Category Archives: Fiction

Book Review: Anna by Niccolo Ammaniti

Everyone knows I love a good apocalypse fiction, and this is a marvellous, although bleak, rendering of a world where a mystery virus has wiped out all the adults, and children die soon after they reach puberty*.

The story focusses on Anna, a pre-pubescent girl living on Sicily 4 years after the outbreak. She steals food, collects water and tries her hardest to keep her younger brother alive and safe. When he is stolen by a gang of children hell bent on sacrificing the last adult alive, Anna risks everything to get him back.

There are no holds barred in this book. Ammaniti takes childhood and twists it into the hedonistic, terrible thing it would become without the social niceties adults press onto kids. Anna thrusting her hand into her vagina to check if she has her period is something I can well imagine happening with no one to say ‘that’s not nice to do in public’. Living amongst rodents and empty food containers, stealing clothing and getting drunk on scavenged grappa are artfully portrayed – this is not graceless writing, this is a careful examination of the breakdown of polite society. There are times when you will want to look away because the rawness of the characters is heartbreakingly real.

One thing I didn’t like was the use of drugs/alcohol/chaos to blur scenes – I can’t decide whether I just don’t understand all the subtext, or whether it’s lazy writing designed to hide a lack of plot movement. She’s drunk, she’s in a crowd where she can’t see, there’s explosion and suddenly – oh look, there are Pietro and Astor and everything is ok again (for a little while). I like stuff to be shown, or even told, rather than being ‘trusted’ to fill in the gaps myself. Damn brain doesn’t work like that!

It’s a well researched novel – what foods are still ok, what medicines would last, the general degradation of buildings and reclaiming by greenery is all fairly accurate. There are tragic scenes and joyous ones in a nice mix that keeps you hooked. The ending is bleak as fuck, but remember this is post-apocalypse fiction and Ammaniti is known for his darkness. The dog is a nice touch, I love Maremmas. It’s a nice afternoon read (it’s raining and windy here, so kinda fitting) at 275-odd pages and anyone who likes realistic end-of-the-world books with no holds barred will enjoy it.

 

****/5

 

*When I’m not so shellshocked, I’ll ponder the actual possibility of this.

 

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Book Review: She Wolf by Sheri Lewis Wohl

So there’s lesbians, werewolves and uhauling. All win.

This book is delightful, beautifully written fluff and I loved every minute of it. After plowing through a few non-fictions (I haven’t finished any, but I’ll get there), and the rich heaviness that was an Exaltation of Larks (stunning – hopefully I’ll remember to review it at some point) and Idaho, I felt the need for some fluff. I didn’t expect it to be so engaging (read over one night) and so well-written.

Lily is a werewolf, something she manages well (with medication) and uses in her job (hunting down supernatural creatures who don’t follow the rules). Ava is a witch, the other guy* is a necromancer with ADHD and together they are going to bring down the rogue werewolf who is macerating people in Eastern Washington. There’s two problems – this werewolf seems to be everywhere at once, and Jayne Quarle, the town’s sheriff doesn’t believe in anything supernatural, let alone werewolves.

The narrative is well done, with some nice twists and a sweet sex scene which is both believable and leaves enough to the imagination (I really don’t like reading sex when it’s written blow by blow – pun intended), and I didn’t guess the killer until the end. It was like 2am and I’d had a bit of wine though, so it may be obvious to everyone else. I like how Wohl circled round to Lily’s making (that bit at least was obvious) and I felt the love stories running through were honest.

It’s strange to read a paranormal, LGBTI romance novel and WANT everything to be believable, but I really do require that. It’s what pissed me off so much about that Marigny St book – no one would believe that romance. And before someone jumps on here and says “they moved in together after a week, that’s not believable” it totally is – look up uhauling on urban dictionary, happens more often that you’d think and I’m definitely guilty of it myself.

The story leaves plenty of room for a sequel (is Jayne slightly magic?) or a side novel (Ava and Kyle are adorable), the dialogue is well executed, the suspense is not heavy-handed, and as much as I like to say I never read Urban Fantasy if they were all written this well I’d probably read a lot more.

4/5

*Kyle. I looked it up.

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Book review: Idaho by Emily Ruskovich

I grabbed this book from netgalley for a review, y’all can read it in a week or so when it comes out.

 

This is a shocking book. The crime it’s based on will make you suck your breath in and clench your fists. It’s brutal and cruel and tragic.

But what is most shocking is the beautiful, eloquent, quiet way the story around the crime is rendered. This book is soft-paced, it builds (rising and falling like breath), it wrenches at your heart and it fills you with a longing that you can’t quite explain.

It’s the story of May and June, sisters born 3 years apart.

It’s the story of Ann who teaches piano, loves her husband, and can never quite escape the question of blame.

It’s the story of Jenny and Elizabeth, who find an awkward but enduring friendship in an ugly place.

