Review: The Flower and the Serpent

By Madeleine D’Este

Genre: Fantasy/ Supernatural/ Horror

Release date: 4 December 2019 (pre-orders available now)

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

CREEPY AND WONDERFUL…

I’ve just finished reading an ARC of The Flower and the Serpent by Madeleine D’Este and I am still feeling blown away.

The story is set in a high school in Hobart, Tasmania, where a group of students are rehearsing for a production of Macbeth. The dark history of the play is well-known, and D’Este’s setting – on school grounds haunted by past evil – plays perfectly against it. Imbued with a sense of creeping menace, the novel is genuinely frightening at times, but the characters are never overshadowed by the horror.

And it is the characters that shine so brightly here. Each has their own voice, their own hopes and fears, their own shadow and light. Every character rings true, from ambitious, driven Violet to shy, self-effacing Lila. Practical Holly and logical Angelika are a delight. And the teacher, Mr Ravenswood, is such a brilliant creation. With every character, D’Este forces the reader to look beyond surface judgements, to the true depths of the human heart and soul.

Which is not to say the plot is unimportant. It’s a fantastic story, that twists and turns in surprising ways that are never gimmicky. The climax had me on the edge of my chair, and it totally delivered.

Bottom line: if, like me, you love Macbeth, you’ll adore this. If you despise Shakespeare and all he stands for, you’ll love it anyway.

Trust me.

What I read in August 2019

I read six books this month, with an average rating of 4.25, probably my highest average ever. As a reading month, August was all about quality over quantity. Here are the books, from lowest to highest rated.

MOM’S PERFECT BOYFRIEND

By Crystal Hemmingway

Genre: Romantic Comedy

RATING: ⭐⭐⭐ 1/2

A smart romantic comedy about mothers and daughters, and the hilarious consequences of a white lie. 

I received this novel as an Advanced Reader Copy through LibraryThing. I don’t read many romances, but I was in the mood for something light, fun and even a bit silly and I thought this might fit the bill.

Well, it did and it didn’t. My full review is here, but briefly, it’s a bit of a mish-mash with a lot going on, some of it quite odd and a lot of it unbelievable. But it’s original, a quick and easy read and I had fun with it, even staying up past my bedtime to finish, so 3.5 stars seems fair.


EMBERS OF WAR

By Gareth Powell

GENRE: Science Fiction

RATING: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

The warship Trouble Dog was built and bred for calculating violence, yet following a brutal war, she finds herself disgusted by conflict and her role in a possible war crime. Seeking to atone, she joins an organisation dedicated to rescuing ships in distress.When a ship goes missing in a disputed system, Trouble Dog and her new crew of misfits and loners are assigned to investigate and save whoever they can. Quickly, what appears to be a straightforward rescue mission turns into something far more dangerous.If she is to survive and save her crew, Trouble Dog is going to have to remember how to fight.

I’m a bit embarrassed that as a keen reader of sci-fi and someone partial to the occasional space opera, I had never read any of Gareth Powell’s work until now. This one seemed like a good place to start, being the first book in his current trilogy. And it was. I am completely hooked on this story and I can’t wait to read the next volume, Fleet of Knives.

So, then, why didn’t I give this book 5 stars? If I was judging it only on the plot, I would have. The concepts? Tick. And if I was rating it on how much I enjoyed the final hundred or so pages, again, yes. Such a satisfying conclusion.

Here’s the thing. The story is written in first person, from multiple points of view. No problem, but if you do this, the points of view should be distinct. This was the case with Trouble Dog and Nod, but the voices of the three human characters were just too similar to each other. They had terrific backstories that differentiated them, but their voices didn’t reflect this, which gave their narration an inauthentic feel, leaving me wanting more.

Still, a solid 4 stars and a guarantee I’ll be reading the next book very soon.


MISS MARPLE’S FINAL CASES

By Agatha Christie

GENRE: Crime/ Detective/ Short stories

RATING: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

A collection of Miss Marple mysteries, plus some bonus short stories…First, the mystery man in the church with a bullet-wound…then, the riddle of a dead man’s buried treasure…the curious conduct of a caretaker after a fatal riding accident…the corpse and a tape-measure…the girl framed for theft…and the suspect accused of stabbing his wife with a dagger.

Mission Marple is over. This was the final volume, the last stories Christie ever wrote about Miss Marple, her elderly village lady sleuth. It’s been a truly enjoyable journey and I’m so glad I joined in.

