenty of references to religion (which is one of the main themes of the book, in particular, the Roman Catholic Religion) but a word of warning, I think truly devoted and orthodox followers of the Catholic faith or even convinced Christians might feel offended by some of the content. There are also plenty of references and a focus on current and recent events (like the sexual abuse of children by members of the RC priesthood, there are also comments about politics, media, and political figures, some international but many centred in the UK, and we have close encounters with preeminent figures like Tony Blair, the Queen of England, the Pope…) but although the references are accurate and there are plenty of quotations from books, newspapers, media, and the internet, these are weaved into the story and it is not non-fiction or a factual account. As I mentioned already, there are plenty of details about everyday British life peppered through the book, and although in my opinion it is not necessary to be British or an expert on the UK to fully understand or enjoy the book, I think people with a good knowledge of UK politics, society, and current affairs will find much to enjoy (and think about) when they read this book. There is also romance, a story of opposites attract that goes beyond the conventional, but it is only a subplot (and not typical of the romantic genre).

Oh, and there are some illustrations (like ink etchings) of characters and events in the book, but I wouldn’t call it a comic, or a picture book (although they add greatly to the overall effect).

The book has also an extraordinary narrator that from very early on challenges the readers, promising some things (a great twist at the end, that, let me tell you now, he delivers), coaxing them, warning them, and never letting them become too complacent or ‘safe’. The narrator, whose identity readers will wonder about for much of the book, is opinionated, has strong points of view and is not, and never pretends to be, a neutral observer. He is witty, well-informed, dismissive at times, rude and pushy, but never ever boring. Scorn, the title of the book, is the mode of much of his narration, and I loved his voice from the beginning, but if you don’t, you will have difficulties with the book. I always recommend readers to check a sample of the book before buying, and this is one of those cases when I feel that is a must. Although some of the narration, mostly to do with the investigation and the main characters (I am trying not to reveal too many details of the plot, but let’s say, things are not what they seem, as most readers will suspect from the beginning) is written in the third person, much of what makes the book special and gives it its structure and its distinctiveness is the narrator.

Do not get me wrong, though, there are plenty of other characters, like the investigators I have mentioned, whom we get to know quite well and whose personalities and adventures would provide sufficient material for gripping, if more conventional, novels in their own right. There is also Aaron Gall, the character at the centre of the plot, who is both the anti-hero and victim, and also acts as a catalyst for the action in the book. We get to know him, and the rest of the characters, quite well, and he is also a stand-in for the many people who have survived abuse (more or less extreme) at the hands of those who were supposed to be looking after their education and spiritual well-being. If I had to choose, my favourite would be Molly, perhaps because I have more in common with her than with the rest of the characters, and Lou, the therapist, but they are all interesting and likeable. Here I am referring to the main characters. Some of the other characters, many of whom we only get temporary glimpses of (including the victims) are not necessarily likeable, but they are far from caricatures or cut-out types, and we do get insights into their thoughts and motivations that make them, if not sympathetic, at least real and human. And, that includes the guest appearances by true historical figures.

I have tried very hard not to give away much of the plot, although I hope my mention of some of the themes would suffice to get prospective readers interested. I found it a compelling read, both due to the main storyline, and also to the detours, the narrator comments, and the fanciful asides. But this is not a book that zeroes on the action and dismisses anything that is not relevant to the plot (in that way it is perhaps more of a literary fiction novel, but not quite either). This is a long book that meanders on and off through tangents, which eventually we realise are relevant to the overall book but not always to the thriller part of it, so if you’re an impatient reader looking for a light and thrilling read or a who-done-it, this might not be for you. The style of writing is breath-taking, a tour-de-force, with detailed but clear explanations of scientific points, collections of facts and events that make for gripping reading, psychologically astute descriptions of characters and their motivations, philosophical and moral commentaries that will make readers think, and I highlighted so much of the book that I found it almost impossible to choose some fragments to share, but I will try (avoiding major plot points as well):

But that’s the thing about human beings. It’s not laughter or the ability to stand upright that distinguishes man from the animals, it’s the capacity for incompetence. When any other creature makes a mistake, it gets eaten.

It was a truth universally acknowledged in the police force that the middle classes were generally terrified of the police and would shop their grannies without a moment’s hesitation once a cop asked them a question.

Ever had a sudden moment of realisation, an epiphany of the truth that marked out a momentous line in the sands of self-knowledge between everything you thought was the case about the kind of creature you were and everything that was really true? Neither have I.

I have already warned readers about the religious aspects of the book that might not sit well with many readers (no, this is not a Christian book in the usual sense, probably a book that in certain circles and in eras past would have been called a ‘wicked’ book), and there is also violence and some sex scenes (the violence is far more graphic than the sex, in fact it is so extreme that the effect is somewhat cartoonish, but I am not squeamish, so don’t take my word for it). It also deals on a serious and difficult subject, and although it does so in a peculiar way, it does not shy away from the most horrific aspects of it. Having said all that, this is a book I thoroughly recommend. It is not a book for everybody, as you’ll have surmised if you’ve read the rest of the lengthy review (sorry. I got more carried away than usual), but if you like to challenge yourself, you love outlandish thrillers, cryptic crossword clues, unique scornful narrators, satire, and are looking for a new author to follow, do yourself a favour and check it out. It’s a ride on the wild side.

