Book review: Gone to Earth

Last night I finished reading ‘Gone to Earth’ by Mary Webb, a classic study of good versus evil, light versus darkness, and humanity versus ignorance and destruction. It was written during the First World War, and Webb’s horror of the wanton massacre of human life is what powers this novel. Foxhunting symbolises the abject depths to which human kind can sink. Hazel is the pure and unheard voice that cries out against it.

It was poet friend Candice Daquin who urged me to read this book. In fact, she urged me so much she actually sent me a copy! This, she was certain, was a book I would love. How well she knows me! I’d give the purchase links but I think you’ll have to track down a second hand copy, as it doesn’t seem to be still in print. Not awesome enough, I suppose.

51-a55AjCvL._SX317_BO1,204,203,200_

 

There are words to describe ‘Gone to Earth’ like beautiful and exquisite, but none of them do justice to the poetry of Mary Webb’s writing. Hazel Woodus is more than simply the untamed young girl caught between the desires of two men and the indifference of another, she is the spirit of nature, innocence and all that we as human beings seem to have lost. She is the earth, one with the trees, the flowers, sister to her beloved Foxy and protector of all things suffering, in pain, or fearful. Reddin, the amoral, insensitive and cruel master of the local big house wants her, and so does the parson, hidebound by his interpretation of good morals but as passionate to have her as Reddin is. Neither understands her, neither even tries, but both exercise a power that pulls her in opposite directions until she breaks.

In this brutal, cruel, man’s world, a girl has no protector but her father and her husband if she is lucky. Hazel’s father is a musician, wrapped up in his own talent, his own creations, and barely notices his daughter. Her mother is dead and her female relatives dislike her and disapprove of her wild ways. Because Hazel is wild. She has been grown like the roses grow and the animals injured by human cruelty that she rescues and cares for. Her God is a distant force that might or might not be there, like the storm might break or pass on the other side of the hills. Her desires are limited to the same desires as Foxy, the cub that survived the jaws of the foxhounds, symbol of death and destruction—to have enough to eat, a warm place to sleep, and the whole of nature to walk in and wonder at.

This portrait of the Shropshire countryside of the end of the era the First World War destroyed, is a contrast between the peace and beauty that Hazel sees and Reddin’s red raging world of blood and death. There is no place for fragile innocence like Hazel’s in the world of men such as Reddin and his cold, calculating manservant, Vessons, nor even of Marston, the clergyman husband whose eyes are only opened to the simple truths of Hazel’s world vision when he renounces his God who is, he finally realises, the God of Reddin, the huntsmen, the soulless farmers, and the killers of all that is beautiful.

I read an author interview recently in which the author was asked who was her favourite female heroine. I now know that Hazel Woodus would be mine.

Book review: A Wrinkle in Time

51LvdevLNwL._SY346_

 

This is a warning. If you are an unconditional fan of Madeleine L’Engle, you might prefer to go straight to the poetry section and skip this.

 

I wonder has anyone else had this experience, of rereading a book from childhood, remembering it as one you really loved, and discovering that you don’t really like it at all? A few years ago I gave A Wrinkle in Time to our youngest, shoved it into her reluctant hands with great insistence. “You’ll love it,” I said. “It was one of my favourite books when I was your age.” She flipped through it and abandoned it after the first few chapters.

When I found it in the pile of books for the charity shop, I snatched it back, determined that I would read the poor thing if nobody else wanted to. I settled into it happily enough, remembering the ‘dark and stormy night’, Charles Wallace’s little legs not touching the floor, Meg, ungainly and moody, and mother struggling with household chores, bringing up four kids, and earning a living. I remarked to husband, that this was top-notch children’s writing—great scene setting, atmospheric and endearing. Why couldn’t modern writers use this kind of vocabulary, I enthused, and take a tip from L’Engle and keep school out of it. What normal kid is such a glutton for school that she/he wants to read about it for fun?

My memories ended there: the witches and what comes after had left no mark at all, worse, I was starting to have doubts. For me, it starts to get wobbly when Calvin turns up and I have the impression that rather too much of the attention is diverted away from Meg to him. The impression grows that Meg has been relegated to a spectator role when they set off after the lost father, and she is continually either having her hand held, or being comforted, or supported physically in some way by Calvin. When they go through the wrinkle, it’s Calvin’s hand she holds, not her beloved baby brother’s who she lets drift off into oblivion. She stands between the two boys, having her hand held while the six year-old pipsqueak gives lip to the adults, or Calvin decides what’s best.

