Review: The Lonely Tree ~ Yael Politis

The lonely treeTonia Shulman does not share her father’s dream – forging a Jewish State out of the chaos of British Mandate Palestine. She hates the hardships of life in Kfar Etzion – an isolated kibbutz south of Jerusalem – clearing rocky hillsides, bathing in rationed cups of trucked-in water, and being confined behind barbed wire. Her own dreams have nothing to do with national self-realization; she longs for steaming bubble baths and down comforters, but most of all for a place on earth where she can feel safe. She is in love with Amos, but refuses to acknowledge these feelings. She knows he will never leave his homeland and Tonia plans to emigrate to America. But can she really begin a new life there?

4 Thumbs-UpI was initially going to review a later work by this Author (Olivia, Mourning), but decided against that in favour of a review of their debut novel; a review of Olivia will now appear later in the year.  Given the current climate between Israel and Palestine, this is a book that anyone who is not familiar with Israel and its turbulent history should read.

Through the lives and words of the two main protagonists, this Author brings to life the history of Israel/British Palestine dating from the 1930’s up to the Six Day War in 1967.  With great care the Author uses their characters to describe the impact historical events had on both fictional and actual people.  The female protagonist was portrayed as being unhappy with her lot in life and wanting out, going to any means to achieve her dream.  While I did not agree with a lot of the decisions this character made, it did not make me like her any less as it brought into the light the hardships and uncertainty that she and those around her were feeling in this time of change.  This character is nothing if not determined but, as the novel progresses she develops a better understanding of the pitfalls this determination can bring, and also the power it can instil in a person.  The male protagonist is a complete opposite to the female lead; he comes from a totally different background and has a belief structure that is at total odds to hers.  However, despite this and the carnage of war that is exploding around them they develop a relationship.  To say more about this would spoil their part in the story, and to find out how this progresses this book has to be read.

The Author’s writing style throughout this novel is excellent, they are eloquent without being boorish and this leads to a story that flows well and pulls the reader in from the very first page.  Pulling on their links with Israel the Author adds an authenticity to their book that would otherwise have been missing if it had been based on purely research.  If you have never been to Israel, this book will take you there and, if you have been as I have back in the late 1970’s, reading it will bring to mind all the places seen right down to the rusted military vehicles at the side of the road.  As I read this book I was made to think of works by Leon Uris several times, as this Author captures the region with just as much clarity.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a good well-paced and well written book, who also enjoys a historical novel based on fact and experience that shows through on every page.  Surprisingly for me, as I’m not a lover of the romance genre, I did enjoy this part of the book too and was not the reason I rated this as 4 thumbs; that was because I did not want it to end.

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Review: Asylum (Asylum #1) ~ Madeleine Roux

AsylumFor sixteen-year-old Dan Crawford, New Hampshire College Prep is more than a summer program—it’s a lifeline. An outcast at his high school, Dan is excited to finally make some friends in his last summer before college. But when he arrives at the program, Dan learns that his dorm for the summer used to be a sanatorium, more commonly known as an asylum. And not just any asylum—a last resort for the criminally insane.

As Dan and his new friends, Abby and Jordan, explore the hidden recesses of their creepy summer home, they soon discover it’s no coincidence that the three of them ended up here. Because the asylum holds the key to a terrifying past. And there are some secrets that refuse to stay buried.

Featuring found photos of unsettling history and real abandoned asylums and filled with chilling mystery and page-turning suspense, Madeleine Roux’s teen debut, Asylum, is a horror story that treads the line between genius and insanity.

1 Thumbs-UpOh dear.  I could leave this review at that, but it really doesn’t express what I found so disappointing in this book and, as it is only possibly the third time in my blog history I can remember giving out a one thumb rating, maybe I should elaborate, I’m sure if I’m wrong in this someone will correct me.

I had such high expectations for this based on not only the synopsis but the cover image, and none of those expectations were filled.  As I read through this I got the uncomfortable feeling that, not only was this Author aiming to produce a novel with the calibre of Miss Peregrine’s House for Peculiar Children but somewhere in the mix the Author had actually submitted a draft copy to the publishers instead of their final edited copy.

