Books

Talking about books (when I have time to read for fun)

READ THE WORLD – Scotland: The Open Door, and the Portrait by Margaret Oliphant

The Open Door, and the Portrait: Stories of the Seen and the Unseen are two short spooky stories.

The Open Door is from the perspective of Mortimer a father who’s brought his family to live in an old Scottish manor but when his son is taken ill, having apparently heard a lost spirit, Mortimer promises to solve the mystery and help the lost soul. The Portrait is about Philip, a man who returns home to his elderly father and becomes enchanted by the portrait of his dead mother who he never knew.

Both stories are eerie and are set in old, manor houses that hide their secrets and have male leads that like to believe they are sound of mind but maybe that’s not the case.

Out of the two stories I preferred The Open Door. It was a creepy ghost story that made full use of its setting in the wilds of Scotland, owls hooting, characters not wanting to believe the stories and a child that has seen things that can’t be explained. I also liked that when Mortimer was investigating his sons claims and talked to people who worked for the house, the way it was written you could clearly see the thick Scottish accent. It was another thing that helped pull me into the story.

The Portrait was more of a mystery than a horror story. There were hints at supernatural goings on but it was Phillip and his relationship with his father that was the main focus of the story. Also, while obviously a lot happens in a short space of time in a short story, I found the ending of The Portrait felt quite rushed and not that satisfying.

Still, I did enjoy reading The Open Door, and the Portrait: Stories of the Seen and the Unseen. I haven’t read any Victorian fiction out of choice before (definitely read some during my school life) and these short stories were a nice way to dip my toes in as it were.

I want to say thank you to Bex over at NinjaBookBox as it was this post that made me aware of Margaret Oliphant. I will be checking out the other books and authors mentioned in the post.

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READ THE WORLD – Dominican Republic: Papi by Rita Indiana

Drawing on her own memories of a childhood split between Santo Domingo and visits with her father amid the luxuries of the United States, Papi is the story of an eight-year-old girl and the relationship with her father.

Papi is a short yet fast-paced read. The way it’s written, with many long, run-on sentences, followed by lots of short sentences with repetition makes you read it faster and faster. It’s interesting that this manic style of story-telling is mostly present when the girls father is around, or she is anticipating his arrival. It makes her father feel like a whirlwind, a force to be reckoned with that picks her up and takes her along for the ride.

Papi is from a child’s perspective so there’s lots of fantastical imagery used where a child might fill in the gaps of what she actually knows. Her father is rich and popular with many business associates, while reading this you presume that means he’s a drug dealer but you never really get that idea from the narrator. She see’s her father as the best thing ever and the way events or people are described do feel like you’re in the imagination of a child. That being said, some of the words used feel far older than what an eight-year-old girl would be using. This adds another level of weirdness to the narrative as you’re never really sure as to what’s real and what’s not.

There’s not really much plot to Papi, or if there is, I often lost it. it’s scattered and hard to follow but there’s something about it that’s captivating. It’s more about the evocative imagery it presents about a girl’s relationship with her father than a story with a true beginning, middle and end. 4/5.

Finally Fall Book Tag

As I’ve said quite recently, I love Autumn. And look what I found that puts two of my favourite things (books and autumn) together – the Finally Fall Book Tag! This tag was created by Tall Tales, it features 11 questions and I’m just going to get stuck right in.

1. In fall, the air is crisp and clear: name a book with a vivid setting!
The Gunslinger by Stephen King. This is the first book in The Dark Tower series and not a lot really happens in it but you definitely get a vivid description of this place that the Gunslinger roams. It’s like a desert in a dying world, and it feels incredibly lifeless and harsh.

2. Nature is beautiful… but also dying: name a book that is beautifully written, but also deals with a heavy topic like loss or grief.
The Language of Dying by Sarah Pinsborough. This is a short story about death, grief and the ties that binds a family until they don’t anymore and it’s beautiful. It’s very sad as a woman is basically with her father, in the family home, waiting for him to die as her siblings briefly visit them. It’s a great look at family connections and how they can break so easily while also being about how hard it is to see someone you love slip away.