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review 2018-06-01 21:55
The Second Blast of the Trumpet: The Second Book In The Knox Trilogy - Marie Macpherson

Usually in trilogies, novels start losing their pace during the second instalment. However, this is not the case with The Second Blast of the Trumpet. It picks up right where the first instalment ends.

 

We re-join - the not so young by now - John Knox soon after he was set free from serving his sentence as a galley slave. His fervour and his determinations to bring about a reformation to his beloved Scotland are stronger than ever and he is ready to preach. But he continues to come across political and religious boulders that obstruct his way to glory. We follow him on his journey through England to Switzerland and back and watch him develop into the man who will bring about the Protestant Reformation in Scotland. 

 

Marie MacPherson skilfully continues to lift the curtain on the not so well known part of John Knox's life and his influence on people around him, especially women.  The novel is not short of historical characters such as Marie de Guise, William Cecil and John Calvin and the political intrigue that took place behind closed curtains. I will admit - it was refreshing to read a novel that expresses what the other side thought of the Tudors and their politics. :D

 

I had a privilege to read the book in its draft form and thoroughly enjoyed it in its print form as well. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction.  

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review 2017-06-19 02:06
Conclave - Robert Harris

I love these kinds of novels. I’m always up for a plot filled with intrigue, who’s going to backstab who, who’s got the dirty secrets and who’s the horrible but cunning bastage that will expose these secrets and so on….

 

I had to whip out my dictionary for these latin/Catholic terms that are prevalent throughout this novel. (My knowledge in Catholicism is very rusty.) But you learn something new all the time right? Now I know there’s actually names for each piece of their clothing these men wear.

 

I love how it in the first third of the novel the plotting to be the next pope starts. It’s a reminder that even though these people are spiritual figureheads and we look to them as authority figures, they’re still humans with ambition. But this is the part I loved reading the most. I love the intrigue, I love the plotting. I love how Lomeli is in the middle of this and is trying to make sure everything in the voting process is legitimate.

 

You have a group of characters to keep track of, but there isn’t much to them. They’re broken into cliques to keep track of them easily but the book is centralized on Lomeli and he’s the only one that develops throughout the novel. He’s likable for the most part and does deal with his inner self for the most part. He has his faults as well which makes sense (who doesn’t want to be pope?!) which makes these characters realistic.

 

The plot itself starts off really well. I liked the pace and events during the story. What bothered me was the last third of the novel where everything went chaotic and the author seemed to inject some action to make it more lively. I didn’t think it was necessary and there wasn’t any need for that. What I would prefer is more intrigue and inner plotting amongst the Cardinals. (There was but there was no need to the action sequence which wasn’t even a feature it happened “off screen”.)

 

Another thing which didn’t sit too well was it was one thing after another with the surprises. First it was this guy. Then the other. Oh, can’t forget this guy either. We already elected the pope? No wait here’s another monkey wrench. It was just too much (by the end I was screaming out: “Just give him the papacy and let’s go home. This is getting ridiculous”.) Some parts were spaced out but it just felt too much. However, good on the author to make sure all the loose ends were tied together. Nothing was left unanswered.

 

I liked this book but it would have been better without all the extra bits and pieces here. More intrigue and plotting within. It’s what makes it so much better. Otherwise, it was a short quick read and worth it. Just remember this is an alternate history of events.

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review 2017-04-01 18:47
Rightfully Ours by Carolyn Astfalk
Rightfully Ours - Carolyn Astfalk

4 1/2 stars

 

I received an digital ARC from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Wow. I didn't think I would find a couple who I liked together as much as Landen and Torina from The Seer and the Sword, but I really like Paul and Rachel.

 

My favorite parts of this book were where the characters were going through external troubles and supported each other. The depiction of their relationship when they weren't having the external troubles was realistic (at least to my knowledge) in every way except for the fact that, once they were a couple, they didn't have one argument. They had a fight before they acknowledged their wish for more than just friendship, and they had moments of mild irritation with one another after they had kissed, but they didn't have any serious fights, which as much as I dislike seeing characters who I ship argue, I think that it could have been a way to show how they chose to love. In the book they were fighting with the temptation to show their love in physical ways before they were married, but because they never fought they also never had the opportunity to take a good look at their relationship and decide if it was worth the work it takes to remain in love. I got so nervous when they were going through temptations. I was nervous through a good portion of the book starting from the moment when they [spoiler] had their first kiss after having a little bit too much champagne and going until about the time Paul talked to Sean about his relationship with Rachel.[/spoiler]

 

My two favorite parts were the times right after Paul's dad died and when he saved Rachel's life. These two parts of the story showed Paul's vulnerability and his strong love for people, his dad, and Rachel. It seemed like Paul's personality was fleshed out a little bit more than Rachel's in the story. I can't remember if we had more time from Paul's point of view or if it just felt like that because he went through more trials than Rachel. Don't get me wrong, I still like Rachel a lot, but Paul was my favorite in this book. (hey, I just realized that Paul and Rachel have the same names as Paul and Rachel from The Midnight Dancers

