magical realism

All posts tagged magical realism

The Dollmaker – Nina Allan

Published April 13, 2019 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Stitch by perfect stitch, Andrew Garvie makes exquisite dolls in the finest antique style. Like him, they are diminutive but graceful, unique, and with surprising depths. Perhaps that’s why he answers the enigmatic personal ad in his collector’s magazine.

Letter by letter, Bramber Winters reveals more of her strange, sheltered life in an institution on Bodmin Moor, and the terrible events that put her there as a child. Andrew knows what it is to be trapped, and as they knit closer together, he weaves a curious plan to rescue her.

On his journey through the old towns of England, he reads the fairy tales of Ewa Chaplin–potent, eldritch stories which, like her lifelike dolls, pluck at the edges of reality and thread their way into his mind. When Andrew and Bramber meet at last, they will have a choice–to break free and, unlike their dolls, come to life.

A love story of two very real, unusual people, The Dollmaker is also a novel rich with wonders: Andrew’s quest and Bramber’s letters unspool around the dark fables that give our familiar world an uncanny edge. It is this touch of magic that, like the blink of a doll’s eyes, tricks our own.

What did I think?:

The whimsical nature of The Dollmaker was first brought to my attention during an event held by Quercus Books last year where they showcased some of the fiction they were excited to be publishing in 2019. The Dollmaker was one of these books and marketed in such a gorgeous display that not only was it immediately eye-catching but I was instantly intrigued to read the novel. Thank you so much to the publishers for providing me with a complimentary copy in exchange for an honest review.

Wonderful display for The Dollmaker from the team at Quercus Books.

From the very beginning, The Dollmaker felt like a very “me” book. From the quirky subject matter to the inclusion of fairy-tales and the nods to magical realism, I was incredibly excited to read it, desperately hoping I would be instantly captivated and under the author’s spell. Now that I’ve finished it, I can finally report back with a mixture of both positive and more tentative thoughts that I’ll do my best to get across coherently. First of all, I don’t think this book is going to be for everyone. Stay with me though because that isn’t necessarily a negative statement. Very much like the dolls within the narrative, the story itself is quite disjointed and has a tendency to shift as you’re reading it, almost at times like a stream of consciousness.

Nina Allan, author of The Dollmaker.

We see most of the story through the eyes of Andrew and Bramber who have struck up a correspondence and are beginning to feel quite strongly towards each other, sharing their innermost thoughts and feelings through the letters they write and receive. When we begin the novel, we learn about Bramber, who has spent much of her life in an institution for reasons unknown and as she gradually opens up to Andrew, we learn more about the events that led to her present situation. Unknown to Bramber, her correspondent Andrew, who has mastered the fine art of doll-making is on his way to where she is to finally meet her face to face and build on their relationship. Interspersed between their stories and letters are fairy-tales from Ewa Chaplin (also a doll-maker) which Andrew is reading on his journey. However, as the stories continue, there appear to be some strange cross-overs between characters in Chaplin’s tales and events in Andrew and Bramber’s own lives.

I have to say, the fairy-tale aspects of this novel were one of my favourite parts. I didn’t enjoy all of them to the same degree but some of them were incredibly dark, delicious and gripping. However, this is also where the difficulty rose for me with this novel. I appreciated the beautiful, unusual style of writing and the clever way in which the author intertwined parts of the fairy-tales with the main narrative. Yet it was only when I read the fairy-tales that I found myself fully invested in the story. Sadly, I didn’t feel a connect with either Andrew or Bramber and although I was intrigued to find out what would happen if and when they met face to face, I didn’t get as much out of their characters or personalities as I would have liked. Sometimes it felt as if it went off in too many directions for me to catch hold of the thread and unfortunately, I found myself looking forward to the next fairy-tale rather than the story between the two main protagonists.

There’s no denying that The Dollmaker is a very unique and accomplished read and there are real sparks of magic, suspense and darkness that were wonderful to experience but it was just a shame I couldn’t find a connection with the primary characters or their individual stories. Nevertheless, I would still be interested in reading other works by this author on the strength of her storytelling ability.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably!

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

The Night Tiger – Yangsze Choo

Published February 20, 2019 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

man and walk among us…

In 1930s colonial Malaya, a dissolute British doctor receives a surprise gift of an eleven-year-old Chinese houseboy. Sent as a bequest from an old friend, young Ren has a mission: to find his dead master’s severed finger and reunite it with his body. Ren has forty-nine days, or else his master’s soul will roam the earth forever.

Ji Lin, an apprentice dressmaker, moonlights as a dancehall girl to pay her mother’s debts. One night, Ji Lin’s dance partner leaves her with a gruesome souvenir that leads her on a crooked, dark trail.

As time runs out for Ren’s mission, a series of unexplained deaths occur amid rumours of tigers who turn into men. In their journey to keep a promise and discover the truth, Ren and Ji Lin’s paths will cross in ways they will never forget.