Then C.W. drops the ‘Jesus Bomb’ and the wobbling gets critical. When we enter the totalitarian state it’s clear that we have a Cold War line up with God on the side of the good guys and the Dark Fella on the side of the Commie Bastards. When our intrepid threesome, holding hands, tripped their way into Stalin’s office to be interrogated by the KGB, I lost interest.

It was while I was wondering if it were possible to reach into a book and give a kid’s backside a good twilting that I made an unfortunate connection. Is it just me, or do C.W. and Meg bear uncanny resemblances to Stewie and Meg from Family Guy? Is it intentional? Once the idea wormed its way into my head, I’m afraid I was just waiting to discover if their long lost father was going to turn out to be Peter Griffin.

Unfortunately, he’s not. He is boring and slightly wet. Meg has turned into a hysterical fifty year-old, Calvin sulks, and the only good thing is that they’ve dumped the brat in Stalingrad. I don’t care what happens to any of them. I know that there’s going to be a happy ending with angels and flying ‘beings’ and the IT (Lenin aka Satan) will be defeated as a result of the nebulous ‘fighting’ that has been going on by the forces of righteousness, and there will be neither rhyme nor reason to it.

This book has been compared to the Narnia books. Don’t believe it. C.S. Lewis’s writing is beautiful, the plots are well thought out, and his world-building is superb. L’Engle’s world-building is as convincing as the cardboard scenery in a school theatre and the plot is feeble, the language flat and dull. While Narnia’s Christian element is unobtrusive (except to adult readers), A Wrinkle in Time is as subtle as a punch in the face.

I hate writing this, but it has bothered me, having a pleasant memory completely dismantled. Other childhood favourites I have reread with pleasure, but as far as I am concerned, A Wrinkle in Time has had its day, and does not have what it takes to make it a classic.

Book review: The Crooked Path

51i1czortel

As an antidote to the dull, formulaic novel I gave up on yesterday, I’d like to say a few words about Harriet Goodchild’s new book, ‘The Crooked Path’, a beautiful example of the kind of writing I wish I could master.

A new story from Harriet Goodchild is guaranteed to be a joy to read. ‘The Crooked Path’ is high fantasy, if myths and fairy tales and folklore count as high fantasy. The world will be familiar to anyone who has read ‘After the Ruin’, or to anyone who knows Scotland. Because the colours and the atmosphere are north country folk tale, highlands and islands with a touch of sea wolves on the horizon. The Crooked Path is a love story, a triangular love story between two beings who are not quite human but very much of the world of the story, and a humble, heroic potter.

The story is pure magic, danced across a vivid canvas. It’s rare I can see a place in such clear, strong colours as Goodchild’s world. The mountains are purple, the sky blue, the gorse yellow, the sky black set with brilliants. Even the roses are red or white, never pink. There are no pastel shade, no half tints. The sun is high and flaming gold at midsummer or the world is black and white at mid winter. Yet there is no long, florid phrasing in this writing; Goodchild paints this glorious canvas with an astonishing economy of words.

The hero is the potter, and the reader is free to like or dislike all of the other far more lordly, rich and important characters. Possibly one of the most likeable aspects of folk tales is turning the established order on its head as surely as magic can turn the commonplace into treasure. There’s no point going into the details of the plot which builds up, brush stroke by brush stroke, adding details and depth as the journey proceeds until the sunburst of a conclusion when the whole painting is revealed. You will love this story if you love the magic of folk tales that contain in a familiar setting a world that is so very different to the one we know.

You can buy it from

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

A pretty fine review of Abomination

AboAmazon
Endorsements don’t come much better than this.
A very entertaining read, 27 Aug. 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Abomination (The Pathfinders Book 1) (Kindle Edition)
This is intelligent and sophisticated YA fiction that adults can also enjoy. Beautifully written with heaps of tension and dramatic conflict, there is also plenty of genuine horror and a fair amount of tongue-in-cheek humour. The dialogue is natural and realistic, the atmosphere edgy and sinister, and this post-apocalyptic future is a bleak and brutal setting for the two likeable protagonists, who must use all their wits to survive. I really enjoyed this book and look forward to book two.


Author’s note
If you haven’t got your copy yet, there’s still time. I can hold up the apocalypse long enough for you to finish it.

Two new reviews for Abomination!

abomination_exlarge

I discovered this morning that Abomination has two new reviews! This is the first one, more than a month old—shows how much I keep my eye on the ball.

