‘The Raven’s Tale’ – Cat Winters

Cat Winters is one of those authors who seems to delight in the macabre and unusual…I’ve enjoyed every one of the novels by her that I’ve written, and this is another hit in my mind.

Seventeen-year-old Edgar Poe counts down the days until he can escape his foster family—the wealthy Allans of Richmond, Virginia. He hungers for his upcoming life as a student at the prestigious new university, almost as much as he longs to marry his beloved Elmira Royster. However, on the brink of his departure, all his plans go awry when a macabre Muse named Lenore appears to him. Muses are frightful creatures that lead Artists down a path of ruin and disgrace, and no respectable person could possibly understand or accept them. But Lenore steps out of the shadows with one request: “Let them see me!”

Following the life of Edgar Allan Poe, this is clearly based on meticulous research but with a wonderfully macabre style that pays homage to Poe’s writing.

Poe at seventeen is about to head to university. He wants to write, but is discouraged by his foster father. Poe tries to ignore his dark muse, Lenore, but we see him struggle with his passions and interests as he adjusts to life as a student. Spiralling debts burden him and Poe cannot bear to abandon the one thing that gives him pleasure though it leaves him open to criticism.

For those familiar with his writing/life I imagine this will add another rich layer, but it’s a fascinating story regardless.

Thanks to NetGalley for allowing me access prior to publication and to Cat Winters for her quirky imaginative style being let loose on such a rich topic.

‘Monsters’ – Sharon Dogar

1814: Mary Godwin, the sixteen-year-old daughter of radical socialist and feminist writers, runs away with a dangerously charming young poet – Percy Bysshe Shelley. From there, the two young lovers travel a Europe in the throes of revolutionary change, through high and low society, tragedy and passion, where they will be drawn into the orbit of the mad and bad Lord Byron.
But Mary and Percy are not alone: they bring Jane, Mary’s young step-sister. And she knows the biggest secrets of them all . . .
Told from Mary and Jane’s perspectives, Monsters is a novel about radical ideas, rule-breaking love, dangerous Romantics, and the creation of the greatest Gothic novel of them all: Frankenstein

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me access to such a complex and fascinating read.

Some of the stories surrounding Frankenstein are well-known, and I admit to finding the book at its most absorbing when it focused on the events of this time. However, in this we have an imagined account of the life of Mary Goodwin, her lover Percy Bysshe Shelley and a character I’d never heard of – half-sister Jane/Claire.

Initially the book felt slow in approach. A meticulous and, at times, off-putting focus on the build-up to the relationship between these evidently fascinating characters. There’s a clear sense of the time and beliefs around these characters being brought to life. It was definitely interesting to see how their lives may have intertwined and linked.

While the story was fascinating, I found myself intensely irritated by Shelley and the selfishness with which he acted. The attempt to show his appeal and positive traits is clear, but it didn’t quite succeed.

‘Bone Talk’ – Candy Gourlay

More than a hundred years ago, a boy named Samkad thinks he knows everything about the world. He knows the mountains he lives in. He knows his people. He knows his blood enemy, the Mangili. And he wants to become a man, to be given his own shield, spear and axe to fight with. His best friend, Luki, wants all the same things – but she is a girl, and no girl has ever become a warrior.
But everything changes when a new boy arrives in the village. He calls himself Samkad’s brother, yet he knows nothing of the ways of the mountain. And he brings news of a people called ‘Americans’, who are bringing war and destruction right to his home . . .

Another book that I picked up with little knowledge, other than it’s on the long-list for the Carnegie 2019 Award.

Gourlay talks of trying to bring to life her own Philippine history, and it is certainly a story that encourages us to walk in someone else’s shoes awhile and to consider the impact our presence might have on others.

A brief yet compelling read, which will certainly generate discussion about some of the issues covered.

‘The Binding’ – Bridget Collins

The Binding will be one of those divisive books that will have both fans and haters alike, but whichever camp you fall into I think there’ll be similar comments made about it.

For me this was the story of Emmett Farmer, a young man drawn to books but reluctant to take on the apprenticeship he’s offered for reasons he can’t explain. He comes to learn about himself and how he might challenge the expectations of his time.

When I requested this from NetGalley it was because of the lure of a story about books. In this world books are currency, used by fraudulent men to bind people to them. Books in this form are not stories – works of fiction are sneered at here as being less worthy – but they are used to draw memories from people who desire to forget things. Sometimes this is an unpleasant memory, but sometimes these bindings are used as a form of covering abuse or controlling others.

Intriguing though this was, we don’t focus on the books as much as I expected.
There’s no denying the fact that the first part of the story feels slow as you read. It drifts and it’s not clear why certain events are happening as they do, and the recurring allusions to secrets to be told did get a little wearing. However, as we started to uncover some of these details I became more invested in the story. Unfortunately I can see many readers being bored by the midway point where things really started to move forward, and simply not bothering to read on. That would be a shame.