Captivating and lushly written, The Night Tiger explores the rich world of servants and masters, ancient superstition and modern ambition, sibling rivalry and unexpected love. Woven through with Chinese folklore and a tantalizing mystery, this novel is a page-turner of the highest order.

What did I think?:

This review comes with an enormous thank you to the wonderful team at Quercus Books who hosted a blogger event just before Christmas where they were introducing a few exciting books coming out in 2019. I had an opportunity to snatch up a copy of The Night Tiger and even if the synopsis hadn’t given me goosebumps (which it did!) I would have been intrigued by that beautiful cover alone. I went into The Night Tiger having been familiar with the author’s work before after the beautiful journey that was her debut novel, The Ghost Bride but it had been a while since I experienced her writing style therefore this book came as a fantastic surprise. It instantly transported me into the world of 1930’s Malaya (now Malaysia) and possessed an edge of magical realism that had me entranced  with the plot development, variety of characters and the power of superstition and folklore.

Yangsze Choo, author of The Night Tiger.

I’m a huge fan of historical fiction, particularly the kind that is set in a different culture and allows the reader to learn a little something about changing customs/beliefs through history that are perhaps quite unusual from their own. I’ve read a number of novels set in a similar location and time frame to The Night Tiger, just prior to the Second World War and I’m always concerned that I may tire of this particular era. However, I trusted enough in the originality of Yangsze Choo’s writing to bring something fresh and new to this period and without a doubt, that’s exactly what I got from this novel. Not only do we have a cast of stunning, interesting characters that you immediately want to know more about, but you have that fantastical element based on genuine superstitions that the populace had at that time regarding death and the importance of the body remaining whole when buried.

I adored the inclusion of the tiger in the novel who almost becomes a character in his own right. His ghostly presence is constantly used in the background to explain a series of suspicious deaths which are blamed upon a rogue tiger terrorising the community. Myth and superstition are rife and there is also a worry, especially in the minds of one of our young protagonists, that the deaths may be the result of a tortured soul able to return to our world and transform into an animal form until appeased, otherwise known as a “were tiger.”

Malaya in the 1930’s

Image from: https://specialcollections-blog.lib.cam.ac.uk/?p=10341

Everything came together in such a stunning way in The Night Tiger. The magical element of the narrative complimented the story perfectly and never felt over-done or unbelievable, helped by the fact that it was based on the actual superstitions of individuals living at that time, as I’ve mentioned. In addition to this, we have astounding characters like Ren and Ji Lin who both have their own compelling story arc and a captivating personal journey for both young people, which eventually leads to the amalgamation of their narratives and an incredibly satisfying resolution. The growth of our characters combined with what they learn about themselves and the other people they are close to is nothing short of enthralling and I loved the drama, mystery, suspense and creative nature of the entire story.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Blog Tour – Attend by West Camel

Published December 7, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

When Sam falls in love with Deptford thug Derek, and Anne’s best friend Kathleen takes her own life, they discover they are linked not just by a world of drugs and revenge; they also share the friendship of the uncanny and enigmatic Deborah. Seamstress, sailor, storyteller and self-proclaimed centenarian immortal, Deborah slowly reveals to Anne and Sam her improbable, fantastical life, a history of hidden Deptford and ultimately the solution to their crises.

What did I think?:

First of all, thank you so much to Anne Cater for inviting me to take part in this blog tour and to Karen Sullivan from Orenda Books for the complimentary digital copy in exchange for an honest review. I have to admit, when Anne first emailed me about this book I was immediately entranced by that simplistic yet stunning front cover. It really draws the eye (and perhaps also threads the eye?!) and is a perfect example of how beautiful cover art can entice a reader to want to know more about the story. Luckily it had a fantastic synopsis too – I mean, “self-proclaimed centenarian immortal?” I simply HAD to read this book when that line jumped out at me! Please pardon the pun but this is a beautifully woven story that I thoroughly enjoyed. It has its darker moments, which to be honest, I’m always a fan of but there were softer, more gentle periods too that I really appreciated.

West Camel, author of Attend.

This is the story primarily of three people. Anne is a former heroin addict, mother to Julie and grandmother to Tom. She has been away from her family for some time while she recovers from her addiction and is determined not to see any of them until she can ensure she won’t succumb to her demons and let them down again. As a result, she hasn’t even met her grandson and at the time the novel is set, she is slowly trying to integrate herself back into their lives whilst attempting to fight her own personal battles. Sam is a young gay man who has also had some hardships in his life and eases his loneliness by going out a lot, desperate to find someone who will finally “see” and appreciate him. Our final protagonist is Deborah, an older lady with a plethora of stories to tell, primarily how she has become immortal through working on a small piece of sewing. All three characters are drawn together by seminal events that occur in their lives and by finding each other, there is an opportunity for each one to eventually find happiness and contentment.