This was a perfect way to complete the mission. I really like the variety of the stories, some more successful than others, of course. It was also a sort of reunion collection of many characters from the Marple novels and I had a great time meeting some of my favourites again. I devoured the whole book in one sitting. 



THE BEE FRIENDLY GARDEN

By Doug Purdie

Genre: Non-fiction/ Gardening/ Wildlife

RATING: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Bee Friendly Garden is a guide for all gardeners great and small to encouraging bees and other good bugs to your green space..

Ever since I read Kate Bradbury’s book last month, I’ve been plotting and planning ways to make my garden more wildlife-friendly. I borrowed this book from my library and thoroughly enjoyed learning all about Australian native bees: their variety, usefulness, requirements to thrive and the kinds of garden additions that will encourage them to visit my patch and to stay long-term. It’s more a reference book than one to read cover-to-cover. So, of course, I read every page.😁 The illustrations are lovely, too.

FIGHT WRITE

By Carla Hoch

Genre: Non-fiction/ Writing

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

In Fight Write you’ll learn practical tips, terminology, and the science behind crafting realistic fight scenes for your fiction. Broken up into “Rounds,” trained fighter and writer Carla Hoch guides you through the many factors you’ll need to consider when developing battles and brawls.

My full review of this very useful handbook is here. The short version is that I was only a quarter of the way through the digital ARC before I ordered a paperback copy. I’ve already referred to it twice in the last two weeks. A keeper for my Writing shelf.



WALKING ON WATER

By Madeleine L’Engle

GENRE: Non-fiction/ Essays/ Christian/ Writing

RATING: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

In this classic book, Madeleine L’Engle addresses the questions, What makes art Christian? What does it mean to be a Christian artist? What is the relationship between faith and art? Through L’Engle’s beautiful and insightful essays, readers will find themselves called to what the author views as the prime tasks of an artist: to listen, to remain aware, and to respond to creation through one’s own art.

Madeleine L’Engle’s middle grade fantasy novels delighted me so much as a child and teenager. I loved her settings, her characters and the emotion she was able to convey to me as a reader. I didn’t know she was a Christian and the books aren’t overtly Christian in any way, although they are spiritual. Now that I’m an adult, a Christian myself and a fantasy writer, I was really interested in what L’Engle has to say about the connection between her faith and her writing.

And what she has to say is absolutely brilliant and inspiring. I made copious notes as I went through this small volume and I know I’ll be re-reading it. Here are just two gems:

If it’s bad art, it’s bad religion, no matter how pious the subject.


Each work of art, whether it is a work of great genius or something very small, comes to the artist and says, “Here I am. Enflesh me. Give birth to me.”

But the whole book is a casket of precious stones, almost every line worth quoting.

I hope September will be able to live up to August in the reading department!

Your turn! What did you read in August? Any 5-star recommendations?

Review: Fight Write

How to write believable fight scenes

By Carla Hoch

Publisher: Writer’s Digest Books

Edition: Kindle, Paperback

Release date: 11 June 2019

Source: Netgalley digital ARC / paperback purchased by me

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐


In Fight Write you’ll learn practical tips, terminology, and the science behind crafting realistic fight scenes for your fiction. Broken up into “Rounds,” trained fighter and writer Carla Hoch guides you through the many factors you’ll need to consider when developing battles and brawls.

I was only a quarter of the way through the digital ARC of this book when I went online and bought a paperback copy for myself. I already knew this was a reference book I wanted on my shelves. I imagine I’ll be dipping into it often.

I know nothing about fighting in real life and up until now I haven’t included many physical fights in my novels. This is partly due to my ignorance and partly because I don’t find long descriptions of battles and fights very interesting to read. But when this book came up on Netgalley, I thought it might be of some use on those occasions when I just couldn’t avoid writing about an aggressive physical encounter. I didn’t really have any expectations beyond that: a few tips to help me avoid looking stupid when I was writing fight scenes. I certainly didn’t expect to be blown away by what Carla Hoch has done here.

She has combined knowledge from the fields of physiology, psychology, sociology, statistics, language, as well as martial arts, battle strategy, and even law, into a handbook specifically tailored to the needs and concerns of fiction writers. And if that makes the book sound dry and academic, it isn’t. Hoch writes in an easy-to-understand style, with plenty of examples to illustrate her points. In fact, her tone is so casual, and at times even jokey, that it grated on me occasionally in the beginning. But this is a very minor criticism and doesn’t diminish the usefulness of the book in any way.