This is a book about women, and about those people who women love. It starts on a mountain, with Wade felling trees to allow a helicopter to reach a pregnant Jenny if need be. Years later, another winter, Wade and Jenny drive their girls to the next mountain to collect firewood and it is here the unspeakable happens (literally – Ruskovich NEVER actually replays the moment itself, just those leading up to it and immediately after. It’s as if the act itself cannot be written because it’s too horrendous). Again, years pass, and Ann finds herself in the same truck, trying to uncover the truth of her husband’s past in order to save his future.

The story jumps between years and decades, going all the way to 2025, where Ann and Jenny – now old women, almost unrecognizable even to themselves – leave the mountain at last. The nonlinear narrative form adds to the story and also helps build a sense of Wade’s increasing dementia – even as the years are announced, it’s uncertain what will be uncovered, a fight between May and June over dolls, a man lost in the snow, Jenny adding to Elizabeth’s mural – these tiny acts add to a life (or to the loss of one) and slowly uncover the overall story, which spans three generations on the prairie and the mountain. There’s a sense of menace which is slightly offset by the gorgeous, ripe prose. This is an author who understands deeply what it is to be a woman, to love and be loved in return, to despair and be despaired of. Ruskovich’s grasp of family devotion is essential to the story. Her knowledge of the landscape shines (she was raised in northern Idaho), and she graciously allows us moments of pure grace amongst the horror (“May feels tired. Happy, and tired…She begins to do what she often does just before her eyes close. She decides to forget things”).

There are a few detours I didn’t like – I felt like the one legged boy’s story was a little out of place, and the bloodhound, and Adam. Not that they don’t belong there, and they add to the narrative, but it’s strange to jump to a male perspective for those particular chapters. I would have preferred the dog to be female, Eliot’s story to be told by Ivy (or Julia). Adam’s story….well, I guess that had to be told by Adam himself, but it’s strange and jarring to have male voices in a mostly-female narrative. And not in an interesting/good way.

But all in all, probably the second best novel I’ve read all year and just stunning. It’s one that will stay with me for a long time.

4.5/5

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Book Review: The Imlen Brat by Sarah Avery

oh my god.

I did it again.

In my desperate hunt for decent fantasy (on netgalley. There’s a lot of VERY decent fantasy out at the moment, but I spent the last of my teeny tiny book allowance on NK Jemisin’s The Obelisk Gate and can’t afford anything else until February. It was worth every penny, by the way, her writing is INCREDIBLE), I stumbled across the Imlen Brat, was accepted as a reader and dove in.

At first, I didn’t like it. The character is young (like 7) and while Avery has done a brilliant job of capturing the trials and obsessions of a 7 year old in a 7 year old’s voice, I own a 7 year old and reading is my main way of escaping from her. I like my fantasy point of view to come from someone older, like 15+. But I kept reading and you get introduced to the world and the ruling class and their politics in a way that’s not too in your face. And the world looks goooooood. The politics are complicated, the intrigue is… well, intriguing. There’s a foster system, there are honour killings for fucking outside one’s class, there’s an island with a castle in a maze and people have the ability to kin-curse those they are related to. And there’s a bastard child in the middle of it who will either be trained as a soldier, a pirate or an assassin.

……………and then it fucking ends.

70 pages of yes (well, 20 pages of omg, I’m really desperate for fantasy fiction, and 50 pages of omg, I’m really glad I stayed with this) and then, nothing. Fuck you, Sarah Avery, with your sample size serving of REALLY EXCELLENT writing.

Ok, it’s worth the read. If you want to know how a good author sets up a political system, read this novella – it’s a great example of showing, not telling (which is difficult with complicated worlds). It’s realistic, emotional, well told and as much as I do not like 7 year olds (especially today – she had a melt down in Target), she has nailed character action, voice and expression.

Please write the rest. For the love of all things holy, write the rest!

 

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Book review: Nineveh by Henrietta Rose-Innes

Nineveh was an ancient Assyrian city of Upper Mesopotamia, located in modern-day northern Iraq; it is on the eastern bank of the Tigris River, and was the capital of the Neo-Assyrian Empire.
In 612 BCE the city of Nineveh was sacked and burned by the allied forces of the Persians, Medes, Babylonians, and others who then divided the region between them. The area was sparsely populated thereafter and, slowly, the ancient ruins became buried in the earth.

 

I don’t really know where to start with this book. I found it incredibly bizarre and was really uncomfortable the whole time I was reading it, which perhaps was the author’s intent.

It’s the story of Katya, a second generation pest control expert working in South Africa. After the successful relocation of caterpillars from a fancy party, Katya is asked to come to the house owners new venture – Nineveh, a nearly completed but still empty luxury estate – and deal with the strange plague of insects that has stopped the construction. Katya moves to the estate, where there is no sign of the pests she has to deal with, and from then on the story dissolves into a weird set of coincidences and conspiracies that I couldn’t follow. First Katya finds that someone is sneaking building supplies out of Nineveh and selling them at a nearby market. Then she finds her estranged father and allows him to stay in the estate with her. Then there is the plague of insects, an interlude with a guard dog and an accident with the owner of the estate, who Katya may or may not be sleeping with.