Deptford, South-East London, England where Attend is set.

The more I think about this novel, the more I realise what the author might have been trying to say and how moving the narrative is in general. We have three characters, all three are intriguing, have a story to tell, have had difficulties in their lives in the past and present and crucially, all of them are struggling with being seen by other people. I think my favourite part of the narrative had to be Deborah’s story, particularly when she told parts of her past that were incredibly heart-breaking. There’s a particular moment during the war when she is trapped in a shelter that was so moving and written so beautifully I couldn’t put the book down until I had finished that specific chapter. Additionally, I loved how all the characters find that inner strength they eagerly desire from each other and they emerge more resilient by the end.

Finally, I really appreciated that you can’t really categorise this novel. It’s such a heady mixture of contemporary fiction with a dashing of historical and crime elements and a sprinkling of magical realism. I feel like the more fantastical, whimsical parts of the story worked very well as a whole and it never strayed into the realms of unbelievable. From that beautiful front cover, to an equally beautiful story within the pages, Attend is an imaginative piece of work that will touch your heart and potentially make you believe in magic all over again.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

AUTHOR INFORMATION

Born and bred in south London – and not the Somerset village
with which he shares a name – West Camel worked as an editor in
higher education and business before turning his attention to the
arts and publishing. He has worked as a book and arts journalist,
and was editor at Dalkey Archive Press, where he edited the Best
European Fiction 2015 anthology, before moving to new press
Orenda Books just after its launch. He currently combines his
work as editor at Orenda Books with writing and editing a wide
range of material for various arts organisations, including ghostwriting
a New-Adult novel and editing The Riveter magazine for the
European Literature Network. He has also written several short
scripts, which have been produced in London’s fringe theatres,
A highly anticipated debut, blending the magical realism of Angela Carter
and the gritty authenticity of Eastenders
and was longlisted for the Old Vic’s 12 playwrights project. Attend is his first novel.

Find West on Goodreads at: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8283285.West_Camel

or on Twitter at: @west_camel

Thank you so much once again to Anne Cater, Karen Sullivan and Orenda Books for inviting me to take part in this blog tour, I’ve had a wonderful time doing it. Attend will be published on 13th December 2018 and will be available as a paperback and a digital e-book. If you fancy more information don’t forget to check out the rest of the stops on this blog tour for some amazing reviews!

Link to book on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/41967084-attend

Link to book on Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Attend-West-Camel/dp/1912374390/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1544092398&sr=8-1&keywords=attend+west+camel

Banned Books 2018 – OCTOBER READ – Beloved by Toni Morrison

Published November 5, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Staring unflinchingly into the abyss of slavery, this spellbinding novel transforms history into a story as powerful as Exodus and as intimate as a lullaby.

Sethe was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later she is still not free. She has too many memories of Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many hideous things happened. Her new home is haunted by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved.

Filled with bitter poetry and suspense as taut as a rope, Beloved is a towering achievement by Nobel Prize laureate Toni Morrison.

Logo designed by Luna’s Little Library

Welcome to the tenth banned book in our series for 2018! As always, we’ll be looking at why the book was challenged, how/if things have changed since the book was originally published and our own opinions on the book. Here’s what we’ll be reading for the rest of the year:

NOVEMBER: King & King -Linda de Haan
DECEMBER: Flashcards Of My Life– Charise Mericle Harper
For now, back to this month:

Beloved by Toni Morrison

First published: 1987

In the Top Ten most frequently challenged books in 2006 (source)

Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group

Do you understand or agree with any of the reasons for the book being challenged when it was originally published?

BETH:  I can imagine this book being quite the force to be reckoned with with it was published in the late 1980’s. Its dark elements, tragic history of black slavery and quirky, fantastical moments make it quite a unique read but as always with many of our banned books, I’m struggling to understand the reasons why it has been challenged. As you may already know by now, I do understand offensive language isn’t for everyone and I respect people’s views on that. In fact, I don’t like to use bad language in my own reviews but that’s just my own personal thing, I don’t mind it when I see it in other bloggers reviews. However, I don’t think that you can challenge/ban a book based on this reason. After all, we can’t help but be exposed to offensive language, no matter how much we may try and avoid it – on the streets, on the television, interacting with strangers in normal, social instances….you get the picture. And for me, there wasn’t a single incident in this novel where I thought the language was extreme enough to warrant this challenge.

CHRISSI: Like Beth, I can see that when this book came out in the late 80’s that it would have been quite a challenging and ground breaking book. Personally, I don’t think there’s any point in banning a book because of offensive language. Goodness knows, I know some of my children in my class hear offensive language so often at home that it is almost like a ‘normal’ word to them. So to have it in literature, it doesn’t bother me too much? I didn’t think anything was overly offensive. Sure, some of the language isn’t what I’d call decent language but it’s not that vile to warrant a challenge in my opinion.