And that usefulness goes beyond fight scenes. There is good information here for deepening characterisation in all kinds of situations. For instance, one chapter, entitled Pre-Incident Indicators, details behaviours that can signal predatory intent and lead to an aggressive incident. This was gold. My mind went immediately to the villain of my current novel in progress, a manipulator who does end up perpetrating violence. I was pleased to realise that I had instinctively included some of the behaviours mentioned by Hoch in early appearances of the character. But I noted down a few other gems to sprinkle through relevant scenes. It was at this point that I bought the book.

The remaining three quarters of the volume contains detailed information about Fighting Styles, Weaponry and Injuries. I’ve never felt the desire to know how it sounds/looks/feels to be stabbed, but some day, I may need to know exactly that to write a realistic scene. Carla Hoch has my back.

Hoch doesn’t restrict herself to describing human conflict either. In the section on Fighting Styles, alongside many forms of martial arts, she includes points to consider if your character is fighting a robot, an alien or a mythological creature. There is even a short section on Psychological Warfare.

I unreservedly recommend Fight Write to writers in any genre who want to create vivid, realistic, heart-pounding fight scenes that also add richness both to plot and characterisation.

Review: The Other Half of Augusta Hope

Joanna Glen

Publisher: The Borough Press

Editions:  Hardback, paperback, Kindle, E-book, Audio Book

Release date: 13 June 2019

Rating:   5 stars

Goodreads Synopsis:

Augusta Hope has never felt like she fits in.

At six, she’s memorising the dictionary. At seven, she’s correcting her teachers. At eight, she spins the globe and picks her favourite country on the sound of its name: Burundi.

And now that she’s an adult, Augusta has no interest in the goings-on of the small town where she lives with her parents and her beloved twin sister, Julia.

When an unspeakable tragedy upends everything in Augusta’s life, she’s propelled headfirst into the unknown. She’s determined to find where she belongs – but what if her true home, and heart, are half a world away?

My thoughts:

This book. These words. You know how sometimes you finish a book and you actually want to hug it? That.

Before I began reading The Other Half of Augusta Hope, I had no inkling I was going to adore it so much.

CONTINUE READING THIS POST

Review: The Chalk Man

By C.J.Tudor

Genre: Thriller

Rating: 5 STARS

It’s been a long time since a book hooked me so quickly and so thoroughly from the first page. And I’m not sure I’ve ever given 5 stars to a straight thriller before. So there’s a recommendation for you!

The Chalk Man is the story of Eddie and his friends and is told using two timelines. In 1986 they are teenagers living in an English village, biking around together and using chalk drawings of stick figures as a kind of code for each other. Until something shocking happens. In 2016, Eddie returns to the village in response to receiving a drawing of a stick man in the mail. He soon discovers he has to figure out what really happened in the past before he can understand and survive what’s happening now.

It’s a great setup and Tudor handles it beautifully. Both timelines are fully engaging and I was on the edge of my seat more than once. The atmosphere of menace is so well done, without ever slipping over into cheap sensationalism.

CONTINUE READING THIS REVIEW

Review: Illuminae

(The Illuminae Files #1)

Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

RATING: 5 STARS!

Yes, another 5-star read.That’s two months in a row. And I didn’t see this one coming at all.

The blurb begins like this:
This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do. This afternoon, her planet was invaded.

Personally, that didn’t really grab my interest. It makes the novel sound as if it’s a teenage romance. It’s not, by the way. It’s a clever, sophisticated, science fiction thriller that just happens to have a romance at the heart of it.

But I didn’t know that. In fact, the only reason I picked Illuminae up is because the blurb also says the story is told through:

a fascinating dossier of hacked documents—including emails, schematics, military files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more .

That did sound intriguing. And it is. Incredibly intriguing and unbelievably well done. Space helmets off to Kaufman and Kristoff. There is no linking narration. None at all. Just documents written by different people and transcripts of conversations recorded on the spaceships. Some of the documents contain images and some of the conversations are depicted graphically, too. I don’t want to explain this in more detail because I so enjoyed turning those pages and seeing something totally unexpected and often unexpectedly moving. I don’t want to spoil that experience for anyone. It took a little while to adjust to the story being told this way, but by about page 50 I was completely enthralled.

CONTINUE READING THIS REVIEW