3.Fall is back to school season: share a non-fiction book that taught you something new.
The Good Immigrant edited by Nikesh Shukla. I learnt so much about what it’s like being a person of colour in Britain today, and no matter how much I read up on it I’ll probably never understand it because I’m white. (more…)

REVIEW: Bubblegum by Sari Taurez

*I received a free electronic advance reading copy of this book in return for an honest review*

Status means everything in this society, including the difference between life and death. Tiana is a pampered member of the higher class of society, until her mother cuts her off and she must make her own way in the world. Tiana has a plan though – she has a knack for murder. Julia is Tiana’s first client, a lower-class girl, who volunteers at the local orphanage – an orphanage that’s being targeted by the infamous brothel-owner Bobby Nails. But as Tiana investigates she finds she might be in over her head. Tiana and Julia face a dangerous enemy on their quest for vengeance and justice, and they soon discover that they’re stronger together than a part. But will it be enough to stop Nails and save the orphans from a terrible fate?

The setting of Bubblegum feels like the near-future. Technology is pretty similar but the class system is very much a dystopian ideal – the rich get protection and are free to do whatever they want, including kill people from lower classes, while the lower classes struggle to get by with limited opportunities when it comes to work and education.

Bubblegum is a lot of fun and that’s down to the larger than life characters and the fact the action never really lets up for long. The characters are what really pulled me into this story. Tiana is bold, confident and a bit selfish sometimes, she seems to steamroll over Julia (and others) quite a few times but slowly you get to see that she’s not always as tough as she appears and she does truly care for a few select people. Julia is great. She’s the most relatable character of the bunch. She doesn’t have a lot of money, she cares a lot about the children she works with at the orphanage and she is very well aware of the dangerous situations she is slowly getting herself into and has very realistic, yet level-headed, reactions to it all.

The dialogue between Tiana and Julia is great. To be honest, pretty much all the dialogue is quick and engaging, putting the point across without too much unnecessary exposition. It’s the relationship between Tiana and Julia as well as Ruby and William, two characters you are slowly introduced to and are just as engaging as the story progresses, that really makes Bubblegum for me. Tiana and Julia have such an unlikely yet solid friendship (what with Tiana being almost the stereotypical white rich girl while Julia is the black poor girl) and when Ruby and William come along they dynamic shifts but they all make a badass yet kind of messed up group of people.

I’m pretty sure Bubblegum is the first New Adult story I’ve read and if this is the kind of thing the NA bracket brings I’ll be reading more of it. Bubblegum doesn’t shy away from gory violence and it does have some sex scenes but nothing too explicit. However, there are references to prostitution, including child prostitution, and sexual violence.

While I can’t say anything about how good the representation is, there is a female/female romance between a lesbian character and a transgender character. The relationship between the two is organic and sweet and you’re really rooting for them both, especially as their personalities are kind of the complete opposite but they compliment each other a lot.

Bubblegum is action-packed and while it does feature tough themes like human-trafficking and prostitution, it still manages to be fun without lessening the traumas the characters face in these situations. 4/5.

Bubblegum is released on 9th October 2017

TOP 5 WEDNESDAY: Books Featuring Witches

Top 5 Wednesday is a great feature created by GingerReadsLainey and hosted by ThoughtsonTomes. To find out more about Top 5 Wednesday and the upcoming topics, check out its Goodreads page. This week it’s about books that feature witches, whether they are the main characters or there just happens to be a witch as a side character.

Eragon by Christopher Paolini
Eragon, and the whole Inheritance Cycle, features one of my favourite witches ever – Angela. I love her so much because she’s much older and wiser than she appears, she can make potions, she can fight and maybe she can see the future. You never really know what she’s capable of and that’s what makes Angela such a great character.

Book of Shadows by Cate Tiernan
This is the first book in the Sweep (or as I knew it Wicca) series. it’s about a girl called Morgan who thinks she’s perfectly normally until she discovers she’s a “blood witch” which is someone who is born with magical powers and she’s in fact a descendent of a long line of witches. I read this book, and the whole series, when I was about eleven or twelve and it was the first series I read solely by getting it out of the library.

Northern Lights by Phillip Pullman
It’s been a while since I’ve read Northern Lights but the witches in it, including witch queen Serafina Pekkala, came straight to mind when I saw this week’s topic. The witches in this book live in the north, don’t feel the cold and they can fly if they have the right type of tree branch. I really like their relationship with their dæmons, which are always birds, because they can be a part from each other without it causing either of them pain.

The Graces by Laure Eve
The Graces is one of those books where you it makes you wonder if magic and witches are real or if what happens is just pure chance. It’s such an intriguing read and there’s definitely magic in the air of some sort and the Graces do seem all powerful and mysterious.

