Book Review: ‘Bitter Greens’ by Kate Forsyth

bitter greens cover

Book Title: Bitter Greens

Author: Kate Forsyth

Genre: Fairytale retelling / Historical

Summary: A retelling of the Rapunzel fairytale, Bitter Greens explores the intertwining stories of three women: storyteller Charlotte-Rose de la Force, exiled from the court of Louis XIV, La Strega Bella Selena Leonelli, obsessed with maintaining her youth and beauty, and Margherita, a young girl held captive in a tower.

Favourite Scene: So many! Some are so haunting that they are prominent in my mind, not as favourites but as scenes I simply cannot forget. I loved – I can’t say, it’s a spoiler!

Favourite Character: Selena – this is a ‘wicked witch’ you can feel for.

Review: I love a good ‘flawed heroine’ and Bitter Greens delivers three strong female characters, each beautifully written as believable, sympathetic characters. They are flawed, they are scarred, they are desperate for their stories to be told. It is more than a fairytale retelling – history and elements of magic are woven into the narrative so intricately that the darkest of spells is believable. Every character in the novel exists with a purpose, and no story is left unravelled. The attention and detail given to historical figures is demonstrative of an extensive amount of research and consideration not only for the person but the people who would have existed around them.

Sixteenth century Venice is, itself, a character richly portrayed through elegant prose. Renaissance Venice rose up from the pages and I walked down its streets with a fresh perspective of one of my favourite cities – no easy feat considering I’ve been there three times.

Kate Forsyth is one of my favourite authors, and I credit her Witches of Eileanan series for my love of fantasy. She is one of the writers who most influenced teen-me when it came to both reading and writing. Her two most recent books – Bitter Greens and The Wild Girl (review to come) – have given adult-me renewed love for her work.

5 commas!

 

5 commas

Book Review: ‘Rivers of London’ by Ben Aaronovitch

rivers of london coverBook Title: Rivers of London

Author: Ben Aaronovitch

Genre: Paranormal / Urban Fantasy

Summary: Peter Grant, probationary constable in London’s Metropolitan Police Force, finds himself caught up in a case that is not entirely ordinary. After taking a statement from a witness to a bizarre murder, he is promoted to Detective Constable and apprenticed to Inspector Nightingale, wizard. Credited as “what would happen if Harry Potter grew up and joined the fuzz” (Diana Gabaldon), it is an exciting modern-day crime thriller with a few vampires, ghosts, and gods thrown in.

Favourite Scene: When Peter first creates a ball of light. (And the last scene in the book, which I can’t write about here!)

Favourite Character: Lesley

Review: I thoroughly enjoyed travelling through London escorted by a young constable solving paranormal crimes. That he is bordering on incompetent and generally not very clever in a detective sense makes it even more enjoyable, particularly because he ends up in some rather tricky situations as a result. And I can just see Lesley rolling her eyes …

Aaronovitch creates a multi-layered London with its own unique mythology and stories to support the characters and their subplots. It’s a fun and enjoyable beach-read – thoroughly entertaining and unique without being brain-challenging-complicated. I’m not normally a fan of crime fiction, but I’ve happily floated through this book and its three sequels. Don’t expect a super-happy ending for this one, but do expect to enjoy the faults and foibles of an apprentice wizard and wannabe detective constable (who’s partway there with the badge, he just needs the skills).

Did I mention that the different rivers of London (not just the Thames) have their own gods and goddesses?

4 commas!

4 commas

Book Review: ‘The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year’ by Sue Townsend

woman who went to bed for a year cover

Book Title: The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year

Author: Sue Townsend

Genre: Contemporary Fiction / Chic Lit

Summary: The day that Eva’s children leave home for university is the day she decides to go to bed and stay there. Her refusal to continue to be a dutiful wife and attentive mother has some amusing consequences, including a group of people who gather beneath her window believing her to be some kind of saint or angel, her husband’s mistress moving into the garden shed, and general chaos in her personal relationships.