The characters are supposed to be 16 years old, so unless the baseline for all 16 years old has now changed, these were not in that age group.  The protagonist is not the kind I was expecting in a book of this genre; he was whiny, possessive and had a superiority complex bigger than any I have seen in a novel.  Throughout the novel he is constantly telling the readers about how much better he is than anyone else, and after a time this becomes tedious to the point where I wanted to ground him in his room at home without any outside contact;  yes I wanted to put him in solitary confinement.  Despite him gradually losing some of these traits as the book progressed, the damage had been done and I found myself being unable to like or even care about him or what happened to him.  Too many of the characters were written in a stereotypical manner, or how the Author visualized teenagers to be; the female character who the Author felt they had to reminder the reader every few sentences how beautiful they were, the cookie cutter girls’ gay best friend.  This may have been acceptable in this book had the Author only taken time to give the characters depth and something interesting that the reader could catch hold off, unfortunately I found them all to rather too one-dimensional for my tastes.

Abandoned asylum, strange happenings.  All the workings of what could’ve have been a very good horror tale were buried so deeply in this book that they were gasping for air.  I’m also not sure what yardstick the Author used to decide this would be scary reading for the intended audience but, in my experience of teenagers I think only those with a very weak constitution would have found this remotely disturbing compared to the daily horrors they are subject to in the media.  The book does contain some very stunning photographs, unfortunately these are not the Authors original works, which led me to believe that they couldn’t even be bothered to take the time to discover original locations for inclusion.

With good editing and maybe a little more plot and character development this could have been a better book than it actually was; the one thumb rating is purely because I finished it.  I’m not going to be reading any other books by this Author and I understand this is the beginning of a series, which will also go unread.  However if you looking for a book that doesn’t contain a taxing plotline and deep meaningful characters that you can connect with, this may be the one for you.

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Review: The Moonstone ~ Wilkie Collins

The Moonstone‘When you looked down into the stone, you looked into a yellow deep that drew your eyes into it so that they saw nothing else’

The Moonstone, a yellow diamond looted from an Indian temple and believed to bring bad luck to its owner, is bequeathed to Rachel Verinder on her eighteenth birthday. That very night the priceless stone is stolen again and when Sergeant Cuff is brought in to investigate the crime, he soon realizes that no one in Rachel’s household is above suspicion. Hailed by T. S. Eliot as ‘the first, the longest, and the best of modern English detective novels’, The Moonstone is a marvellously taut and intricate tale of mystery, in which facts and memory can prove treacherous and not everyone is as they first appear.

4 Thumbs-UpAs those who have read my ‘About Me’ section will know I’m a Military Spouse and, with that said we are in the throes of moving season for the Military.  Even though our move is a way off yet I decided to get ahead of the game by sorting through my books, and came across this in a box.  Needless to say, once I opened the cover everything else was forgotten.

Wilkie Collins, for those who may not be aware, was a friend of Charles Dickens and a reader may think that because of this their writing styles would be somewhat similar; this is not the case they have drastically different writing styles and because of this I thoroughly enjoy Wilkie Collins novels as much as I despise anything penned by his friend who is just too long-winded and maudlin for my taste.

The storyline in this book is narrated from the perspective of each member of the unique cast of characters that the Author brings to life on his pages.  They are entertaining, smart and funny, bringing out a lot of the social norms of the period in their narratives, whilst at the same time showing that things were changing much to the annoyance of one particular chauvinistic male.  Because the Author is able to convince the reader that the plot is being revealed to them on a personal level, rather than them being a spectator in the unfolding mystery, the characters become ones you can love or hate as you would people you meet in real life.  The characters in this novel are societies ‘Gods of the Universe’; they are privileged, pampered but definitely human, a trait that is often lacking in more modern novels in this genre.  There was not one character I preferred over another, as each brings their unique perspective of the world around them into the tale, and through this the reader is able to experience more of what is happening behind the main storyline.

As in most novels written in this time period, the location description are vast, sweeping and very detailed; it is verbose to the extreme and a reader that is new to its pages may wonder how anything ever was accomplished in Victorian times when they used 20 words to convey something we use 4 words for today.  Despite this it is still an excellent read, no matter how many times I open this book, or listen to it on audio book.  It is not fast-paced by any means, and those readers that enjoy this in a mystery book may find that aspect off-putting, but regardless of whether you solve the mystery before the reveal or a thrown off the scent by the varying twists and turns, there is still plenty in the novel to keep you turning the pages to the very end.

I would highly recommend this as a good engrossing read for anyone who likes mystery novels, those books set in the Victorian era or who is curious about the book purported to be ‘the first mystery novel’.  I’ve read Wilkie Collins novel the Woman in White, and will no doubt continue to revisit both of his works in the years to come.