As we come to understand Emmett’s actions and unearth some of the details that have led him to this point I couldn’t help but feel the story had shifted into a place that wasn’t expected.

Thank you to NetGalley for the opportunity to read this prior to publication.

‘Ghost Boys’ – Jewell Parker Rhodes

Our narrator, twelve year old Jerome, is another voice to add to the list of young black boys killed because of their race.

Bullied in school, Jerome is a good kid who tries to do the right thing. He befriends new boy Carlos, even though it looks like it will bring him problems. He could never predict just how serious these will get.

When the school bullies start picking on Carlos one lunchtime he pulls out a gun. It’s a toy, but realistic enough to scare them off. Wanting to give his new friend thanks for the support, Carlos offers Jerome the toy to play with. Jerome’s decision to take it, and go out on the street to play with it, costs him his life.
The killing of Jerome at the hands of a white police officer happens early on. We’re spared the worst details, but the subsequent preliminary hearings tell us enough to know this was an unjustified action, probably an act brought about by prejudice and totally avoidable.

Jerome’s story is told in two timeframes. The flashbacks to record the last moments of his life and what led to that point, and the present now he is dead.
He can be seen by the daughter of the man who shot him. This allows the author to examine attitudes to race and to raise some of the pertinent issues linked to cases such as this throughout history. Rhodes introduces her readers to names that will, sadly, be all too familiar to many.

A quick read that should resonate with readers, though the sense of injustice and anger you’re likely to feel as you read the book – and the knowledge that it’s not likely to change – is infuriating. Nobody should live their life like this. Nobody should have to experience this horror. Nobody should let such attitudes continue unchallenged.

Given to me by our school librarian this is a great book for younger readers who are, perhaps, not quite ready for the more developed political stance of books such as The Hate You Give.

‘The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein’ – Kiersten White

This won’t be to everyone’s tastes as it tells a story, but one we assume to be familiar with. Here we get the Frankenstein story told through the eyes of Elizabeth.

From her mistreated childhood to the moments the story focuses on we can see Elizabeth is a character forced into the roles dictated to her. She is at her fiercest/bravest when challenging these roles, and I liked the way this illuminates aspects of Shelley’s text while telling its own story.

We can see the role Elizabeth played in Victor Frankenstein and his experiments. We watch as she learns what he’s been doing and how she deals with the effects of these experiments.

A substantial part of the tale is like reading Frankenstein through another character’s eyes, but then we deviate from the expected. It doesn’t work fully, but it would certainly be a highly recommended read for anyone wanting to examine Shelley’s work with new eyes.

‘The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy’ – Mackenzi Lee

Felicity Montague…wish she’d been around when I was a teenager. Think I’m a little in love with this young woman!

Having survived some pretty risky situations she’s back, and throwing herself with gusto into things that nobody in their right mind would attempt.

When Felicity realises marriage to Callum the baker is not going to be for her she runs to London to stay with her brother, Monty. Determined to pursue her dreams she tries – again – to convince gentlemen in the medical establishment to permit her to study. Given the time she’s in, this doesn’t go well.

But a young woman, daughter of a pirate commander, offers to help her find her way to the home of old friend Johanna Hoffman who is about to marry Dr Alexander Platt.

Without giving away important plot details there’s more to the offer of help than we first think. Felicity gets herself embroiled in a risky chase to reclaim property belonging to Johanna’s late mother. She ends up closer to some of her dreams than she ever thought possible and things end in such a way that have me convinced there’s more to come.

Summer Highlights part 1

Justyce McAllister is a young boy with a bright future. Captain of his debate team, a great scholar and well-liked by his peers Justyce is the kind of character you’d probably want your child to be. Sensitive and thoughtful, considerate of others and trying to be the best he can be it’s hard not to like him. So when we see things start to go wrong for him it’s a pretty bleak message.

When the book opens Justyce has gone out late one night because his ex-girlfriend has been drinking and is trying to drive home. He is in the process of trying to get her home safely, when a policeman cuffs him and arrests him. Why? Simple answer…he’s black.

This incident alone had me outraged, and it certainly gets Justyce and those around him to talk frankly about some of the issues they’re facing surrounding race and how it impacts their lives. But it doesn’t change anything.

Justyce is surrounded by privileged white people, and he lives in a more stereotypical black neighbourhood. Inevitably, there are clashes in ideology and what people expect of him. Justyce turns to Martin Luther King whom he imagines writing to in order to ask questions he has.

The book could have continued in this vein for some time. Sadly I imagine there’s many stories that could have been used to illustrate the seemingly inherent racism in modern society.

Just as things seem to be settling into a bleak but known place, Stone places Justyce and his best friend, Manny, in an all-too-common situation. What follows is harrowing.

This should have been a 5 star read for its message and desire to encourage dialogue. However, unlike The Hate U Give the use of third-person narrative results in a rather detached reading experience. It meant I felt rather less engaged in Justyce’s life than I felt I needed to be. Still, definitely a read that should be shared.

A small town. One year five cheerleaders are killed within a short space of time. Seemingly unconnected incidents…but some people are convinced there was more to these deaths.