How about now?

BETH: If I don’t agree with challenging or banning Beloved back in the 1980’s, I certainly don’t agree with banning it now. ESPECIALLY for the reasons noted. Yes, sexual acts are alluded to but it’s never explicit or grossly indecent and as for “unsuited to age group” I wonder who this book is actually marketed for because I was under the impression that this is an adult novel or at least able to be read by young adults? And if it was written for the young adult market, I really don’t think there’s anything in there that the younger generation wouldn’t be able to handle. In fact, it could be a vitally important read for those wanting to learn a little something about African-American slavery.

CHRISSI: I don’t agree with it being challenged now. Language is heard so much more these days that some of the words don’t have as intense of a meaning as they do back then. I’m not sure who this book is aimed at, if it was teenagers I don’t think I’d use it educatively, but for young adults/adults, I really don’t see a problem with it. It touches on some very important moments in history so it SHOULD be read in my opinion.

What did you think of this book?:

BETH: I’ve already read two books by Toni Morrison – A Mercy before I became a blogger and The Bluest Eye, (which Chrissi and I covered on our Banned Books series way back in 2015!) the latter of which I thoroughly enjoyed. As a result, I was really looking forward to Beloved, particularly when I discovered the subject matter, a topic which I’m always happy to educate myself on a bit further. I’m sad to say that I have really mixed feelings about this book. There were points when I wanted to rate it four stars, others when I wanted to rate it two stars and generally, I was left somewhere around the middle. There were heart-breaking parts of the narrative and some moments of truly beautiful writing but overall, I was just left feeling a bit confused and underwhelmed. I’m not sure if the more fantastical side of the story really worked for me personally and consequently, my enjoyment of the novel as a whole suffered.

CHRISSI: I have to admit that I didn’t quite ‘get’ this book which does make me feel sad as I know that so many people love Toni Morrison. Like Beth, I did think there were brilliant moments, but on the whole I felt a little flat after reading it. There’s no denying that this is a beautifully written book and I can see why Toni Morrison is a popular author. I just didn’t feel like there was enough going within the story line to keep me enthralled. I am certainly a reader that loves a plot driven story and I feel like Beloved is more character driven. I didn’t connect with the characters like I wanted to and this affected my enjoyment of the story.

Would you recommend it?:

BETH: Maybe!

CHRISSI: It’s not for me!- I wasn’t blown away by this book. Perhaps my expectations were too high?

3 Star Rating Clip Art

Coming up on the last Monday of November: we review King & King by Linda de Haan.

Born Weird – Andrew Kaufman

Published August 30, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

The Weirds have always been a little peculiar, but not one of them suspected that they’d been cursed by their grandmother.

At the moment of their birth Annie Weird gave each of her five grandchildren a special power that she thought was a blessing.

Now Annie is dying and she has one last task for Angie, her favourite grandchild. Angie has to gather her far-flung brothers and sisters and assemble them in her Grandmother’s hospital room so that at the moment of her death, she can lift these blessings turned curses.

What did I think?:

First of all, a huge thank you to the wonderful staff at Mr B’s Emporium Of Reading Delights in Bath for recommending this to my sister, Chrissi Reads and I when we had a reading spa in their fantastic bookshop. I can’t believe I’m only getting round to reviewing it now but I have a massive backlog of reviews that I’m only now just starting to see the end of and should hopefully be fully up to date by this time next year (SHE HOPES!). I was definitely intrigued by the way the marvellous bookseller sold this book to us and when the time came round to read it, I was really in the mood for a good bit of magical realism so was overjoyed to discover that what was inside this novel was just as good as the synopsis suggested it was. This is a story where the characters are paramount and I loved exploring their relationships with each other and the journey they go through as individuals since a curse was placed on each one of them.

Andrew Kaufman, author of Born Weird.

This is the story of five siblings – Richard, Abba, Lucy, Kent and Angie who all had a curse/blessing (blurse?!) placed on them at the moment of their birth from their grandmother. The blurses range from always being safe, to always having hope, never getting lost to having great physical strength and finally, to always have the capacity to forgive anyone instantly, no matter what they do. Initially, this sounds like thoughtful gifts for a grandmother to bestow upon her grandchildren but unfortunately these “gifts” plague our Weird siblings all their lives leading to emotional detachment, gullibility, intense anger and flightiness. The grandmother calls Angie to her hospital bedside as she lies dying and tells Angie she’d like to remove the blurses on the children so it’s up to Angie to re-unite her brothers and sisters in the space of two weeks so that they can finally see what living ordinary lives might feel like.

Toronto, Canada where part of Born Weird is set.

