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review 2018-03-14 19:27
The Hazel Wood
The Hazel Wood - Melissa Albert

[I received a copy of this book through Netgalley.]

Kind of a darker retelling of “Alice in Wonderland”, down to the character’s name, but more hinged on fairy tales (the ones with not so happy endings, that is). Alice Crewe has spent her whole life going from one place to the other with her mother Ella, never meeting her famous grandmother, Althea, an author whose book is also impossible to find. When Althea dies, Ella and Alice startto believe they can finally have a normal life, but of course this isn’t meant to be, as things keep changing for the worst.

I liked this book, although I didn’t love it, possibly because I had a hard time connecting with the characters. I had mixed feelings about the time devoted to them, to be honest: on the one hand, I wanted the Hinterland part of the story to start much sooner, on the other hand, I felt that I also needed more time to get to know Alice and Finch better. Mostly they were all ‘on the surface’, and apart from Alice’s pent-up anger, I didn’t feel like there was much personality underneath. (I did like them, just in a sort of… indifferent way?)

The fairy tales / nonsensical parts of the book appealed to me more, in spite of similes that made me go ‘huh?’ more than a few times. I do have a soft spot for that kind of whimsical atmosphere, I guess. And what we see of the Hinterland tales Althea wrote made me think that I’d like to read *that* book, and know how its tales actually end.

The plot had its good sides and its downsides. I liked how its Hinterland part dealt with the power of stories, their straps, and the sort of twisted logic that one can find in them; however, I felt like it was a little lacklustre, and dealt with too fast (compared to the part devoted to the ‘real world’). There were a few loose threads, too—for instance, the red-haired man showing up at the café, then disappearing again. (Why did he go away at that specific moment? It was never really explained.)

All in all, it was an enjoyable novel, for one who likes this specific brand of atmosphere. It jusn’t wasn’t exceptional for me.

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review 2018-03-12 14:28
Dunbar / Edward St. Aubyn
Dunbar - Edward St. Aubyn

‘I really did have an empire, you know,’ said Dunbar. ‘Have I ever told you the story of how it was stolen from me?

Henry Dunbar, the once all-powerful head of a global corporation, is not having a good day. In his dotage he handed over care of the family firm to his two eldest daughters, Abby and Megan. But relations quickly soured, leaving him doubting the wisdom of past decisions...

Now imprisoned in a care home in the Lake District with only a demented alcoholic comedian as company, Dunbar starts planning his escape. As he flees into the hills, his family is hot on his heels. But who will find him first, his beloved youngest daughter, Florence, or the tigresses Abby and Megan, so keen to divest him of his estate?

 

This is the Hogath Shakespeare’s version of King Lear, a play that I have seen performed at least twice in the last couple of years. It’s a powerful story and I would imagine that it would be a daunting piece to take on in a retelling such as this one, but Edward St. Aubyn was certainly up to the task!

I picked it up Sunday morning, meaning to just get a start on it. After all, I already knew the inevitable ending—everybody dies, right? But St. Aubyn’s creation grabbed me and would not let go! He made it fresh with Henry Dunbar, the media mogul, whose hubris has brought him low. I read the entire thing before lunch!

I was impressed by both performances of Lear that I’ve seen, but they both played up Lear as suffering from dementia, as that’s one of the concerns of modern society. But St. Aubyn returned to Shakespeare’s original intention, I think, that Dunbar is brought low by his desire to have privilege without responsibility. Like Lear in the play, Dunbar regains his wits just long enough to realize all that he has lost, a truly tragic ending.

I really loved the drunken comedian, Peter Walker, in his role as the fool. That was an inspired bit of casting on the author’s part.

How have I not read any of St. Aubyn’s work before? That mistake must be corrected!

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review 2018-02-12 19:33
Down The Rabbit Hole – Untamed by A G Howard @aghowardwrites
Untamed - A.G. Howard

 

Untamed (Splintered, #3.5)

Amazon Goodreads

 

MY ONE SENTENCE REVIEW

 

I won a first edition hardcover of Untamed by A G Howard some time ago and all I can say is…WOW…why did I wait so long to read this Alice in Wonderland remake that is so creatively, wondrously written, with a fantasy world anyone would want to get lost in and meet the  fabulous characters, both human and fantasy, that will make this impossible to put down.
 

Animated Animals. Pictures, Images and Photos 5 Stars

 

GOODREADS BLURB

 

A post-Ensnared collection of three stories—available in both print and e-versions.

 

Alyssa Gardner went down the rabbit hole and took control of her destiny. She survived the battle for Wonderland and the battle for her heart. In this collection of three novellas, join Alyssa and her family as they look back at their memories of Wonderland.

In Six Impossible Things, Alyssa recalls the most precious moments of her life after Ensnared, and the role magic plays in preserving the happiness of those she loves. Alyssa’s mother reminisces about her own time in Wonderland and rescuing the man who would become her husband in The Boy in the Web. And Morpheus delves into Jeb’s memories of the events of Splintered in The Moth in the Mirror, available in print for the first time.

 

This collection expands upon Ensnared‘s epilogue, and includes some deleted scenes to provide a “director’s cut” glimpse into the past and futures of our favorite Splintered characters.