Enjoyably gritty evocation of a post-apocalyptic world, 20 Jun. 2016
This review is from: Abomination (The Pathfinders Book 1) (Kindle Edition)
I really enjoyed this book. It was a great setup. I’m always fascinated by these “lights-out” scenarios. And with its gritty evocation of a not-too-unlikely future, I think the Pathfinders series is ready to take its place in the canon alongside the Hunger Games and Insurgent series.

Having it set in France was also an interesting twist as most of these kinds of books are American-based (although I did wonder about the lack of French speakers in the post-apocalyptic world later on!). The two main characters, Carla and Tully, were likeable and smart and, as a previous reviewer has said, very “human” and believable as imperfect and somewhat idealistic teens.

[Plotspoiler warning!!]. Once they arrive through the wormhole, the evocation of the place was well-drawn and chilling. Again, great characters. I imagined the tribe leader “Ace” as a young Axl Rose – sullen, whiny, but full of power and menace. The action moved nicely along to a conclusion, giving us some good insights into the life of the tribe in the world-after-the-Abomination. However, I got a tad confused in the final few chapters. There is a lot here – time and/or interdimensional travel, shapeshifters or zombies, a power-hungry Dark Lord type called The Burned Man, all the different renegade tribes with their group- and gender politics, mutant beasts, all overlaid with a religious symbolism mentioning the four horsemen of the Apocalypse. I would have liked a bit more explanation of how the Burned Man and general “evil” came about and/or how it manifested itself. I was also unsure who the Eblis character actually was (They said it was Jack earlier but he seems unaware of it. Perhaps it is Carla? Maybe this was deliberately left murky) I expect all this will be forthcoming in the next book, which I look forward to reading.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of Abomination in return for a fair and honest review.


And the second, just posted, is this one from Sacha. So flattering I’m the colour of a traffic stop light.

Beautiful, Gory, and descriptively stunning., 27 July 2016
This review is from: Abomination: Volume 1 (The Pathfinders) (Paperback)
Doughty is a master weaver of apocalyptic settings. Her world is hauntingly realistic. Her story is not for the faint of heart, you can tell that Dougherty would slay any red-eyed hell demon that dared cross her path. If you love descriptively stunning books, this is for you. Her style is a rich poetic prose and yet flows with the ease of any other YA novel. Personally, I feel it’s right at the upper end of Young Adult, if not New Adult with it’s frequent juicy language and beautifully raw-gore descriptions. I loved it. It unsettled me and made me uncomfortable in all the right places. HIGHLY recommended.


Thanks a million to both of you. If I knew who you were, Lilac Hell, I’d send you personalized big hugs. Sacha would get them anyway.
If these reviews tempt you to read Abomination, give in to your primal urge and buy it now. All three volumes are available so you don’t have to wait any longer than the press of a button to find out who, if anyone is Eblis Azazel and what, if anything, does it matter.


Review of Abomination

A lovely ***** review from Kitty Muse Book Reviews. Makes Monday worthwhile after all 🙂

51knx0-lv8l-_sx311_bo1204203200_

Kitty Muse Book Reviews, July 10, 2016
By
Verified Purchase(What’s this?)
This review is from: Abomination (The Pathfinders Book 1) (Kindle Edition)
Tully and Carla are students at an international school, with no problems in their lives other than having to take Saturday morning classes, the appearance of leek quiche for lunch, and what to do after school. It is nothing more than a small worry when the sun becomes hotter than usual, there is worldwide rioting, and Mt. Fuji seems on the verge of blowing up. Being teens, the outside world doesn’t touch them much.
The storm changes it all in an instant. And the wormhole, although it saves their lives, changes the pair’s world completely.
When the dust settles, they emerge from Carla’s cellar to an unrecognizable, shattered landscape, utterly devoid of life.
Unless you count the survivors, who themselves are hardly considered “living”.
The two are captured by one member of a number of “tribes”, who delivers them to his leader, a man-child by the name of Ace, whose tribe lives in the ruins of a shopping mall. Here, Tully and Carla learn of what has transpired in the surprisingly five years since they had disappeared into that hole…
…and that they all await the return of The Burnt Man.

I’d been waiting for Ms. Dougherty to produce another book, and she more than met my expectations. The characters in this book reminded me a lot of the boys in “Lord of the Flies”. And the mall—creepy atmosphere entirely! Because—guess what?—the kids are not alone…
Oh—and why are they just kids of a certain age? Well, that would be telling.
I am just in awe of the worlds Jane Dougherty can create. They are so vibrant, filled with sensory depictions so vivid the reader can be totally immersed in the tale from the first to the last page.
This book is the first in a new series—and I am waiting, once again, for the next installment in this new world she has created for us.