Monica is still coming to terms without her sister, one of those who died. She is convinced Jen wouldn’t have killed herself but nobody is prepared to talk to her.
Monica takes it upon herself to try to find out what happened. Her digging uncovers a lot of secrets, and it isn’t until the end of the book that we realise the significance of some of these secrets.

Plenty of twists and dark undercurrents to this. It wasn’t a book that felt like a long read but there were a number of details that I only recognised their importance once other issues had been resolved. It made more sense of some of the actions and events that took place, but it was frustrating to be left without really seeing all the dots joined.

 

A small town. One year five cheerleaders are killed within a short space of time. Seemingly unconnected incidents…but some people are convinced there was more to these deaths.

Monica is still coming to terms without her sister, one of those who died. She is convinced Jen wouldn’t have killed herself but nobody is prepared to talk to her.
Monica takes it upon herself to try to find out what happened. Her digging uncovers a lot of secrets, and it isn’t until the end of the book that we realise the significance of some of these secrets.

Plenty of twists and dark undercurrents to this. It wasn’t a book that felt like a long read but there were a number of details that I only recognised their importance once other issues had been resolved. It made more sense of some of the actions and events that took place, but it was frustrating to be left without really seeing all the dots joined.

 

This is definitely one of those books that I’d recommend with caution, but I enjoyed this far more than I thought I would initially.

Nita is not your normal teenager. Living with her mother, Nita has always had an affinity for cutting things. She turns a blind eye to some of the jobs her mother does, but she will dissect bodies and help with the sale of parts on the black market. However, when her mother brings a live boy back and asks Nita to cut him Nita cannot bring herself to do so.

Nita’s help in the boy’s escape sets in place an awful chain of events that results in Nita being kidnapped and put in a cage. People are intrigued by her ability to cut off pain and heal herself. They are prepared to pay serious money for her, and so we watch Nita in her desperate attempts to escape.

I don’t want to give the details away, but things are not what we’re led to believe. There seems to be clear hints of some kind of plot that Nita is unaware of. A lot of violence, and some sinister characters/events but there was an attempt to portray the humanity of characters who, in many eyes, would be seen as monsters.

A huge thank you to NetGalley for letting me read this.

 

If you’d have told me I’d read a book about basketball I’d have laughed at you. Until I realised this book must have something going for it because so many of my reluctant readers picked it up, enjoyed it and went on to try other things. So, I decided to give it a whirl. Not at all what I expected.

While basketball forms the backdrop to this story, it’s also about growing up, accepting change, family relationships and dealing with disappointment. Told in varying verse styles it picks you up and carries you along at a pretty brisk pace.
The brothers were crazy to prolong their feud in the way they did, but through their shared love/bond things were getting back on track. I sensed where this might go, but it still comes as a shock.

Now to go and dig out my copy of House Arrest.

‘February’ by Lisa Moore

In 1982, the oil rig Ocean Ranger sank off the coast of Newfoundland during a Valentine’s Day storm. All eighty-four men aboard died. February is the story of Helen O’Mara, one of those left behind when her husband, Cal, drowns on the rig. It begins in the present-day, more than twenty-five years later, but spirals back again and again to the “February” that persists in Helen’s mind and heart.

In ‘February’ we follow Helen at various points in her life, but the whole story seems to pivot on the moment of the rig collapsing.

We see her in the present, in her role as grandmother, as a young woman and as a wife whose husband is one of the many killed when the oil rig he is working on collapses.

At times, the story felt like rummaging through one of those memory boxes. Some recollections were more vivid than others – and it was only Helen and her son, John, who really felt clearly portrayed – but the events recollected combine to form a picture of one woman and her life.

What was evident throughout this story is that Helen is not, in many ways, a remarkable woman. She lives her life and deals with what life throws at her with stoicism, but throughout we are given a picture of resilience and strength.

This is not a fast-moving story, rather ideas are unravelled and we slowly come to understand this character.

‘Stranger’ by Karen David

Astor, Ontario. 1904.
A boy staggers out of the forest covered in blood and collapses at the feet of 16-year-old Emmy. While others are suspicious and afraid, Emmy is drawn to him. Is he really the monster the townsfolk say he is?
Astor, Ontario. 1994.
Megan arrives from London for her great grandmother Emmy’s 105th birthday. It should be a happy family occasion, but Megan is nursing a broken heart and carrying a secret she fears might consume her.

These two stories don’t, at first, seem to make sense or link. One story concerns Tom, a young boy who is found in the woods in 1904, and the other focuses on Megan, a young English girl who goes to visit her grandmother at a particularly turbulent time in her life.

The stories of Tom and Megan are, of course, linked but we don’t establish how until quite late on.

Initially the story felt a little slow, but as we start to piece together events and identify links between the two timeframes I found it an absorbing story. Both stories explore themes of loss, motherhood and identity but in quite different ways.

Thanks to NetGalley for allowing me to read this in advance of publication.