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Guest Article: Adventures In Crime ~ Anthony Boucher

Over 50 years ago, on January 5th 1964 to be exact, the following article appeared in The New York Times and, as can be seen by reading it the mystery novel was a big thing back then.  I have shared this with you as I found it interesting, but it also made me wonder how much the article would differ from the original if Mr. Boucher were to write it today.

Anthony Boucher

Anthony Boucher

“The past few years have seen something of a revolution in the publishing of paperback mystery novels. From the very beginnings of the paperback industry; murder has been a trade staple, but the emphasis used to rest almost exclusively upon fast‐action novels of violence and sex, with only a very few of the most famous practi­tioners of more reasoned and contemplative detection represented on the newsstands.

Violence‐and‐sex has not disappeared: it will always (and quite rightfully) have its market. But now the paperback repertory cones to embrace more and more of the serious novels of murder and deduction which were once assumed, on no particular evidence, to be com­mercial poison in paperback. This trend is evident not merely in the more expensive “quality” paperbacks (Dolphin, Collier)

Berkley has published, and kept in print, the entire work of the subtly perceptive Josephine Tey. Lancer is well launched on a project of the complete works of the versatile and rewarding Andrew Garve. Ace’s “giant double‐books” each contains two novels by female writers of the enviable stature of Ursula Curtiss, Charlotte Arm­strong and Elisabeth Sanxay Holding. And both Ballantine and Pyramid have established carefully edited lines of mysteries for connoisseurs.

Indeed, if any university were so wise as to offer a course in the mystery novel as a branch of literary history, a more than adequate reading list could be built up from paperbacks cur­rently in print—including the obvious major textbook for the course, Howard Haycraft’s splendid critical anthology

Such a reading list would start with any one of the 11 available story collections of the founding master, Edgar Allan Poe. and go on through Wilkie Collins—with the complete text of the “The Moonstone” (Dolphin), and not its truncated form (Pyramid), plus the less detectival “The Woman in White” (Dolphin, Everyman) as collateral reading—to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Since most of the Sherlock Holmes stories are now in the public domain, they are to be found in innumerable editions, none of them textually ideal; but the nod should go to the Berkley edition (now almost complete) because it is legitimately authorized and royalty‐paying, and because its jackets, by W. Teason, are the most tasteful that I have yet seen on any Doyle books. And with the stories themselves should go William S. Baring­Gould’s definitive biography, “Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street” (Popular), the one significant work of Baker Street Irregularity to appear in a newsstand paperback.

The first third of this century is not copiously represented in today’s paperbacks; but our imaginary course could get on adequately with R. Austin Free­man’s “Mr. Pottermack’s Over­sight” (Collier), E. C. Bentley’s “Trent’s Last Case” (Ballan­tine), Anthony Berkeley’s “The Poisoned Chocolates Case” (Dolphin) and Dorothy L. Sayers’s “Strong Poison” (Harper)—classics all, though these authors need more representation on the lists—plus two colIections of superb short stories, G. K. Chesterton’s “Ten Adventures of Father Brown” (Dell) and Melville Davisson Post’s “Uncle Abner” (Collier).

From there on, the problem becomes one of selection from stores of treasures. In the classic formal detective story, there are any number of books in print by Ellery Queen (Pocket Books), Rex Stout (Bantam), Elizabeth Daly (Berkley), Ngaio Marsh (Berkley) Mar­gery Allingham (Penguin, Mac­fadden) and Agatha Christie and John Dickson Carr, each of whom appears on the lists of many publishers. Each of these authors has produced so many of the best works in the genre that the choice would be up to the individual taste of the instructor. Oddly though Carr is everywhere, his alter ego Carter Dickson is rare in paperback: but Berkley is starting to remedy that deficiency. The superlative Michael Innes has not had quite his due in reprints as yet; but he can be well represented, in his Collinsian detectival manner by ”Lament for a Maker” (Collier) and, in his vein of romantic adventure, by “The Case of the Journeying Boy” (Berkley).

It will consider the feminine­gothic novel of romantic terror, from the work of the Brontes (many editions) through Daphne Du Maurier’s “Rebecca” (Pocket Books) to Victoria Holt’s “Mistress of Mellyn” (Crest). It will at least touch upon the spy novel, from John Buchan’s still incomparable “The 39 Steps” (Popular) to the contemporary contrast between Ian Fleming and William Haggard (both Signet).

