Tag Archives: review

Amster Damned – A review

Amster Damned, by Nils Nisse Visser is a steampunk novel and clearly the start of a series. The author and I were recommended to each other by a fellow reviewer. I love how this stuff works.

The main action in this tale takes place over a very short time frame, as private detective’s assistant Miss Kittyhawk is in Amsterdam on a missing person’s case. We’re offered an initial setup that looks mysterious enough – the case of the missing botanist – but as a few days of plotting and dramatic escape unfold, it turns out there’s a lot more to it.

Now to try and review without spoilering!

As the main drama plays out, we get details of Miss Kittyhawk’s back story, and she is certainly not as she first appears. There’s smuggling in her family background, and social unrest in her social background and rebellion against the state in her heart, but the state seems to be trying to recruit her, so that’s clearly all going to go well in future books!

The world building around the action-orientated part of the plot is superb, as a large and complex reality emerges. This is a world in which time travel is a criminal offence that will get you executed if you don’t have the right paperwork. This is a world where the skies hum with many different kinds of craft, and the scope for adventure, and misadventure, is vast.

I have one fairly small niggle over the level of description and technical information – this however is mostly a matter of personal taste. I know for some steampunk readers, the details of dress and technology are really what makes the genre, so for some people this is going to be a distinct asset, not an irritation. Less description would have been more, for me.

What really made this book for me, was the startlement of getting a little way in and going “Hang on, I KNOW THIS PERSON!” I’ve since discovered that the author is in the habit of recruiting real life Steampunks into his fiction, which adds a really interesting extra dimension, to my mind.

I also really appreciated that this is a story whose main characters all come from the back alleys and slums, and who are not enchanted by the great colonial, industrial machine, nor are they profiting much from it – well – smuggling aside! There’s an explicit critique of the ways those in power see and treat the masses, and plenty of real life relevance in that mix.

On the whole, a charming and entertaining read with the potential to develop into a really good series. I’ll be looking out for the next one.

Advertisements

Snow Sisters – a review

This is the second Carol Lovekin novel I’ve read, and I love it. As with Ghostbird, I picked Snow Sisters up as a review copy.

This is a ghost story, and the young woman who does the haunting died young for reasons, and the reasons are awful. Be warned, there is enough detail to break your heart, anyone worried about possible triggering, feel free to comment and I’ll email you the relevant spoilers.

That said, this is not overall a grim or dark sort of book. Haunted, yes. Troubled, yes. Challenging, yes. But also intensely beautiful and ultimately hopeful.

The Snow Sisters are Meredith and Verity, teenagers in 1979, living in a remote house in Wales. Their mother, Allegra, is an artist, and allows herself free rein where artistic temperament is concerned. The house belongs to grandmother Mared, who is in London caring for her brother. This is very much a book about relationships between women, about mothering, and not mothering, about what it means to be sisters. The characters are all complex, flawed, human and fascinating. There are reasons to feel sympathy for all of them – although some more than others. We mostly see events unfold from Verity’s perspective, and while Verity does not think well of herself, she comes over as a very sympathetic person.

I admit I found the first few chapters a bit disorientating and had to re-read a few sections to properly get my bearings. There is a third person narration around the events of 1979. We also get first person narration from Angharad  the ghost, and present time first person narration from Verity. I think what also threw me was that I assumed Angharad would be part of Verity’s family tree, and she isn’t. The connection between the living girls and the dead one is all about the house.

That said, there are some interesting parallels in their lives around attitudes towards education. For some – Verity, Mared and Angharad, education is the way out, the route to freedom, adventure and self determination. For Allegra and Meredith, education looks like a trap. For Allegra’s father and Angharad’s father, education is wasted on girls.

For me, there’s an underlying question in this book about the degree to which women’s lives are shaped by men. For the historical figures, it seems this is the only way, and only Angharad has a sense that things could be different. Nonetheless, her life is entirely shaped by the men in it, and it is only in death that she’s able to connect meaningfully with other young women. Allegra’s life has also been shaped by her father, by a lost love, and in the end by a failed relationship with a man. She’s a person who doesn’t seem to know how to be a person in her own right without reference to masculine influence. We never really find out where Mared stands with all of this, but we do see something of what the snow sisters do to make their own lives on their own terms.