Favourite Scene: Eva finds a spoon dirty with tomato soup resting on the chair she upholstered with silk she had embroidered by hand. Her heartache at this lack of consideration resonated with me.

Favourite Character: None. At all.

Review: Of Adrian Mole fame, Sue Townsend set high expectations with the combination of her reputation and the title of this novel. Alas, after the first few chapters the potential for hilarity, social commentary, and character development just … withered into nothing. I don’t enjoy writing negative reviews – but I also don’t enjoy reading books that are a total let down. The premise is exciting: a woman, sick of her selfish husband and inconsiderate children, turns away from the world and resolves to stay in bed. The first chapters give reasons we should be sympathetic and justify Eva’s drastic decision, but eventually the novel just … flops.

Eva ends up being just as selfish as those she wishes to rebel against – she expects someone else will take care of her while she resides in her bed. Her mother and mother-in-law become the main caretakers (ironic?), as well as a handyman who – for some strange reason I could not quite understand – is sympathetic to her plight. Her intention to stay in bed for a year becomes fastidious; at one point, she almost starves because no one brings her food. While I’m sure I was supposed to pity her, I couldn’t help but think Eva might have had a more enlightening experience if she had simply left her husband for an isolated country cottage.

The novel does switch between different points of view, but all this really does is emphasise how selfish every single character really is. I simply could not feel any sympathy for anyone. The title and the wistful thoughts that accompany thinking of going to bed for a year are as exciting as this novel gets. Maybe that’s the point? 2 commas!

2 commas

Book Review: ‘When We Have Wings’ by Claire Corbett

when we have wings cover

Book Title: When We Have Wings

Author: Claire Corbett

Genre: Speculative Fiction

Summary: Only the rich and powerful can afford to fly – the cost of the surgery, drugs, and gene manipulation is too great for anyone else. So why does Peri, a poor girl from the regions, have wings? And why would she throw it all away? Private investigator Zeke delves into the mystery of Peri’s disappearance and unravels a dark world beneath the glamourous facade of flier culture and politics.

Favourite Scene: Every scene describing what it’s like to fly – wow!

Favourite Character: Zeke Fowler

Review: This is a stunning novel – beautifully written and gorgeous with its imagery, the novel is more than just words on a page. The implication of technological advancement and how it will influence class (and even generation to generation) is represented through the ‘haves’ (wealthy fliers) and the ‘have nots’ (everyone else). The cost of wings, however, is more than just monetary – as Zeke finds out. What makes this story compelling is the narrative, split between two voices. It begins with a third person narrative from Peri’s point of view and then alternates between this and Zeke’s first person narrative of his investigation into her disappearance. Within these perspectives we have Peri’s search for truly understanding what it means to fly, and Zeke’s struggle to make the right decision for his son, knowing that whether or not his son is successful in the future could well be defined by whether or not he has wings.

The plot is, essentially, quite simple and straightforward. What I really loved about this novel was the obvious amount of research that went into its composition. Not only do we have considerations for science but also for the very nature of flight. Being able to fly like a bird means having lighter bones, burning more calories, and learning how to read the sky. Having a population of people who can fly changes how buildings are designed and constructed, how clothes are worn, and how we interact with others. The world constructed in the novel is intricate and flawless, and the characters are complex and flawed. It’s a beautiful combination!

There are subplots within the novel that weave together to create a sense that there is much more to come – not necessarily a sequel to the novel but definitely a real-life need to seriously consider the implications of technology and its role in creating (or at least redefining) human life – if we can choose a child’s eye colour, why not choose to give them wings?

I am gushing, I know. I really loved this book – it is a unique novel that stands out in a sea of rather predictable YA fiction and I cannot recommend it enough! 5 commas!

