Sunday, 23 September 2018

Caina

Hello! Hope you’re all doing well, it’s Heather here, posting a quick review on the crime novel Caina by Joe Albanese. 

Information

Author: Joe Albanese
Published: May 2018
Publisher: Mockingbird Lane Press
Length: 174 pages

Brief Description (from Amazon)

Twins tend to be closer than typical siblings. They often share a bond that is oftentimes unexplainable.*

For some reason that bond didn’t apply to Grant and Lee Tolan. Grant was always the responsible one. Lee, on the other hand, was always in trouble and in jail, self-destructing to the point the twins hadn’t seen or spoken in years.

In trouble with the Irish mob who wanted him sleeping with the fishes, finding Grant dead of an apparent suicide, Lee did the only thing that made sense. He switched identities.

Instead of making life easier, Lee is plunged into a world the Irish and Italian crime families, the Mexican cartel and the DEA. Pitting one against the other, Lee enlists the help of friends to save his own life. He will need a miracle.
But Grant’s secret is the biggest shock of all for Lee and he must re-evaluate his entire life.
*Maureen Healy, author of Growing Happy Kids.



Anyone familiar with Dante’s Inferno may already associate the word Caina with the Ninth Circle of Hell and, more specifically, treachery against kindred. That pretty much sums up the main plot. Despite being twins, Lee absolutely loathes his law-abiding brother Grant. However, after discovering his corpse, Lee finds himself impersonating Grant and realises that he may not have been as much of a goody-two-shoes as Lee had anticipated. 

As a person, I don’t know if Lee and I would have been besties. He’s irrationally bitter over his brother’s success, immature, totally unsympathetic, spends too much time dallying about in illegal matters and is generally very selfish and rude, though I appreciate how much he cared for Angela and Clare. However, as a character, I found him refreshing. I cannot count the number of crime novels and shows centred around yet another random busybody that feels like meddling in something that has nothing to do with them but, despite their complete and utter lack of experience or qualification, are granted access to the crime scene and solve the entire thing in less than a week. Or that good old detective with a long, swishing coat and ominous tone laced with sarcasm. To be fair, I normally rave about how wonderful these characters are (the nosy meddlers and very-serious detectives feel like family) despite the blatant stereotypes but nonetheless, Lee was a welcome change of perspective. 

The flow of the plot was good. I never thought I’d encounter a character that would come across their (admittedly estranged) identical twin brother’s body and, rather than grieve, pretend the corpse was their own to trick a gang and take on the deceased brother’s identity without thinking it far-fetched but this proved to be an exception. It’s like a twisted, criminal version of The Pretty One. Lee is just so… Lee that I have no issue with the plot here. However, I did find the excess of gangs a bit much. Personally, I’d have preferred just one or two gangs with more focus on each member of the gang and their background. Instead, the reader relies on a brief description of the majority ethnic group of each gang and the names of the most important members, which can get a little confusing towards the end. The highlight of the plot for me has to be the ending. Albanese really built the everything up well and I was concerned I’d be disappointed but found myself pleasantly surprised. My main question to the author is whether a sequel is on the horizon? I feel like the ending lends itself to another book and I certainly wouldn’t protest reading another novel in Lee’s narrative voice.

I found there were very occasional typos, like a few haphazard speech marks that must have been missed over the editing period, but there weren’t enough for this to be an issue when reading. I also thought the cover of the novel perhaps a bit too dark and serious looking for a crime comedy but looked very smart even so. Aside from that, the formatting was good – the font was slightly larger than average, making it a joy to read, the blurb describes the novel perfectly etc. 

Albanese's strongest skill in this novel would have to be his creative use of perspective. I've already mentioned how interesting Lee was as a narrator, but I haven't spoken much about Grant. We learn so much about Grant without even meeting him when he's alive. He comes across as a hard-working and loving man and I found it quite endearing how he cared about Lee and tried to support him despite Lee's stubborn dislike of him. Naturally I found it irksome how Lee showed very little sympathy towards poor Eric, who was clearly close to Grant, but again, that's just... Lee. Overall, I did enjoy this book despite the slight confusion over the numerous gangs.

That’s it for today, folks. Let me know what you think of Caina if you’ve read it. I’ll be back next month with a review for a memoir on addiction.

Sunday, 16 September 2018

The Secret Countess

Hello! Helen here, for the very first time. I’ll be talking about one of my absolute favourite pieces of children’s literature this time – a book that never fails to make me laugh and cry, even now, on what must be the 11th reread.