There’s a lot of Pagan content here, too – Mared and Meredith are both spell workers. There’s an inherently animist feel to the story – the house is definitely a character, there’s a garden that is also very much a character, and an attitude to nature and wild things that Pagan readers will find resonant.

This is a book I will be reading again. It’s a book I want to put into the hands of other women who are grappling with family legacies. It’s certainly a book I want my son to read. It’s beautifully written, full of wisdom, compassion and a deep understanding of the human heart at its best and worst. Highly recommended.

You can get it anywhere that sells books, and direct from the publisher here – http://www.honno.co.uk/dangos.php?ISBN=9781909983700

 


Did you whisper back? A Review

I picked up this psychological novel by Kate Rigby through my involvement with Neverland blog tours. What a wonderful find! I read it over an afternoon and evening – it’s not a huge book, but it was also something I found I just couldn’t step away from. I had to know.

This is in essence a book about how ancestral choices can play out in the lives of later generations without them having any idea what’s underpinning things. The central character, Amanda, is both withdrawn and clearly a bit irrational, and we see this early on as she makes some troubled leaps of logic as part of a quest to find her missing twin sister. The book blurb reveals that the missing twin isn’t real and that Amanda is heading for mental breakdown, so, no spoilers from me in saying that much.

The questions of how and why the young woman at the centre of this story has become so unhinged from reality takes us on a journey into her past. As someone who has done a lot of work on ancestry and how it impacts on descendants, I can heartily recommend this novel as a representation of how things get passed down.

The writing is incredibly paired down and intense, full of depth and precise observations of both wider life, and the world inside Amanda’s head. This is an exquisite exercise in telling rather than showing. I’m not a big fan of the modern fad for ‘show not tell’ because it limits where you can go. When it comes to psychological issues, ‘show’ often won’t do it, and ‘tell’ can take us in deeper and far more effectively. There’s no page space wasted on playing everything out. We’re allowed instead to grapple directly with the meat of the story, and with the ghosts haunting it.

I loved this book, I think it’s a fantastic, gem of a novel. It isn’t comfortable or easy reading, but it is profound, intense and provocative.

Buy the book here – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Did-You-Whisper-Back-disturbing-ebook/dp/B0077E2M26

 

 


For the love of God, Marie!

Some books are not easily described, so as I fumble my way towards a review, let me start by clarifying that this is a brilliant, surprising sort of book and I really liked it.

For the love of God, Marie! is a graphic novel by Jade Sarson. Page by page it is indeed a comic, but there’s a lot of it and a proper novel shape, so ‘graphic novel’ seems the right term. The main character, Marie, starts out in the 6th form of a Catholic school in the 60s, and we follow her through her trials and adventures into the 90s.

It’s a beautifully drawn book. There are some manga influences, so for the less manga literate odd things (like being able to see where a person’s eyebrows are regardless of where their hair is) may cause confusion. You have to trust the artist and trust that what she’s showing you is more important than a literal representation. I found it a visually accessible book, although Jade does challenge you to keep up with the action sometimes and doesn’t spell everything out. She uses a fairly limited pallet to remarkable effect and she really, really knows what people look like.

I knew before I got the book that it had a significant amount of erotic content. I’d expected it to be a romp, but once it gets going, the story I found touching through to heartbreaking. Marie sets out to love everyone, especially the people deemed least loveable. There’s an innocence to her, an obliviousness to the idea of sexual sin. However, as a Catholic schoolgirl, with Catholic parents, she’s subjected to continual humiliation and slut shaming because she loves too much. Misunderstood, she doesn’t get any easy time of it, and fate plays some cruel tricks on her.

Representations of polyamorous folk in literature are few. Promiscuous men (and that’s not the same thing) aren’t so unusual, but women who are plural in their loving, don’t show up much. This is the least erotic book I’ve encountered with a polyamorous lead; a bisexual character and a woman whose life and sexual identity don’t stop in response to motherhood or becoming middle aged. I wish there was more of this sort of thing.