Oh and you can never tell if it’s day or night, and everything happens on top of a swamp.

Katya goes through her backstory, but even that is sinister and strange and you get the feeling she either won’t divulge or doesn’t realise the full story. Every single relationship Katya has in the book, from her nephew Toby, to the wealthy landowner, to her father and to random female characters throughout the story, is dysfunctional and oddly sexualised. The whole story points at a massive storm approaching, but the break is oddly glossed over and confusing. It’s building…building… building….. then two pages and everything is back to a new kind of normal (albeit with Katya now living in her car with the dog she was terrified of throughout 90% of the story).

Maybe it’s because I can’t read between the lines, or because I imply things that aren’t there, or just because I hate gothic novels, but this book just made me confused and uncomfortable and I was super glad when it was over.

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Book Review: The Signal Flame by Andrew Krivák

Note: I received this book as an advanced reading copy from netgalley. You can read it in January 2017.

I didn’t expect to enjoy this book, but I ended up reading it over an evening and part of the next morning. It’s slow and steadfast, more a sense of time passing and life being lived than building up to anything. I HATED the ending, but only because i like things to be wrapped in neat packages. The ending instead just kind of stops, in the middle of a life, which is where the story starts so I supposed was to be expected.

The story, beginning with the death of his grandfather, is about Bo, a second generation Pennsylvanian Slovak who lives with his widowed mother, Hannah, on a farm near a small town. Bo runs the local mill and waits for his missing war veteran brother to return home. His brother’s fiancee also waits, now heavily pregnant. An accident in a terrible flood sees Bo, Ruth and Hannah living together in the house, trying to work through the problems the past has left them.

This story is about family history and legacy; those parts which must be endured and those parts that can be changed as people move on. Krivák has written a gorgeous novel, where each characters voice comes through strongly (even Jozef Vinich, who the reader never encounters alive, and Sam, who is MIA throughout the story). Each character is beautifully rounded and human, even the dog is honestly and sweetly rendered (who wouldn’t love a black lab called Beautiful in Slovak?).

The story is mostly from the point of view of Bo, but told in the third person, so you get occasional glimpses into the mind of Hannah (struggling to reconcile the loss of her husband with her affection for his killer’s daughter), and Ruth (shattered by her life, but ready to move on). There are memory pieces throughout which add to the story really well, especially Hannah’s memory of Sam drowning the hornets nest. I really enjoy this style of writing, where most of the story takes place in the present, but there is still that tie to the past (the birth of Bexhet, the buying of land from Augustin, Tomás becoming a priest) woven in.

All in all, if you have any ties to Slovakia or Pennsylvania, an interest in life in small town America during the Vietnam War, or a love for slow burn storytelling, you will like this book. You may possibly even like the open-ended ending, although I didn’t.

 

3.5/5

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Book Review: the Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco

Note: This book was given to me as an advanced reading copy by Netgalley. You can read it in March 2017.

I really loved this book. It’s Asian influenced fantasy, but the Asian elements aren’t cloying – I barely even noticed them until a quarter of the way in. It’s the story of Tea (pronounced Tee-ah), who accidentally raises her brother from the dead and becomes a bone witch – equal parts revered and reviled. This story, the first of the series, deals with Tea’s training under the watchful eyes of the last remaining Bone Witch, Mykaela, and the owner of her training house, Mistress Parmina. Cue the usual coming of age stuff, Tea learns humility, hard work, the thrill of excellence, makes friends with various peeps, has a major crush on the most unavailable person she could possibly crush on, etc. It’s a fairly obvious story EXCEPT FOR THE BIT WHERE SHE KEEP RAISING THE DEAD. That’s kind of cool. And it’s woven so deftly into the story. Anyway, Tea’s training is cut short because there’s a monster that needs slaying, so off she goes.

There’s also another narrative thread, an older Tea, alone and angry on a beach surrounded by variations of said monster. She’s pissed off and she’s going to destroy the world and it’s a lovely contrast to slightly stiff, but mostly benevolent girl-child Tea, who does stuff like insist her male friend be allowed to be an Asha (an upto now wholly female calling), and make sure her exhausted, near-death mentor is safe from harm. This other thread is a bit overwrought, but still readable. Sometimes I just found it unnecessary, like the author just needed to shove an extra page of italics between chapters. The twist at the end I saw coming, but when I read it, I found myself being thrilled that I was right, rather than lamenting the obviousness – nothing about this book is obvious, even if you think it’s going to be at first.

Other reviews have lamented the long descriptions, but I totally get off on that. Remember the Bitterbynde Series, where six pages were often devoted to the description of a single plant? Yeah, I love that. So the long descriptive paragraphs here got me totally wrapped up in the world (y’all know I love good world building) and because the culture is extremely different to my own, I needed all that extra knowledge.

I really enjoyed the story, I really enjoyed the pace of the book, I really think that it will be good for adult readers and teens who are ok with dark stuff, and I hope the next one is as enjoyable.

4/5 stars.

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