Book: The Secret Countess
Author: Eva Ibbotson

Blurb: (from the 2015 Macmillan children’s books print) When revolution tears Russia apart, Anna abandons her identity and homeland for a safe haven in England. She finds shelter there, working as a servant in an aristocratic household, her luxurious past now just a distant memory – until she falls in love with the young Earl of Westerholme, and risks revealing her secret.

Set against the backdrop of a war-torn and shell-shocked Europe, The Secret Countess is ultimately a tale of survival and love, even after the destruction and horror of the First World War. Like many of the Russian aristocracy, the Countess Anna Granzinsky fled St Petersburg in 1917 with her family, and eventually made her way to London. Determined not to trespass on the hospitality of her old governess, Anna takes the position of a housemaid at the stately Mersham Manor despite her total lack of experience, all the while hiding her true title. Once there, she meets a host of charming and eccentric characters – such as the orderly Butler, Cyril Proom; the Dowager Countess, who communes with the spirits of those long deceased; and of course, the Earl himself.

The plot itself is rather predictable for an older reader, and fits the ‘Boy meets Girl’ trope to a T. It is, of course, a children’s book, and a certain amount of leeway is allowed here – not that Ibbotson needs it in the slightest. Any predictability is completely overshadowed by the witty and engaging prose style that Ibbotson implements so successfully in all of her literature. Her characters leap off the page in all their idiosyncratic glory, and it is impossible not to fall in love with Anna as she muddles her way gracefully through the stiff rules of the English country estate – something very familiar from countless episodes of Downton Abby. Even the villain of the piece is completely alive and as hateable as Dolores Umbridge herself, and the romance is entirely magical.

For a children’s book, The Secret Countess touches on a surprising amount of the issues that cropped up after the First World War. PTSD, the isolation of refugees and the loss of their national identity, the value of duty, and even the insidious tendrils of white supremacy and ableism that would eventually fuel the ideological foundation of Hitler’s Third Reich are all included – but in a way a child can understand, without compromising innocence or becoming a subliminal political agenda. Instead, the themes of the book focus on kindness, love, and finding a home somewhere you might not expect. Not surprising, considering Ibbotson’s own hurried escape to England after the Nazis came to power in Austria.

Full of joy and humanity, I would highly recommend this book to anyone who needs to smile more, not just the children it is aimed at. The dramatic climax alone will have you humming the Valse des Fleurs for days on end.

Sunday, 9 September 2018

Two Spells by Mark Morrison

Hello everyone! We're officially back from our long hiatus and I, Shani, will be kicking our blog off with a review for the wonderful fantasy novel Two Spells by Mark Morrison.

Two Spells focuses on Sarah and Jon, twin brother and sister, and their journey to discover their magic. The twins are unaware that they possess any power until their mother takes them on a family trip to Wales, where they meet their grandparents who they haven't properly met before (which I found slightly odd). Their grandparents tell them all about the magic in their family and where it originates from. An aspect of the novel which I really enjoyed was the way that Morrison set his story in Wales, particularly the way that he describes the landscape, and how he paints the mystical library of Two Spells, the place where Sarah's grandparents stole an enchanted book and gained access to their magic. Two Spells is the mythical place that readers, such as myself, dreamt about as children. Not only is it described as an elegant yet ancient building, but it also has an air of mystery and fear associated with it whenever Morrison mentions it. From the very beginning of the novel Morrison does a fabulous job of creating a sense of anticipation surrounding Two Spells, embedding fear but curiosity in both Sarah and Jon, thus causing the same reaction from the reader. The mythological side of the novel was also intriguing and I thoroughly enjoyed how Morrison created such an intricate history for library of Two Spells.

The dynamic between Sarah and Jon reminded me of my own dynamic with my siblings, fighting one minute and protecting each other the next. It was very humbling to see that the twins had an typical sibling relationship rather than just having either a hateful relationship or a loving one like some novels do. Whilst it is true that these types of relationships do exist between siblings, it was refreshing to see that Morrison went with a normal dynamic. I enjoyed the characters of Sarah's grandparents as well, though at the beginning they frustrated me slightly because they were all giving the reader tidbits of information about Two Spells and the family's magic, however the family dynamic between all four characters was heartwarming to see.