There’s a naked woman on the cover of the book. If naked people having a good time offend you, then you won’t like it. We live in a culture that fears sex, is horrified by it, doesn’t want people under the age of 18 looking at it but will cheerfully show them depictions of war and murder. This has always confused me. But then, I found a lot to empathise with in Marie, and I’d rather live in a world where no one is condemned for loving too much.

More about the book here – http://www.myriadeditions.com/books/for-the-love-of-god-marie/


When We Are Vanished

As a book reviewer, and also a book promoter, I feel pretty confident about reading a book, working out who would like it, and saying so. Which is as well, because after all that’s the essence of what those two jobs are about! However, for authors talking about their own books, it’s often much harder work – and I know I’m not alone in this. When you write a book, you know what you think you were doing, you maybe even sort of imagined the reader, but it’s a whole other thing to stride forth proclaiming ‘this book is for you!’

 

 

Truth be told, authors don’t always know what they’ve written or who it’s for. The implications of books change over time as well – my case in point for this is Huckleberry Finn – written in part as a protest against slavery, now condemned as racist because of the language it uses.

I never really know how the stuff that falls out of my brain is going to impact on anyone else.

Happily, When We Are Vanished has been picked up by a couple of reviewers recently. They are the sort of people I was really hoping might like it, and they like it for all the reasons I was hoping a person might like it. So, you have a fighting chance of ascertaining, from these reviews, whether you are also the sort of person who might enjoy it. It’s entirely possible, although I’d be the first to say this is not a novel that’s likely to appeal to everyone…

Review from Meredith Debonnaire https://meredithdebonnaire.wordpress.com/2016/11/16/book-review-when-we-are-vanished-by-nimue-brown/

Review from Lorna Smithers – https://lornasmithers.wordpress.com/2016/11/18/review-when-we-are-vanished-by-nimue-brown/


Perceptions in reviewing

We each come to book reviews as individuals, with different needs and ideas about what a book should do. From an authoring perspective, this is an unwinnable game, because there will always be people who, for perfectly legitimate reasons, wanted your book to have been something else. From the reviewing perspective, it creates all kinds of challenges too. The best reviewers have the self awareness to flag up their own biases such that anyone reading the review can factor that in and make their own judgments.

As a reviewer, I found Fiona Tinker’s Pathworking Through Poetry to be a really interesting book, not least for the way in which it opens up poetry as a tool for pathworking. I wouldn’t work with the poems the authors suggests, but the method the book explores is something I’ve found tremendously helpful. One of my biases is that I like analysis – something this book features heavily. I like to understand things intellectually and I find this deepens my scope to engage emotionally. However, not all readers respond in this way.

Below is a review from  Frank Malone – OBOD student and professional psychoanalyst.

An Ambivalent Appreciation

I had a significant mix of reactions to Fiona Tinker’s Pathworking Through Poetry: Visions from the Hearts of the Poets. Initially I was attracted by the title. Working as a psychoanalyst, often the best interpretations to patients are like poetry – called overdetermined interpretations. In psychoanalysis, an interpretation is any intervention that is designed to facilitate something unconscious becoming conscious. The overdetermined interpretation (developed in the 1960s by Marie Coleman Nelson, one of my supervisors during training) is a verbal intervention that is ambiguous enough to carry multiple levels of meanings for a patient. Thus there is “projective room” for the patient to interpret to herself whatever is psychologically needed in the moment.

Abundant projective room is one of the characteristics of great art. There must be enough ambiguity for multiple generations and cultures to see their issues addressed in the work. However objective the aesthetic quality of the work may be, it will never be great art to you if it cannot answer one question:

“What does this have to do with me?”

Hence my essential critique of the book. The author gives so much historical and biographical detail about the poems examined that it interfered with my being able to make psychological use of the poetry.
An analogy comes to mind with filmic art. My emotional responses to a work have been diminished by watching behind -the-scenes documentaries. Scenes can feel less magical once the camera tricks are known. (Even though my appreciation of the skill and craft of producing the scene may have increased.)
I found that generally for me, it was not psychologically helpful to know that, for example, in a specific image the poet was actually struggling with a certain set of personal issues. It interfered with using that image for my own healing and self evolution.