 

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Source: www.fundinmental.com/rabbit-hole-untamed-g-howard-aghowardwrites
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review 2018-01-31 14:43
Circe
Circe - Madeline Miller

[I received a copy of this book through Edelweiss.]

A few years ago, I had read and really liked “The Song of Achilles”, and I had high hopes for Miller’s “Circe”. I wasn’t disappointed.

A retelling of myths surrounded Circe, daughter of sun-god Helios and nymph Perses, this novel focuses of course on the eponymous character, from a much more humanised point of view, making her closer to us and easier to root for. I haven’t brushed up on my Greek mythology in quite some time, and my memories of what I knew about Circe were a bit foggy, but I quickly found my marks again—the deities she’s surrounded with, the mortals she meets (Odysseus being the most famous), as well as slight variations (although I don’t remember reading myths where Circe and Daedalus meet, that was definitely a touching addition, and not an illogical one anyway).

I do remember how, when I was much younger and got interested in Greek mythology, most of the legends I read were the usual male-centric ones, with figures like Circe or Medusa presented as antagonists, somewhat evil and monstrous, impediments to the heroes’ journeys. So whenever I get my hands on a retelling from their point of view, and it happens to be humanised and qualified *and* well-written on top of that, as is the case here, I’m definitely happy about it. Here, turning Odysseus’ men is much less an act of evil than a way for Circe to defend herself before the sailors do to her what previous sailors did (and she doesn’t do it immediately, she does ‘give them a chance’ and studies them first to see how they’re going to behave). Here, the heroes are larger than life, but through Circe’s gaze, we also see their mortality and the imperfections that go with it, the difference between what the bards sing of them and the men they actually were.

No one is perfect in this story; not Circe herself, not the gods, not the humans. In a way, even though half the cast is made of immortal deities, this novel is a study of humanity. Circe’s voice—a voice the gods perceive as shrilly, but is in fact, all that simply, a mortal’s voice, soft and weak compared to theirs—has a haunting quality, too, thanks to the poetic and evocative prose that carries the story. And so it takes us through her contradictions, her pain and hopes, her realisation that she’ll never get her father’s approval, her exile, and her lingering her regrets at what she did in the past (Miller went here with a version similar to Hyginus’, making Circe the cause to Scylla’s transformation, as well as Glaucus’ through her first act of witchcraft). From a little girl neglected by her parents and bullied by her siblings, she goes through life making mistakes, angry and exiled, but also learns from this, and becomes in time a wiser person, who won’t hesitate to stand up for what she cares for, using her magic to better ends.

This read was perhaps a little confusing without more than just a basic notions about Greek mythology (the glossary at the end helps, though). I’m also not entirely happy with the ending, which I probably would have enjoyed more had it been reversed. Nevertheless, I found it mostly enjoyable and enthralling.

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review 2018-01-07 12:59
The Book of Joan
The Book of Joan: A Novel - Lidia Yuknavitch

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley.]

A tricky rating to give, for I did like some parts of this novel, but others just didn’t sit with me.

It made for intense read, for sure: for the catastrophe it depicts, the parallels it draws with our current world, the violence inflicted to characters (and especially women), the crude representation of a degenerated mankind, the desperate way the main characters live their lives. Christine and Trinculo, lovers in bodies that cannot experience physical pleasure anymore, united through skin grafts and art instead, as well as through their common support of Joan of Dirt, burnt for heresy. Leone, sexless and hardened warrior who never gives up. Nyx and their willingness to bring about destruction to help creation in turn.

One may or may not appreciate, also, the literary references. Jean de Men is most obviously a reference to Jean de Meung, and his perverted goals a direct echo of de Meung’s writings about women being deceitful and full of vice. In the same vein, Christine is Christine de Pisan, whose own writings attacked de Meung’s. Trinculo, both in name and behaviour, is the Shakespearian fool, whose apparently nonsensical language and insults are used to carry unconvenient truths. This goes further, since Christine is a feminist voice who lost her physical femininity, while Jean defiles bodies too close to his for comfort. As far as I’m concerned, those worked for me.

The writing itself, too, has beautiful moments, and weaves metaphors and descriptions in a way that gives the story a surreal aspect. Something larger than life, something that the characters try to reach for and clutch to, just like they clutch to their past sexualised humanity because they don’t really know what to do with their new bodies, much too fast devolved.

The science fiction side, though, didn’t work so well, and even though I was willing to suspend my disbelief, I couldn’t get over the evolutionary processes throughout the story. Joan’s power? Alright, why not. But human bodies degenerating to sexless, hairless, mutating in such a rapid way affecting everybody, not even on two or three generations but within one’s own lifetime? That’s just completely illogical. I see the intent, I understand it to an extent ( as it pitches this broken mankind with its broken bodies against the one being who brought destruction yet at the same time is the only one who can still bring about true creation), but it still won’t work for me from a scientific standpoint, which is something I still expect to see in a sci-fi/post-apocalyptic setting.

The writing deals with first person points of view that aren’t necessarily the same person’s from one chapter to the other, and it made the story confusing at times, until a hint or other made it clearer whose voice I was reading. At times, it made the narrative disjointed and the characters ‘remote’, which made it more difficult to really care for them.

Nevertheless, it was a compelling read that goes for the guts, violent despite—or because of?—its poetry.

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