One criticism I have for the novel is the ending and the amount of characters that Morrison introduces in a short space of time. For a children's novel there were a number of characters who are suddenly thrust into the novel towards the very end, which isn't always a bad thing, but in my opinion I felt that there were too many new names and personalities to learn about in a very short space of time. Had the characters been introduced at an earlier point in the novel it probably wouldn't confuse the reader as much, however, throwing the characters in last minute does cause some confusion.

The novel ends on a cliffhanger, which I will definitely will not spoil as I suggest you all go and read the novel for yourselves, that sets up the next novel. This novel is the first in a series so though I wasn't a huge fan of what happened at the denounement, I understand why Morrison has chosen to end his novel in this particular way as it sets up a plot line for the next novel.

Overall, I did enjoy Two Spells and would recommend it to fans of Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, and The Chronicles of Narnia as the fantasy element of the novel is fantastic. Praise to Morrison for creating a fantastical fictional world for children to bask in once more.

If you're interested in reading Two Spells the link to Morrison's amazon page is here, you can order the paper back for £7.99 or read a free copy of it through the kindle edition: https://www.amazon.co.uk/TwoSpells-Mark-Morrison-ebook/dp/B079ZBBSPM/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1536492101&sr=8-1-fkmr0&keywords=Two+Spells+Mark+Morrison

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Announcement!

Hello everyone! You've probably noticed that we've been inactive for eons. This is because we've all recently started uni, have been working on our own personal projects and have been generally trying to cope with adulthood. However, now we've decided to return in September (and slightly revamp the blog). If anyone wants to email us in the meantime, we're finally checking our emails again and will try to respond.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Death's Laughter


Hey guys! Its Lydia! I know it's been over two weeks since I last posted, I really need to write it in my phone (she says while forgetting to remind herself). Anyway this is the last piece I had to write my creative writing module at university. Hope you like it! 


Is life fixed in birth? Soft to age’s jowl -
Bundled light from womb, and then stamped in black. 
Wicked and wayward Death, to feel no foul -
But only gleeful springs that build our plaque.
Greyness of moments creep, in waking dreams
That you and I, simply sweeting, mortal.
Deep crowfeet lines and veracious streams,
Fading thoughts alone to feed Deaths chortle.
Yet, please let this not fill life’s fragile mind.
Don’t exist to plenty in Ends appeal.
Think only of loves laugh or sunshine kind,
Gulp its fresh water, clutch a steady steal.
Soon to be dead in thinking of the tomb,
Life is hard. Will you spend its gift in gloom?





Thursday, 19 October 2017

The Perfect Mess


Hey viewers, its Lydia posting tonight. So I've now been at university for almost a month! I remember starting this blog with Heather and Shani at the end of year twelve, so it's nice to think how far we have all come. This is a creative piece I wrote at the start of this year. I'm going to try and set up a structure to my posts, maybe one creative post every two weeks, and a review once a month. - I'm still thinking about it. But next month I'll be doing a review of a book called 'Colour of Madness' by Simon Clark, so I hope you give it a read and tell me what you think.  


At night, before I go to sleep, I leave my phone on my bedside table. I already know what is coming; the Facebook messages, emails and texts messages tear painfully into my thoughts. I await them as I get into my warm bed. It is no safe haven. My sheets are thrashed by the claws of the monsters living in my phone. I hope each night that it will be different but it never is. They are awake and ready, attacking me with words to torment.

It is my very own circle of life; I wake up with the fear like a stone weighing me down in my stomach. Each morning I try to delicately move, to not disrupt the perfect mess. When I reach school, I am shouted at with words I cannot say aloud. Sometimes they scribble the vile invective on paper, knowing that it hurts me more. Social media is an open door. At home I wait for sleep, my eyes dry and open, before the ping of the phone shatters my trepidation. 

Facebook message from Shaun Thompson: “Hey Eleanor, I noticed you were having trouble reading in class today. Can you try and read this allowed for me? You are irrelevant, an awful dream that no one can wake up from. Do us all a favour and change schools.”

The heart inside my chest is a heavy clay sculpture; each message sends a rippling rupture. It causes my body to arch and my back to curve as my knees rise and press against my chest. My eyes swell and thick warm droplets darken my red sheets. Sometimes I think that if my brain worked the way it was supposed to, I wouldn’t be in a loop of anxiety. If I were normal, I would have some sort of self-belief, and my mind wouldn’t feel like drowning in a pool, trying desperately to filter towards the right answer. Mum calls me her unique little elf; she tells me that I should not feel ashamed. I hear her voice and her words are soothing. I erupt in sobs as she asks how my day was. She hugs me, stroking my hair and resting her chin on top of my head. I smell her perfume as my cheek is squashed against her chest.