5 commas

100 Happy Days

2013 was a glum year for me – I did some amazing things, but those amazing things only kept me up for a little while before I came tumbling down – again and again and again. I found it hard to focus on anything, to feel motivated, to do anything other than feel sorry for myself. And let me tell you, it sucks. Like, really, really, really sucks. People around you tell you to cheer up, to look on the bright side, to just get over it … but no matter how many sparkly quotes you stick on the fridge – no matter how positive you try to be – some days you just feel like curling up in a tight little ball and wishing the world away.

And I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. This has been going on for years – sometimes it’s a day within a month, sometimes it’s most days within many months all lined up one after the other, and sometimes it just hits me – a big fat sucker punch right when I think I’m doing OK. Do I let this define me? No. But, when I can, I curl up in a tight little ball … to think.

Really think. Sometimes I think horrible negative things – things with which a mind should not pollute itself. Most of the time, though, I try to think about fixing it. It takes more than a positive quote to mend the soul, so I think about what it is that has pushed me to this point, what it is that has led to this weeping, curled up mess.

There are recurring themes in my life and they pop up whenever my mood is down.

Homelessness

I am grateful for the generosity of my family and friends because I have always been provided with somewhere to live in between my adventures abroad (with an extra big shout-out to my mother who has stored my boxes during these adventures and right now is storing me in the spare room and my research in a corner of the office), yet this nomad yearns for a home – a real home with her own books on the shelves, travel moments framed on the walls, and a cat curled up on the reading chair. It would be nice if I could rely on my plans to obtain this through winning lotto or inheriting millions from a Nigerian prince, but the reality is that I need money – and lots of it. I have to pull together a deposit, convince a bank to give me money, and then meet mortgage repayments for the next thirty years. Ouch. So I’m exploring the options – and right now, they make me feel physically sick because my little home (with its book-lined walls and little herb garden) is really far away.

Employment Blegh-ness

Currently my issue is unemployment and the resulting lack of income, but typically this theme is played out in the key of “I hate my job, waaaaaaa, waaa, waaaaaa”. It is usual that I approach new jobs with open enthusiasm shared with others as “Oh, it should be good because of A, B, and C” and then the quiet inner-voice of “Stef, you are going to struggle with X, Y, and Z, so be prepared”. Within a month, X, Y, and Z – despite my self-warning – become too much to tolerate. Most recently, I managed to “tolerate” my job for 23 months after the initial month passed. Bound by a contract, I had no choice – and it was the gloomiest shadow of 2013.

Lack of Purpose

I am still figuring it all out. And by “it all” I pretty much mean “life”. I have the appearance of someone well-put-together in terms of a balance of pretty awesome life experiences, good qualifications, and a potentially solid career as a teacher (given my qualifications, work experience, and … well, I’m really good at it). Unfortunately – and I’ve said this before – I’m good at a lot of things, but I don’t want to do them every single day for the rest of my working life. So. I’m still figuring it out. I love, love my research. I love, love, love writing (I’m still trying to get good at it!).

Being aware of what weighs me down helps me pull myself back up. It’s not about accepting it, but trying to change it. My lack of purpose is a big deal. A really big deal. I have to figure it out because I’m the only one who can. And I know that once I do the other issues will sort themselves out.

That’s going to be the big part of my journey this year – figuring out my life and my life’s purpose. A friend suggested I do the 100 Happy Days challenge and I think this is a great start. Basically, I have to find one thing every day that makes me happy – and post a photograph online. I will be sharing the photos on the Dodging Commas page – you are welcome to share your moments, too!

Today is a grey, rainy day. To some it could be called colourless, the kind of day when the rain is washing out the colour and leaving the world drenched. To me, it is a green day. No matter which window I look from, all I see is green – all I see is life, soaking up the rain and feeling it clean every leaf, every blade of grass. Right now – homeless, unemployed, and purposeless – I am in a place surrounded by green, listening to the rain and watching the leaves dance as they catch every drop.

Day One, and I am very content with this moment of happiness.

100 Happy Days Day One

100 Happy Days
Day One

What has made you happy today?