Kathy Ree sent me this collection of photos she found of the shopping mall at the end of the world. Extraordinary! How did they get the pictures?
Here are the buy links, because, of course, you are going to read this series, aren’t you?

Book review: Dark Feathered Hearts

Sticking with my good intentions, this is a review of a tremendous book I have just finished reading.

Dark Feathered Hearts is the fourth and final volume of The Book if the Colossus by John Collick. I have read and enjoyed the previous volumes and was more than keen to get my hands on the last installment.

51LJ1wj2XNL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_

 

It’s over! The Book of the Colossus is finished. The third volume, AntiHelix added a new dimension to the story, deepening the characters and the relationship between Max and Abby, at the same time accelerating the rhythm. This final volume not only has a multitude of threads to bring together without getting them hopelessly tangled, it adds even more. The plot is intricate and the cast of players pretty huge by the finale, but John Collick manages to weave in the loose ends without ever losing sight of the main picture.

The Abhumans make a surprising and loveable constant element, to the extent that the little furry buggers and the Brittle Hag’s amazing ship feel like home—not exactly comfortable, but familiar in their strangeness. Crysanthe is still with us—all hard edges to strike sparks off Abby—and the Machine Men. The Black Roses flutter in and out, as is to be expected given the title, and if there is a thread I would have liked to have lingered with longer, it was this one. For the previous three volumes the Black Roses have been the shadowy bad guys, epitomised by the dastardly Odilon, but enigmatic and intriguing. I was still intrigued by them at the end of the story. What exactly their game was remained an enigma, but this is not our world, and it doesn’t function like a cricket match.

The world of the Colossus is so huge it defies description. I am put in mind of a Hieronymous Bosch painting, tiny grotesque figures scuttling across a vast canvas of fiery reds and dull shadow, mountains looming in the obscurity and crawling with horrors. But the canvas of the Colossus shifts and changes as we travel through loops in time and space across the dying singularity and the prone body of God. The colours are violets and dull reds and oranges; the seas are acid and full of rusting wreckage, the debris of massive destruction and ancient wars. Its denizens are humanoid or machine, or something that lies in a weird zone between the two. Then there are the Giants, miles-tall loose cannons, there is reality and there is God’s mind, and there is the creation called Rebecca, a spot-on portrait of insufferable adolescence. Last of all, there are the Gods. If there is a single image that sticks with me, haunts me even, it is of the Gods, monstrous, fantastic, shining or hideous beings, infinitely cold and merciless, and their infinitesimally slow march through the God Door.

Perhaps it’s because I didn’t want it to end. Perhaps because I raced to finish, not wanting to put the book down, that the extraordinary denouement came too quickly for me. But that’s a fault I would only find with books that I am reluctant to admit have finally come to an end, that the last word has been read, and I have to let the characters continue their journey without me. This has been a tremendous journey, beautifully written and extraordinary in its visual scope. Read it.

If you haven’t read any of this series yet, I can’t recommend it highly enough. It really is extremely good.You can read my review of the first volume, Thumb, here.

John Collick’s Amazon author page has all the details.

Amazon.com

Amazon.co.uk

Abomination news

Two things. First, a five star rave review from Crystals Many Reviewers

Abomination (The Pathfinders #1) by Jane Dougherty #mf #YA @FinchBooks

(Don’t know why there’s a great chunk of white space here, but I can’t make it go away).

and this morning the postman brought my author copies of the book! It’s real—I’ve seen it, touched it. I believe!

AbomPromo

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Book review: The Fire Mages

The Fire Mages by Pauline M. Ross

YA fantasy fiction

Amazon UK

Amazon US

 

This is a curious story, told in the first person by a strangely detached main character, of a series of events that put me in mind of a nineteenth century penny dreadful or a silent Perils of Pauline type film. Yet it had me gripped right to the end. I admit I downloaded it with a half-dozen others because it was one of the books close to my own in the Amazon rankings, it sounded interesting, and I wanted to see what was popular. Pauline Ross’s book was the only one of the lot I read all the way through. The others, I dumped after the first few pages.

I read some of the reviews, and although I agree with some of the criticisms, I don’t necessarily see them as negative points. The heroine, Kyra, wants to be a law scribe. Pretty dull ambition, I hear you say, but Kyra finds some of the nitty gritty of legal stuff fascinating. Takes all sorts, you say. But, what she really wants to get to grips with is the magic of spell casting that law scribes are allowed to perform. She wants to study with mages and learn how to write out a spell and make it work. The story of The Fire Mages is how Kyra discovers her rare talent, and how she is thwarted at every turn in her ambition to use it. I could hear the frantic Keystone Cops background music playing as she escapes from captivity yet again, or as the bonk on the villain’s head wears off and the chase begins to tie her up again.