Email from Anonymous22754@hotmail.co.uk: “What makes you so special Eleanor Phillips? I know what it is; you’re just thick aren’t you? The teachers treat you better because you’re special? Let me tell you this, you are nothing more than the mud I tread on.”

I lie there absorbing the words, allowing their meaning to be processed by my slow mind. I believe every word. I don’t work the same way other people do. I can reread sentences, three, eight times and still not comprehend what the words are telling me. There is something missing, a piece of the puzzle that was thrown away. God decided to create my being differently. Why? I am not special.
The pings of notifications loom in and out like little insects nibbling at my brain.

A thought has been relaying for some time. This one fear has blackened my reality and my future. I wonder if one morning I will have lost the strength to get up and carry on, my strength sapped by the night’s harsh language, my body sucked dry of all happiness and my heart finally cracked in two.

I open my eyes and see the outline of words: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. The image underneath the words is more terrifying in the dark, the yellow eyes staring back. The monster’s bruised, twisted features are accentuated and defined by shadow. He is rejected, spurned and stoned by the community he so desperately wants to be welcomed by.


But reading for me is acceptance, a means of escape; the words flow easier on the page because there are no judgmental eyes causing my face to burn. I build walls of imagery in my mind, seeing the words I read through the eyes of Scout, who perceives everything but understood nothing. I feel the silk of my fine dress as I sit and drink tea with Elizabeth Bennet. I pause, breathe, and become the intelligent, emancipated Portia, not giving a single thought to the buzzing of my phone.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

The How To Do Stuff (Right) Book

Hey everyone, it's Heather here. We've all just started university, so have each been a little busy with adjusting to a new home, new friends, and lectures - posting has been slow. We'll probably get back to a better pace when we've all settled in more. Anyway, massive thanks to Pegasus Publishing for letting me read this book in exchange for an honest review. I thought the title was suitable for starting a new chapter in my life!


Information


Author: Glen P. Aylward
Published: August 2017
Publisher: Vanguard Press, Pegasus Publishers
Length: 223 pages


Brief Description (from Amazon)

In this humorous look at everyday life, psychologist Dr. Wayward explains how to deal with everyday situations using findings from his extensive (and field-tested) research. Learn how to do stuff (the right way) with Dr Wayward's expert advice on everything from wine tasting and buying a car to raising toddlers and maintaining the perfect garden lawn that's sure to impress those neighbors when they peek out from behind the curtains. Witty, smart and full of laughs, The How to Do Stuff (Right) Book will teach you to survive the modern world and its pitfalls, whether you're a technology-savvy Millennial keen on growing the perfect bonsai, or a Baby Boomer struggling to keep up with the advances of the twenty-first century.


Review

It's going to be a short review because this is a non-fiction book, so there's less that I need to comment on. Each chapter of this book is dedicated to a random topic; like how to maintain a lawn, and how to do wine tasting. With 16 chapters, there's so many situations discussed that even if you don't drink alcohol, are allergic to pets, cannot drive, and have no garden, most of the other chapters will still be applicable at one point in your life. Chapter Twelve, which detailed how to survive living with an adolescent, was my favourite. Despite being in the later adolescent stage, looking back on the first two stages I could definitely see where the writer was coming from, and I know many of my peers were the same! Although the content of the book is interesting, Aylward's writing style is the highlight. Witty, clever, sarcastic and amusing, it's a fun read, so even if some of the situations written about are not necessarily relevant to the reader, they can be entertained by reading about it nonetheless. Many of the tips are genuinely quite useful to take on board, whilst others are more light-hearted, for instance a tip in the wine-tasting section is to avoid "asking the proprietor to break out the jello shots". 

The design of this book has really exceeded my expectations - this one looks really classy with an appealing and bold green cover. This kind of book would make a perfect stocking filler as well (we're fairly near Christmas... right?), and is the type of book that someone like my dad would adore to get as a gift. I loved how the book includes graphs and diagrams sometimes, and bullet point lists to make full use of formatting, making it extremely easy to understand exactly what the writer means.

This is a really funny book, definitely the sort of non-fiction book I like to read in my leisure time. I'd recommend it for most adults. Leave me a comment if you've read, or are curious about The How To Do Stuff (Right) Book below!