book review

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.

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

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.

READ THE WORLD – England: Let Them Eat Chaos by Kate Tempest

A long poem, that was written to be read aloud, about seven different people who live on the same London street.

Set at the same moment in time in the early hours one morning, moments before a huge storm breaks, Let Them Eat Chaos takes you into each person’s lives, seeing their thoughts and feelings at that very moment. Sometimes their emotions are raw and scattered, some think about what’s going on in the world, while others are thinking about their immediate future.

Let Them Eat Chaos is almost a crystallised snapshot of what it’s like to live in London, how money never goes far enough, the gentrification and how people are often living from one payday to the next. It doesn’t shy away from the more grimy and less pleasurable aspects of London life but it also has a positivity about the place, what it could be if people didn’t isolate themselves so much and tried to make a small change to their lives, and the world around them.

Let Them Eat Chaos uses powerful, emotive language to almost be like a rallying cry to action, to make people wake up and be more proactive and accountable. It could come off as preachy at times but it manages to avoid that on the most part as it has a sincerity for the different subjects it touches upon.

“Life is much broader than borders” is a line that really hit me, especially living in England-post Brexit. I’m not sure when Kate Tempest first performed this piece but the book was published in 2016 so maybe Brexit was on her mind, whether it was the final result or the debates surrounding it. So much of Let Them Eat Chaos feels like a desperate plea to reach out to others and I can imagine hearing Tempest perform it would make it ten times more powerful.

Let Them Eat Chaos is a poetic and effective piece of work. It’s a quick read but the language used and the way the words are laid out makes it easy to imagine them being said aloud. 4/5.

READ THE WORLD – South Korea: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

When Sunja falls pregnant by a married yakuza, her family faces ruin until a Christian minister offers her a chance for a new life in Japan as his wife. Leaving her parents and her home in Korea with a man she barely knows, Sunja’s second chance in life in a hostile country will be nothing like she suspects.

Spanning from 1910 to 1989 Pachinko follows four generations of one family. This allows you to get to know characters from birth, through their turbulent lives and, to some characters, their death. While some parts of the story are an uninterrupted narrative and you follow the family for a number of consecutive years, other parts jump forward in time and a character that was teenager is now an adult.

This makes it sometimes difficult to connect with the characters. I found Pachinko a bit slow to start with as I got used to the setting and the socio-economic politics presented that I was unaware of beforehand. After a while something clicked for me with this book as I was pulled in by this family and how global events shaped their lives.

These characters in Pachinko feel very real. They’re often a victim of their own circumstance, they are sometimes sympathetic, they can be frustrating and unlikable, just like real people. Sometimes they are presented with a difficult decision and really there’s only one option they can take, on the most part you understand their choices and motivations, while with others it’s not so clear.

I liked how this was the story of a family of immigrants and you got to see what life was like for Koreans who moved to Japan. Pachinko shows there was a lot of distrust on both sides due to the Japanese conquering Korea and their actions during the two World Wars. For decades, the Japanese see the Koreans as second-class citizens, and even if someone is born in Japan, they do not automatically become a Japanese citizen, even though Japan is the only home they know. Pachinko shows how all of this affects the different members of the family in different ways, how over time some things change and get better, while others do not.

At over 500 pages, Pachinko is an intimidating read but the writing style is simple and accessible, meaning once I’d connected to the characters I got pulled along with their story. Pachinko offers an insight into life in Japan for Koreans and it presents the idea of what or where is truly home. It’s all about family and belonging, how family may not always be who you’re related to by blood and how home can mean different things to different people. 4/5.

REVIEW: Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo

Diana is desperate to prove herself to her warrior sisters but when the opportunity comes, she throws away her chance and instead breaks Amazon law to save one mortal, Alia Keralis. With this single act Diana not only puts her home, Themyscira, in danger but the entire world. Alia is a Warbringer – a descendent of the infamous Helen of Troy, fated to bring about an age of conflict and pain. Diana and Alia will face enemies, mortal and divine, determined to either destroy or possess the Warbringer. The only way they can save the world is to stand together.

I had some trouble getting into Wonder Woman: Warbringer to start with. I think it was because I had both the film and the various comics featuring Wonder Woman I’ve read in my mind at first, where Diana was an adult and more respected and experienced with her abilities compared to the seventeen-year-old Diana featured in this book. But after 50 pages or so I got used to it and found myself falling in love with this Diana and her story.

It may sound a little cheesy but this book is about the power of friendship and girls sticking by one another. The friendship Diana and Alia forge in the face of such differences and with pretty much everything else against them is admirable. Also, Alia’s best friend Nim is great, she’s opinionated and doesn’t really have a filter but she’s so incredibly loyal. It’s the interactions between Diana, Alia, Nim, Alia’s brother Jason and their friend Theo that really makes this story. Through banter between them all you get to see what connections are already there and how they grow and adapt when Diana comes into the picture.

Wonder Woman: Warbringer is a great blend of action, drama and humour with a sprinkling of Greek mythology. While there are some fantastical elements, it always feels grounded. It’s an intriguing mystery that ends up with a thrilling finale that I couldn’t put down – I ended up reading it in just two days!

In the end, Wonder Woman: Warbringer gave me the same feeling as the recent Wonder Woman film did. It’s all about finding your inner strength and believing in the best in people and what they could potentially achieve. It’s a fast-paced adventure that I feel is perfect for both new and old fans of Diana. 4/5.