It will look into the exotic of detection: the fine Australian regional novels of Arthur W. Upfield (Berkley), the work of Georges Simenon, especially the revolutionary early Maigret novels (Penguin); the Argentine “Ficciones” of Jorge Luis Borges (Evergreen); the glori­ous Chinoiserie of Robert Van Gulik, whose Judge Dee novels both Dell and Avon begin re­printing in the same week

It will notice the occasional isolated masterpiece by an author who wrote nothing else in the field—such important ice­breaking detective stories as Helen Eustic’s “The Horizontal Man (Dolphin) or Leo Perutz’s “The Master of the Day of Judgment” (Collier).

And it will not overlook, among all these reprints, the original paperback novels, the legitimate heirs to the dead pulps in which Hammett and Chandler flourished—their serious and substantial authors, such as John D. MacDonald, Charles Williams, Donald Hamilton and Vin Packer (all Gold Medal), and their highly competent purveyors of light amusement, like Carter Brown (Signet), Richard S. Prather (Gold Medal) and Henry Kane (many publishers).

Starting as paperback originals and later as reprints from hard‐cover are the 87th Precinct novels of Ed McBain (Permabooks). all still in print and invaluable for the course as prime specimens of the modern novel of police procedure—to which should be added J. J. Marric’s novels of Commander Gideon of Scotland Yard (Berkley).

Only on fifth Thursdays of the month will the lecturer regret that he is unable to make a point by reference to current paperbacks. There is, for instance, no novel in print by Freeman Willis Croft, the great master of the perfect timetable alibi, or by Craig Rice, the most warmly humorous personality ever to communicate with her readers through murder.

The more I talk about this hypothetical course the more I hope you might enjoy enrolling in it. And why not? It’s available at your nearest bookstore.”

Anthony Boucher, August 21, 1911 – April 29, 1968

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Review: Clockwork Angels: The Novel ~ Kevin J. Anderson, Neil Peart

Clockwork AngelsIn a young man’s quest to follow his dreams, he is caught between the grandiose forces of order and chaos. He travels through a lavish and colourful world of steampunk and alchemy, with lost cities, pirates, anarchists, exotic carnivals, and a rigid Watchmaker who imposes precision on every aspect of daily life.

For more than two centuries, the land of Albion has been ruled by the supposedly benevolent Watchmaker, who imposes precision on every aspect of life. Young Owen Hardy from the village of Barrel Arbor dreams of seeing the big city and the breathtaking Clockwork Angels that dispense wisdom to the people, maybe even catching a glimpse of the Watchmaker himself.

He watched the steamliners drift by, powered by alchemical energy, as they head towards the Crown City — never dreaming that he is already caught between the grandiose forces of order and chaos, between the Watchmaker and his nemesis, the Anarchist. Owen’s journeys begin at a fabulous carnival with clockwork wonders beyond his imagination, and take him aboard airships, far into the Redrock Desert to seek lost cities, through storms at sea to encounters with pirates … and give him a chance at love

4 Thumbs-UpBefore I review this book, I need to point out that I haven’t heard the album of the same name by Rush, so this review is based solely on my thoughts about this book. This is a book that I may have picked up in a store because the cover intrigued me but may not have actually purchased, so it being a free gift from Emerald City ComicCon was a plus.

From the first page the reader is introduced to the main protagonist, and it is through his journey into adulthood that we are introduced to the world he inhabits.  Initially I was under the impression that, because of his naiveté, this character could not possibly be the one who the storyline would centre around; I was sure he would be chewed up and spit out like so many broken watch parts, but this was not the case.  This character is not a complex or multifaceted one in anyway, but he is written with traits and questions in his mind that will make the reader think; order or chaos, life and death, freedom of choice and success or failure, are all covered and encountered by the main character as he journeys through this book.  I enjoyed travelling with this character and joining in his adventures so much that, by the time I finished this book I felt I would miss  our time together and I hoped his future would hold good things for him.  As much as I liked this character, I did feel that the Author would have done this book a great service by providing an equally despicable and thoroughly unlikeable villain as a counterpart but, despite there not being such a character it really did not pull away from my liking of this book as a whole.