Conversely to my above statement however, the author does give specific examples of how historical and biographical particulars can facilitate pathworking. For instance, in discussing the image of the holy Rood in O’Sullivan’s Credo she says helpfully that, “contemplation of the symbolism of the priest hiding behind this dead screen can be a rewarding exercise for those meditating on their position with regards to the religion of their youth” (p.68).

I am however thankful for this book. As a member of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, I am naturally interested in Celtic history, legends and spirituality. W.B. Yeats was brought to life, and I knew nothing of Fiona MacLeod and Seumus O’Sullivan. As a healer I am drawn to Bridget, and I appreciate how the author facilitated Bridget’s voice. As a mental health professional I also appreciated her comments about psychic vampires, and the importance of psychological and spiritual protection before pathworking. She also emphasises the need to utilise one’s own spiritual tradition in operationalising protection.

I will keep this book ‎as a reference to the poets examined, but not as a tool in my spiritual practise.

*    *    *    *    *

Readers who, like me, thrive on understanding the mechanics, and who don’t find that gets in the way of their spirituality, will likely love this book. You can find out more here – http://www.moon-books.net/books/pagan-portals-pathworking-through-poetry Readers who need the room for unrestricted emotional responses probably won’t, although as Frank points out, it’s still very much worth considering this book for what it can teach you about poets working in the Celtic traditions.


Great books and an awkward reviewer

I’ve got two books to review and the same problem with both of them. I thought I’d try waiting for a day when I feel more positive, but it’s not coming, so, here we go. Great books do get bad reviews because the reviewer was in a bad place – I’ve had it happen to me and its monstrously unfair, so I’m going to try and handle this well. Bear with me.

The Coarse Witchcraft Trilogy, Melusine Draco. This is a funny and clever book, that reads like fiction but to some degree isn’t. There’s a lot of experience and insight underpinning it, so that, without really revealing anything, it gives the newbie or wannabe witch a chance at spotting the fakes and fraudsters. It is also a really funny and engaging book. The problem? That unsettled feeling of being outside of the secret knowledge, outside of the tradition, a bit unrooted. Seeing the fluffier, more permissive Pagans, the ones who lack substance, and feeling much more identification with that, than with the ‘real’ stuff. My insecurity, and my truth, such as it is. And of course it’s the desire to be more real, more worthy of taking seriously, more important that turns a subset of the Pagan community into fraudsters and fakes, lying to get attention. It’s as well to be alert to these things. I am at least honest fluff.

More about the book here – http://www.moon-books.net/books/coarse-witchcraft-trilogy

Iona, Mary Palmer. It’s a really beautiful poetry collection, full of vivid imagery and soulfulness, challenge, quest and difficulty. One of my problems with it was technical – that it is both a poetry collection, and a kind of story. The story is told through little asides that frame the poems, and feature two characters. I had trouble engaging with the characters, and might have done better with the poetry had it not been framed in this way. The problem could well be me – that I’ve not coped with something unfamiliar in a poetry book and just didn’t know how to read it. More experienced readers of poetry may well find this far easier to navigate. It is perhaps the case that I’m too easily swayed by narrative, and that someone more invested in the poetry would not get waylaid in the same way.

More about the book here – http://www.awenpublications.co.uk/iona.html

What really threw me – and this is entirely personal and not a flaw in the book at all – was the biographical content at the end. Poet Mary Palmer died in 2009 and the biography at the end of the collection sums up her life and work. It’s written with deep affection and respect, charting what she did and who she did it with, the context for writing, and the life around the work. There are glowing endorsements from others who love and value what she did.

Creative jealousy is a terrible thing. But, in writing this blog I’ve made a commitment to honesty, and to talking about things that aren’t much talked about. It’s an exposure of self to admit the degree to which I’ve been uncomfortable with both books because of the enormous sense of personal inadequacy I feel in face of this work. I think it’s important to air it though, and to look at how it distorts behaviour, because it can be a major factor in terms of how books are reviewed. Titles that cause us to see ourselves in an unflattering light can easily be blamed for the feelings they evoke. It’s hard to face up to it and say yes, this author is more than I will ever be. Perhaps if more of us were able to do it, it would take some of the sting out of the fact that most of us will never be all that we hope to be.