 

I didn't like Sean at first. The first moment we're introduced to him he is blaming Paul for their missing a turn in the road and we really didn't get to know him after that until after he'd gotten married, and then I found that I really, really liked him. I just wished I hadn't gotten the wrong idea about his character before that. I was mildly confused as to why Paul wouldn't move in with Sean and Amanda after Sean moved out of the hotel since the whole reason why Paul had been living with the Muellers was so that Sean could be reimbursed for having to move to Pennsylvania to work, which the company would only do if Sean was living by himself in a hotel. I mean, I guess if the Muellers didn't mind Paul it was probably nice for Sean and Amanda to live by themselves, but Sean was Paul's legal guardian so it seemed odd.

 

Rachel's dad was pretty well characterized as the kind but strict, protective parent, but we didn't get to know her mother or brother, James, very well, and I sort of wish we could have gotten to know Paul's dad before he died. Though that probably wouldn't have fit into the book very well.

 

Parents and cautious teens should know that one of the main plot-points is that two teens in a serious relationship are making decisions about sex and marriage, and whether to save sex for marriage. [spoiler] While they save sex until marriage, they had several moments of strong temptation that could make younger teens uncomfortable.[/spoiler]

 

As a pop-musically challenged person I didn't know any of the songs that were mentioned in the books, and, although the lyrics did fit Paul's situation I didn't have the ability to hear in my head what they sounded like, and the Springsteen one was the only one with a performer listed with it so I could look it up. This didn't bother me terribly, but I found a couple of the lyrics to be moving and wanted to see if the music did them justice.

 

I don't usually like romance books. Christian romance books have a tendency to be too sickly sweet and overly simplified, and secular romance books are too stuffed full of sex. This book reached a very good balance, not being too sex-filled, but also being more candid than most Christian romances about the way relationships really work. I really enjoyed this book and it's characters. I think that it would be nice to visit Rachel and Paul again, maybe with them as side characters for another book. [spoiler] Though I would have liked to see Paul and Rachel's wedding, and Paul's reaction to Rachel's pregnancy,[/spoiler] I found the ending to be a satisfying conclusion to a very good book.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2016-08-05 20:06
The Wildcat of Braeton - Claire M. Banschbach

I was suffering for a huge reading slump while in the middle of this book. It was a big bummer.

 

I'm having trouble reviewing this one. We got to see most of our favorite characters again. Corin repeatedly tells his men that this second war will be harder than the first because the Calorins know their fighting techniques, but I had some trouble buying that since the last time they were fighting from the trees, collecting men to help fight by saving them from slavery. The Calorins may have had a better idea of what they were up against in this book, but the Aredorians were also more prepared. That said, the book had improved in at least one way over the old one; no more video game fights without loss of the good guys. Three major characters who we care a lot about were killed in this book. I didn't cry, but I did feel emotional. In the first book, I complained because I felt like everyone surviving was unlikely, and because the book could have made me emotional with character losses. In this book I'm complaining because I didn't want characters to die. Don't get me wrong, I think that the deaths of these favorite characters made the book a lot more realistic, and it made the stakes seem real. It's like in Harry Potter, I don't like that so many of my favorite characters died, but it does make the victory sweeter.

 

I gave this book four stars. So if character deaths made me emotional, one of the flaws of the first book was fixed, and the victory felt sweet, why did I knock off a star from what I gave the first book? I guess there could be a couple reasons. I really liked the setting in Calorin, and Aiden left there a lot more quickly than Corin. I also liked Corin's POV better than Aiden's. We got some of each in this book, but I think that Aiden is a little bit more likeable when we aren't in his head. But both of those things are small. I stilled liked Aiden, even if not as much, and the English/Scottish style Aredor and Braeton are still exciting, even though both books put me in the mood for fiction set in the desert. The real reason this book lost a star is the ending. The epilogue was hard. I always find epilogues that say 'and then the main characters died' hard to read. They make me feel melancholy. But this was worse than most because most epilogues like that end with the characters dying peacefully from old age, but not this one. Aiden spent the rest of his life mourning Rona, and died in an ambush on a pass. Corin and Darrin were killed in a battle with raiders and Argusians, and as he died, Corin saw his old friends who had already died AND AHMED IS COUNTED AMONG THEM, even though we barely even saw Ahmed this book, we didn't know he died, we don't know how he died. Mera had died the year before Aiden (hopefully peacefully) and Liam also eventually dies and is buried close to Martin where they become legends. Tam played a lament after Aiden's death, and then never played again. Darrin and Corin's children were strong leaders and even though their fathers died in a raid, they were able to keep Aredor free. I don't know. This ending is just not satisfying. It's frustrating. It almost feels like a tragedy instead of a triumph.

 

So overall I really liked this book, but I wasn't a big fan of the epilogue.

 

I received an ebook from the author with the request of a review. (I also have a physical copy.)

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