Steampunk is always a great genre to find action and adventure set in semi-quasi historical settings, and this book was no different in this respect.  However, if you pick this up and read it purely as a steampunk fantasy you will, in my opinion be missing out on so much more and possibly some of the best pieces of this book.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in French literature (parts of it carry a strong resemblance to Voltaire’s work) and also those with an interest in philosophy.  This is a book that needs to be read slowly and savoured with time given over to the thinking it will provoke.

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It’s Finally Friday ~ Paul Orshoski

friday

It’s Finally Friday

It’s finally Friday—I’m so glad.
It’s been a crazy week.
I got chewed out on Monday, 
and since then it’s all been bleak.

I lost my lunch on Tuesday,
and a parent went insane,
which shocked me so completely
that I almost popped a vein.

I poked my eye on Wednesday,
and the nurse gave me a shot.
She sent me to the doctor
when I fainted on the spot.

On Thursday I was tardy
’cause I kinda overslept.
And the snack that I was craving 
came up missing in a theft.

And so it’s finally Friday.
No more pencils, no more books.
No more sitting in detention, 
no more teachers’ dirty looks.

By Friday I’m exhausted, 
out of energy and breath.
But that’s the day you’ll hear me shout,
“Rejoice, TGIF!”

And twice a month on Friday,
I remember why I stay:
You see, I am the principal—
that’s when I get my pay.

 

© Paul Orshoski, reprinted from My Teacher’s in Detention

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Review: The Quick ~ Lauren Owen

the quickLondon, 1892: James Norbury, a shy would-be poet newly down from Oxford, finds lodging with a charming young aristocrat. Through this new friendship, he is introduced to the drawing-rooms of high society, and finds love in an unexpected quarter. Then, suddenly, he vanishes without a trace. Unnerved, his sister, Charlotte, sets out from their crumbling country estate determined to find him. In the sinister, labyrinthine city that greets her, she uncovers a secret world at the margins populated by unforgettable characters: a female rope walker turned vigilante, a street urchin with a deadly secret, and the chilling “Doctor Knife.” But the answer to her brother’s disappearance ultimately lies within the doors of one of the country’s preeminent and mysterious institutions: The Aegolius Club, whose members include the most ambitious, and most dangerous, men in England.

5 Thumbs-UpSo, what can I say about this book?  Three things really, a) it is a debut novel for this Author b) I really didn’t see that coming and c) Noooooo!!!

I found this book by chance on a rummage through my local lending library the other day, and was intrigued both by the cover and the synopsis, so home with me it came and I’m glad I took a chance on something so unknown to me.  If other readers have already heard of this novel they may think I live under some rock and rarely venture out; that is not the case, I never read reviews on books and choose them purely on their own merit when out and about and this was the case with this one.

From a character point of view they are plentiful in this novel, and they are morose, they are arrogant; you may love them or you may hate them, but each of them will bring about a reaction in the reader of some description.  In my opinion it was hard to pinpoint one main character in the whole of this novel, as so many come and take centre stage in a way that will impact all those around them; and once they step away from the limelight they do not fade out of the plotline entirely as many Authors have their lesser characters doing.  Despite the time period in which this novel was set, there was one particular character I really connected with and I was rooting for her every time she appeared in the story; there were also others that no matter how hard I tried I could not find anything redeeming in their character and found myself chuckling when rough things happened to them.

Because of the way in which this book is written it is hard to write an in-depth review without giving away the plot.  It is written from a multi-perspective point of view , as each character comes to the front and also includes journal entries; all the good stuff that combine together to make an exceptional Victorian gothic novel.  It is very apparent from the way in which the Author addresses class issues and gender expectations that they have done an extensive amount of research into this period of history; the shock one woman expresses at seeing another wearing trousers is a good example.  The location descriptions are the best I have read in a long time, and in this area put me in mind of Dickens and Conan-Doyle in the way the Author uses the surroundings to propel the storyline along.  The grandeur of some buildings is, in the next paragraph startling contrasted against the poorer areas of London; along with smells and attire I could almost feel I was back in this time with the characters.

This is a moody, dark and gritty novel which really doesn’t show London at its best, but this is what adds to the novel.  There is no sugar coating of the privations some suffered and the excesses others enjoyed.  Because of its abrupt ending however, I am hoping that this may be the start of a series, one that I will definitely be following.  If not, and the Author decided to leave the reader with a cliff-hanger, I don’t really mind as I will definitely be reading this Author again.

I would highly recommend this book to lovers of historical fiction, and those who enjoy a good gothic novel.  Also those who enjoy Victorian crime fiction may find this to their liking.

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