I loved the fantastical edge to this story, that’s for sure but what I loved even more is that this novel is about so much more than just magical realism. It’s the story of a family, their relationships with each other and how they re-connect with each other after an extended period of silence. It’s also their journey as individuals and how each separate blurse has affected them at various points in their lives particularly regarding their character and temperament. There’s a surprising amount of heart-break in this story that I don’t really want to ruin but involves the Weird parents and how they are no longer in their children’s lives – either because of a medical issue or a strange disappearance that forms an additional exciting little mystery to solve throughout the narrative.

Like all good literary fiction, I really became immersed in the characters behind this story and every one of them felt fully fleshed out and completely authentic. I felt the pain, sorrow and frustration that their blurses cost them and also realised how much it affected not only their relationships with each other but their relationships with other people outside the family unit. It’s a quirky, one of a kind and definitely “weird” reading experience but it’s one that’s absolutely worth your time if you get the chance to read it!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

 

The Beginning Of The World In The Middle Of The Night – Jen Campbell

Published April 2, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

‘These days, you can find anything you need at the click of a button.
That’s why I bought her heart online.’

Spirits in jam jars, mini-apocalypses, animal hearts and side shows.
A girl runs a coffin hotel on a remote island.
A boy is worried his sister has two souls.
A couple are rewriting the history of the world.
And mermaids are on display at the local aquarium.

The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night is a collection of twelve haunting stories; modern fairy tales brimming with magic, outsiders and lost souls.

What did I think?:

I’ve followed Jen Campbell’s You Tube channel for quite some time now as we appear to share quite similar taste in books, especially anything slightly quirky and fairy tale-esque. However, I shamefully haven’t ever got round to any of her books before so when I saw all the promotion about The Beginning Of The World In The Middle Of The Night and clocked THAT cover, I knew I had to finally check out her style. Now, this is a short story collection and I would normally put any short story collections in my Short Stories Challenge and enjoy a story at a time, at quite a leisurely pace. However, with this collection I just couldn’t wait and gobbled them all up in a much shorter space of time. There is no way that I can be as eloquent as Jen with words but believe me when I say that this collection is something really special. It seems to display every single aspect that makes up Jen as a person combined with the fact that she touches on subjects quite close to her heart, like folklore and legends, LGBT issues and individuals that have something about themselves, whether it be physical in appearance or their personality that is just a little bit different and aside from the norm.

It’s quite rare for me to read a short stories collection where I could rate every single one of the stories five stars and unfortunately I couldn’t quite do this with The Beginning Of The World In The Middle Of The Night. There was one particular story, “In The Dark” that I couldn’t quite connect with but I know other reviewers who have loved it so that’s probably just personal taste. I’d just like to talk about a couple of the stories that had a huge effect on me and that began with the very first story in the collection, “Animals” which was all kinds of wonderful and portrayed a world where hearts can be bought and sold online. For me, it was one of the darkest, most twisty tales in the bunch – it made me shiver and it was completely brutal, but the way Jen used poetic language made me swoon. In a lot of these stories, it’s evident how much research she’s put into what she’s writing as she draws on old legends from other countries. For example, we learn about the Celtic goddess of sleep who transforms into a swan every year and the giant in Norway who kept his heart outside of his body so he could live forever. I’d love to talk more about this particular story but I simply cannot, you simply have to discover its beauty and magic for yourself. It knocked me sideways.

Another story where I “didn’t see it coming,” was the gorgeous title story, “The Beginning Of The World In The Middle Of The Night.” This tells the story of a man and a woman who are lying in bed one night talking together about potential beginnings in their world. What I really enjoyed about this story (apart from the bitter-sweet and heart-breaking ending of course!) was the style that Jen chooses to use, it’s told in the form of a script, almost like a play and it was quite refreshing to read a story in this manner. It seemed to get across the message behind the tale and the relationship between the couple even more perfectly than if the author had used prose. Finally, I’d like to talk about the brilliance of “Aunt Libby’s Coffin Hotel.” This is set on a small island and follows a girl and her Aunt who run a hotel where guests can stay and feel close to their deceased loved ones by spending the night within a coffin and making contact. I loved everything about this, the imaginative idea and how the narrative slowly plays out until the reader gets a real idea of what’s really going on with these mysterious characters and their strange ideas.

I always had a sneaking suspicion I was going to enjoy Jen Campbell’s writing, it was obvious to me that as a poet, she was always going to construct some stunning sentences but I was really surprised by exactly how much I adored it. Her lyrical style and love of the other-worldly, more peculiar parts of our world is everything I could ever want in an author and I felt like I was reading every single word she wrote with unbridled delight. The fantastical/magical elements are spot on, as I was anticipating but I loved that Jen also isn’t scared to go to the dark places in a few of these stories. As a writer of short stories, I truly believe that this author is up there with those of the highest calibre writing in both the past and present – I’m thinking Angela Carter, Angela Slatter for starters? I can only rub my hands in glee for anything she’s going to write next.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

 

 

 

The Beginning Of The World In The Middle Of The Night was the twenty-second book on my quest to conquer Mount Everest in the Mount TBR Challenge 2018!