Meg and Mog by Helen Nicoll and Jan Pieńkowski
This is the first book I thought of when I saw this topic. It’s an illustrated series of stories about a witch called Meg whose spells always go a bit wrong and her black and white stripped cat Mog. I had a collection of these stories when I was little and apparently I drove my mum mad by getting her to read it to me every single night!

What are some of your favourite books featuring witches?

READ THE WORLD – Mexico: México 20 by Multiple Authors

An anthology from twenty Mexican writers under forty, paired with twenty British translators.

México 20 is an eclectic mix of writing, where some pieces are less than ten pages long while others are closer to thirty, and some were written in really interesting ways. They are mostly short stories, sometimes they are extracts from a larger piece of the authors work, but there’s some non-fiction too, in fact the first piece is an essay about what the film Blade Runner means to the author, Juan Pablo Anaya.

Some of my favourite stories or pieces of writing are History by Antonio Ortuño, Empty Set by Verónica Gerber Bicecci and Lights in the Sky by Fernanda Melchor. I liked how History was written as it was like small snapshots into the main characters thoughts as well as a small insight into the history of Mexico. Empty Set features sketches that help show how the main character sees the world while Lights in the Sky is about someone who really believed in aliens for a short while.

What I liked about this collection was how varied the subject matter. Some felt like the authors memoirs, while others are vivid and shocking. Meth Z by Gerardo Arana was the weirdest one – the main character is high on drugs and the way he see’s the world is seriously bizarre and then the story almost became a story, inside a story and it was a little hard to follow. Some stories are rather explicit with The Whole Big Truth by Eduardo Montagner and The Liturgy of the Body by Eduardo Rabasa both featuring scenes of a sexual nature.

Some stories I found more accessible and quicker to read than others. This could be down to the stories themselves and what their subject was or it might be because I liked the way different translators translated the works, I’m not sure. I generally enjoyed the stories that were more grounded and that had a family-element, I think that’s because dysfunctional families are something we can all relate to.

México 20 is an interesting collection of works and a nice taster of twenty different writers.

READ THE WORLD – French Polynesia: Frangipani by Célestine Hitiura Vaite

Materena Mahi, a professional cleaner and the best listener in all of Tahiti, has a problem. That problem is her daughter Leilani. No matter what she does, Materena can’t seem to get through to her and now there’s rumours there’s a boy who has a motorbike in Leilani’s life. Everything is changing and Materena is beginning to realise that the traditional Tahitian ways no longer apply and she’ll have to adapt to deal with the next generation of women in her family.

Frangipani is lovely. It’s a delightful, and it might sound weird but it’s almost like comforting hug of a read. It is such an easy, chilled out read. Yes there’s arguments between characters and family scandals but they all seem so tame and you just have a feeling these characters will work through it and be OK.

Frangipani is about Materena and her family, and more specifically, about her relationship with her daughter. The story spans about twenty years and over that time you really get to know Materena and understand her. The great thing about Materena is that she adapts. She learns with the changing times; her daughter may confuse her to begin with but she never stops loving her nor wanting the best for her. Seeing Materena and Leilani’s relationship is wonderful. They feel real like a real mother and daughter and so many times I could see echoes of interactions with my own mother in them.

You meet a lot of Materena’s extended family, there’s so many aunties and nieces and boyfriends, that it’s hard to keep up with who’s who at times but that never really bothered me. They are all larger than life characters who often end up in funny situations but there’s still sadness and drama, just like in any family over the years.

Frangipani is well written with a smattering of French words in the dialogue which makes them feel more real and the story grounded. I’ve never been to Tahiti but the way the island and its people are described is now so incredibly vivid in my mind. The setting was just as much a character in this book as Materena and Leilani.

The thing with Frangipani, is that in the grand scheme of things not a lot happened. There were no big twists or huge family secrets revealed, it’s just a woman’s life with her family. It showcases what a strong woman Materena is and it also features so many more interesting and vibrant female characters. Frangipani is about the strength of women and the strength of their relationships. How they support and love one another, are always there to listen or offer words of advice. It’s an uplifting story with a mother and daughter relationship at its heart.

I adored Frangipani. It’s well written, has so many interesting characters that you can’t help but be pulled into their lives. It’s just a wonderful read. 5/5.