Yes, I agree, Kyra does have rather laid back attitudes to abuse, violence and the dangers of associating intimately with psychopaths. True, her male opposites are not prepossessing: said psychopath, a wimpy bully who turns into a wimpy lover, a totally camp escort boy, and a middle-aged sovereign who tries to enroll her as a concubine when she’s thirteen years old.

True, Kyra has zero understanding of human nature, falls into the same traps time after time, fails to see the most blatant dastardly coup before it slaps her between the eyes, makes excuses for or forgives rape, kidnap, denunciation, poisoning, murder, infanticide, you name it, she’ll just shrug it off with a ‘what the hell’.

Having said all that though, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I don’t agree that Kyra is dull. She isn’t kick ass, if that’s what the critics mean, and that’s no bad thing in my book. She has a strange fascination, with her otherworldly detachment, her moral code that seems right up the creek, her willingness to have sex with men as a sort of therapy, because she feels sorry for them, because they give her lessons in local history, or simply because she’s feeling ultra randy and she grabs whatever’s within arm’s reach.

There’s a deadpan humour to Pauline Ross’s writing that saves the rather wacky story from being totally ridiculous. Kyra herself has a dry wit that made me laugh on several occasions. The characters are rounded, memorable and credible for all their weird behaviour. In fact, I think the psychopath’s brigand/gangster family is based on East European neighbours we used to have. The Fire Mages is a story that doesn’t take itself seriously. It’s a romp, not acute psychological drama. I would actually like to meet Kyra, and I shall probably read more of Pauline Ross in the future to catch up on how Kyra’s doing.

 

More Valentine’s Day reading

In the self-congratulatory Grá mo Chroí spree of the last week, lots of things have gone out the window. I don’t count housework or even real work. One of the important things that didn’t get done was posting my reviews of Harriet Goodchild’s short stories.
They are just as much a Valentine’s Day read as Grá mo Chroí and very much in the same broad style. Although they are set in a fantasy world that seems to me to be more vibrant than our own, Harriet’s stories are very firmly rooted in the world of Scottish folk ballads. I can’t recommend them highly enough.
Have just been to get the links and find both these volumes are absolutely FREE! You’d have to be mad not to get your copy now!

tll-cover

I was lucky enough to be offered an ARC of these stories, and there is only one word to describe them: beautiful. In the purest of pure story-telling tradition, Harriet Goodchild has filled a fantasy world of her own creation with the light and landscape of the hills of the northlands. The word images recur like the refrain of a ballad, and some of them are miniature gems of poetry.
The world is a northern Europe, could be the Scottish Highlands, Ireland, or Scandinavia, and the time is the time of stories, with echoes of the Bronze Age, the Viking conquests, and the early Middle Ages. Don’t try and pinpoint anything exactly, this is fantasy, fairy tale, and song.
The language is the language of poetry, using words to paint images that are so vivid the reader feels the wind, sees the glitter of starlight and the waves rolling on the strand. There is a great sense of the movement of the natural world here, the sun, the stars, the seasons turning, the cycles of life.
The stories treat the great themes: love in all its forms, loss, and longing; and because there is great love there is also intense hatred. Every one of these tales is beautifully crafted like an early illumination. The characters are kings and courtiers, fishermen and fishwives, those who live by the sea, on the sea, and in the sea. And the best thing of all is that this world of sea and starlight is a glimpse of the world of Harriet Goodchild’s first novel, which is promised for later this spring. The best, as they say, is yet to come.

Amazon US
Amazon UK

eab-cover

The two stories contained in this volume are set in the same world as Tales from the Later Lands. The setting is the more hushed and refined atmosphere of an urban aristocracy. There are still gardens and roses, but the tone is set by Allocco and his distance, his reserve, and his dignity. Taccola, the girl chosen to be his new wife is a child, unknowing and unformed except to obey, which she does, to begin with, and life is peaceful and full of roses. As happens in the happiest of arranged marriages, love unfolds pale and pure as the thornless, scentless roses Allocco offers his young bride. But Taccola is young and she has never been allowed to find out for herself the difference between love and desire.
What happens when the two become confused leads to the second story. Years later when Allocco is dead, we return to a more mature, but equally melancholy Taccola, learning this time what it feels like to be the mother of an estranged son who enters her life as a young man, when she never thought to see him again. Roses and gardens again, and stories and quiet. These two stories are perfection.

Amazon US
Amazon UK