The Clay Girl – Heather Tucker

Published March 15, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Vincent Appleton smiles at his daughters, raises a gun, and blows off his head. For the Appleton sisters, life had unravelled many times before. This time it explodes.

Eight-year-old Hariet, known to all as Ari, is dispatched to Cape Breton and her Aunt Mary, who is purported to eat little girls . . . With Ari on the journey is her steadfast companion, Jasper, an imaginary seahorse. But when they arrive in Pleasant Cove, they instead find refuge with Mary and her partner Nia.

As the tumultuous ’60s ramp up in Toronto, Ari is torn from her aunts and forced back to her twisted mother and fractured sisters. Her new stepfather Len and his family offer hope, but as Ari grows to adore them, she’s severed violently from them too, when her mother moves in with the brutal Dick Irwin.

Through the sexual revolution and drug culture of the 1960s, Ari struggles with her father’s legacy and her mother’s addictions — testing limits with substances that numb and men who show her kindness. She spins through a chaotic decade of loss and love, the devilish and divine, with wit, tenacity, and the astonishing balance unique to seahorses.

The Clay Girl is a beautiful tour de force that traces the story of a child, sculpted by kindness, cruelty and the extraordinary power of imagination, and her families — the one she’s born in to and the one she creates.

What did I think?:

I really don’t know where to start with this review and I’m really hoping my ramblings make some sort of sense but we’ll see how we go. The Clay Girl was the last book that I predicted I would give five stars to in my Five Stars TBR Prediction post after I had seen so many positive reviews and couldn’t resist it after reading those powerful first few sentences of the synopsis. It didn’t end up being a five star read for me personally, I had a few teeny weeny little issues with it that prevented me giving it the big five but interestingly enough, it’s a book that has stayed with me ever since I finished reading it. It’s up there with some of the most creative and quirky writing styles that I’ve ever had the pleasure to come across and although the subject matter at points made for a very difficult reading experience, I’m infinitely glad that I put myself through it.

This novel tells the story of Ari (Hariet by birth but her mother made a spelling mistake when naming her) and her imaginary seahorse companion, Jasper. Ari relies on Jasper to keep her company, keep her strong and keep her sane through her traumatic childhood with an abusive father and an alcoholic mother. After her father dies, she is peddled off to her Aunt and her partner to live and she begins to feel she could at last be happy but unfortunately, not for long. Her mother regains custody of her and she is forced to re-enter a world of indifference and neglect with a mother who just couldn’t care less. At first, she has another person in her life to make things a bit brighter but when fate shows its hand again, Ari is once again left in a circle of abuse with another “father figure” to make her and her siblings life a living hell. Ari depends on her seahorse Jasper, her vivid imagination and huge strength of character to make it through the precarious nature of her childhood to a place where she can finally escape back to her aunts and be happy once more.

I think that’s pretty much all I want to say about the plot but I just want to reassure readers that even though it sounds like a cycle of unrelenting misery for our female protagonist (and to be honest, it kind of is!), the gorgeous language that Heather Tucker uses to tell Ari’s story makes this awful story well worth the heart-ache. The things that Ari goes through from childhood right through adolescence and early adulthood are tricky to read about but the journey she goes through as a person makes it well worth your time. This isn’t going to be a book for everyone, I have to say. The narrative can be very strange and confusing at times, even the way sentences are structured and grammar is used and sometimes I felt like I had to go back and re-read whole chunks of it as I wasn’t fully concentrating at the time of reading it. However, if you’re in the mood for something a bit different with a stunning literary edge, I would highly recommend trying The Clay Girl and seeing what you think. The stranger, dream-like, more hazy parts of the narrative didn’t pull me in as much as I would have hoped but I have to admit, I would read anything Heather Tucker writes purely for the beautiful way she uses words.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Look out for my Five Star TBR Predictions – Round Two coming soon to bibliobeth.

The Immortalists – Chloe Benjamin

Published March 9, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

The New York Times Top Ten Bestseller

The Immortalists is about as good as it gets’ Karen Joy Fowler

‘Like literary nectar’ Hannah Beckerman

‘I couldn’t put it down’ Carys Bray

It’s 1969, and holed up in a grimy tenement building in New York’s Lower East Side is a travelling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the date they will die. The four Gold children, too young for what they’re about to hear, sneak out to learn their fortunes.

Over the years that follow, the siblings must choose how to live with the prophecies the fortune-teller gave them that day. Will they accept, ignore, cheat or defy them? Golden-boy Simon escapes to San Francisco, searching for love; dreamy Klara becomes a Las Vegas magician; eldest son Daniel tries to control fate as an army doctor after 9/11; and bookish Varya looks to science for the answers she craves.

A sweeping novel of remarkable ambition and depth, The Immortalists is a story about how we live, how we die, and what we do with the time we have.

What did I think?:

It is a truth universally acknowledged (well, by me for certain!) that Tinder Press have been publishing some fantastic novels recently and I can always guarantee when I read a book by this publisher that I’m going to thoroughly enjoy it. Thank you so much to Caitlin Raynor and Tinder Press for sending this wonderful surprise my way late last year in exchange for an honest review and as expected, I completely adored it. The proof copy I was sent was brilliantly simple with just two sentences on the front and back of the book respectively. The front cover said: “How would you live your life if you knew the day you were going to die?” and the back cover said: “New York, 1969. Four siblings, too young for what they are about to hear, seek out their fortunes.” Well, the marketing was pure perfection as this was all that was needed to hook me in and made me unbelievably excited to learn the stories of our four protagonists.

Oh my goodness and what stories they are! The Immortalists is a delightfully slow-paced and beautifully detailed look at each sibling and how learning the date of their death changes the way they might live their lives as a result. We have Varya, the eldest and most sensible, her brother Daniel who becomes a doctor for the military, Klara who becomes a magician in San Francisco and lives with the youngest sibling, Simon who trains as a dancer in the same city. As I mentioned, the date that each sibling is given affects them all in different ways and perhaps encourages them to make different or riskier life decisions that they might have normally. Klara and Simon are the risk-takers of the family and run off together to make a new life where they can both be happy away from the sometimes constraining nature of their Jewish family but unfortunately, their own personal demons do return to haunt them. Meanwhile, Daniel and Varya remain at home to look after their sensitive mother and are more wary about making choices that could affect the quality/length of their lives. It is Varya however who has arguably the most interesting job and reaction to the prophecy, as a research scientist investigating what levels you can go to to extend the human life span.

This novel took me on the most amazing journey that I never wanted to end. We follow each sibling in turn from the late sixties until the present day as each of them reaches the day that they are expected to die, according to the fortune teller. We learn about all their hopes and dreams, all their worries and especially, the struggles and trials that they face as they each reach adulthood and are confronted with the inevitable spectre of Death. It covers so many different themes, like the bonds between families, religion, homosexuality, mental illness and of course, life and death. It’s rare to read a novel where you connect with every single one of the characters but for me, this is exactly how I felt, I loved them all for very different reasons and cried and laughed with them at each struggle and triumph.

Every era of time that is captured, from the easy, open environment of San Francisco to New York in the age of modern technology is drawn fantastically, with so much atmosphere and intricate detail that you can almost imagine yourself by the side of each sibling, experiencing exactly what they do in each moment. Chloe Benjamin has created something truly magical with The Immortalists with characters that have touched my heart, many of whom made me so emotional regarding the direction that their lives ended up and the choices that they made. It really made me think (and I’d love to discuss with you in the comments below), if you had the opportunity to know the date you were going to die, would you want to know? If yes/no, why? Let me know!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

 

 

 

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin was the eighteenth book in my quest to conquer Mount Everest in the Mount TBR Challenge 2018!

The Bear And The Nightingale (Winternight Trilogy #1) – Katherine Arden

Published February 25, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind–she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed–this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

What did I think?:

The Bear And The Nightingale was the second book in my Five Star TBR Predictions and who couldn’t fail to be seduced by that gorgeous cover? It was not only the cover that drew me to this story however, it was the promise of Russian folklore and fairy-tale elements which I always adore in a novel and in recent books I have read, have been executed to perfection. The Bear and The Nightingale was no exception, it’s a slow burner of a book but this does not in any way affect how compelling it is and the sheer magnificence of the characters, particularly our female lead, Vasya made this book all the more special to me. I was delighted to discover it’s going to be part of a trilogy and have already got my sticky fingers on the second book in the series, to be read hopefully very soon.

Our main character, Vasilisa is raised in the Russian wilderness with her family, surrounded by the spirits that dwell in the woods and the creatures that help out around the house in return for treats. In the freezing temperatures, our fiesty and independent Vasya likes nothing more than snuggling round the oven at night with her siblings, being raised upon the old Russian tales of her nurse and causing a little bit of trouble when she deigns to go off exploring on her own as a young child with a headstrong and determined nature. Sadly, her mother dies and her father brings home a new wife to be “mother” to Vasya and the rest of the family.

It soon becomes apparent that her stepmother, Anna is incredibly religious and they don’t really see eye to eye, particularly considering the more spiritual beliefs of Vasya and her fellow villagers. Armed with the protection of the new priest to the area, Anna formulates a plan to rid the village of their superstitious beliefs and perhaps also get rid of Vasya, the thorn in her side, in the process. However, Anna has not accounted for the fact that there may be a grain of truth in the local legends and the further she pushes these other-worldly creatures away, the easier it is for darkness to creep in.

I won’t say too much more about the plot but rest assured, there is so much going on in this novel than you initially expect. The writing is lyrical and delicious but the reason why I loved this book so much had to be the character of Vasya. I loved her stubbornness, her desire to be different, her strength and bravery… I could go on. She was the perfect female protagonist and I adored her journey from a young, precocious child to a determined young woman who sticks to her beliefs and the advice from her gentle, loyal nurse. I touched on a little bit of Russian folklore in a book I read fairly recently, Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente and it was lovely to come across some more in The Bear And The Nightingale which in comparison, I felt I could picture much more vividly.

The only reason why I haven’t given this book five stars (and it was very close indeed) was that I felt the story became a little confusing at times when Vasya visited Morozko and occasionally I didn’t understand the symbolism behind what was going on. However, this is a beautifully atmospheric story to read, especially in the winter months and you can really feel the Russian ice and snow through writing that is nothing short of magical. As the UK prepare themselves for some cold air coming across from Siberia this week, perhaps it’s the perfect time to pick it up?

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

The Gracekeepers – Kirsty Logan

Published February 22, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

For readers of The Night Circus and Station Eleven, a lyrical and absorbing debut set in a world covered by water.

As a Gracekeeper, Callanish administers shoreside burials, laying the dead to their final resting place deep in the depths of the ocean. Alone on her island, she has exiled herself to a life of tending watery graves as penance for a long-ago mistake that still haunts her. Meanwhile, North works as a circus performer with the Excalibur, a floating troupe of acrobats, clowns, dancers, and trainers who sail from one archipelago to the next, entertaining in exchange for sustenance.

In a world divided between those inhabiting the mainland (“landlockers”) and those who float on the sea (“damplings”), loneliness has become a way of life for North and Callanish, until a sudden storm offshore brings change to both their lives – offering them a new understanding of the world they live in and the consequences of the past, while restoring hope in an unexpected future.

Inspired in part by Scottish myths and fairytales, The Gracekeepers tells a modern story of an irreparably changed world: one that harbors the same isolation and sadness, but also joys and marvels of our own age.

What did I think?:

Every fibre of my being has been wanting to pick this book up ever since I saw the gorgeous cover art on the hardback copy and read the synopsis that mentions Scottish myths/fairytales – er, yes please! This book couldn’t be more “me,” and I was delighted when the wonderful booksellers at Mr B’s Emporium recommended it to me when Chrissi Reads and I had one of their fantastic reading spas. Yet still I put off reading this book and waited AND waited. Sometimes I worry too much that I’m not going to enjoy a novel as much as I think I should and as a result, delay reading it just in case it doesn’t live up to my very lofty expectations. Well, that’s just silly because once I eventually forced myself to pick it up, I adored it. This whimsical, fantastical tale is perfect for any fans of magical realism but above all, the language is so beautifully perfect that it just flows smoothly over you as you read it, making it a very special reading experience.

Primarily, we are following two main characters – North who works as part of a travelling circus on the seas as the mysterious “bear-girl” and Callenish, an ethereal young woman who carries out burials at sea, helping the dead find rest. The story is set in an almost dystopian universe where the seas have taken over the majority of the planet with only small spots of land remaining. The people who live in this world either live on the sea and are referred to as “damplings” or live on the land as “landlockers,” with the two types rarely mixing together except for business purposes.

We follow North and her bear as she nurses a tremendous secret and carries out her duties as a performer (although taking care of her beloved bear is key). The ring-master Jarrow, has plans for North and she must struggle to convince him that she shouldn’t marry his son whilst trying to avoid enraging Jarrow’s pregnant wife, Avalon who has her own axe to grind. Then we see the supreme loneliness of Callenish, banished to an island by herself for a terrible mistake in her past to carry out the role of Gracekeeper with only her own thoughts and the Graces, birds that she uses in the burying ritual, for company. Both young women have more in common than they think and after a freak storm one night, their destinies are brought together with surprising consequences for all.

I don’t want to give anything else away, I just want to assure you of the beauty of this book. If like me, you love your fairy-tale elements and a quirky, one of a kind narrative, you should really seek out this book. I loved the mixture of dystopia with fantasy and thought each character, even the minor players in the tale were developed so particularly that each one could have had a whole story to themselves. Of course, it was the two main ladies who took the biggest piece of my heart but characters like Avalon, the pregnant wife on a mission to get whatever she wants (never mind anyone else!) and the clowns also made for fascinating reading. Furthermore, the author goes into so much detail about certain events, especially in Callenish’s past that I didn’t expect and made me incredibly emotional. Basically, The Gracekeepers isn’t just a re-run of The Night Circus/Station Eleven, it is a wonderful tale that stands on its own, rightly on its own merits and there are delightful surprises around every corner.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan is the fourteenth book in my quest to conquer Mount Everest in the Mount TBR Challenge 2018!