Monday, 15 June 2015

Review: 'Morgrim's Wood' by Carrie Ann Lahain

Imagine the worst thing that could happen to you then tell yourself that you have to `move on'. Clich├ęs can be cruelly euphemistic. Morgrim's Wood is the place Pamela German chooses to escape to so that her home can be transformed in her absence. Only then, can she come to terms with her grief. But in the family cabin in the woods, she is reminded of childhood memories that hint at clues she has missed until now. Clues that will lead her back to her daughter, Kate. Mysterious? It is. Packed with original and likeable characters, an evil that must be defeated, and centred around a personal story of courage and enlightenment, 'Morgrim's Wood' kept me (happily) prisoner for a couple of days. I love the magical kingdom, the time shifts, the battles. It reeks of imagination. No glaring errors here, either. I like an author I can read with confidence. More please.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Review: Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

I should mention first of all that I bought Station Eleven after reading a review on one of my favourite blogs:

It starts obliquely.  Nothing much happening apart from a middle-aged actor going through multiple mid-life crises and messing up his lines, before collapsing on stage.  Who would have guessed that it would turn out to be an end-of-the-world story? 

I would have said that I didn’t like post-apocalyptic as a genre.  But there is something more to Station Eleven than the gruesome demise of the human race, and I was delighted that Mandel didn’t go in for vicarious deathly detail.  Instead, she follows the survival of diverse groups of people who have made it through the epidemic and created various kinds of communities.  Some are more appealing than others.  All are leftfield and (in my opinion) perhaps a little esoteric. 

What really drew me in were Mandel’s observations.  A world without electricity, juxtaposed with the desire to flick a switch, just to bring back the memory of what it felt like to flood a room with light.  An obsession with travel and telecommunications -  in the new world there are children who have grown up not knowing about the miracle of the Internet, who gasp at the implausibility of rockets to the moon. 

And, there is ‘Station Eleven’ – Dr. Eleven and his psychedelic comic book story of a spaceship drifting in a parallel universe, its inspirational close-ups and bubble language building from the past and influencing the future in the most unpredictable of ways.  Its slogan and epitaph ‘survival is insufficient’ (borrowed from an episode of Startreck).

Like any good story, there are characters you care about.  Their hopes and aspirations cruelly shattered by the epidemic.  Mandel creates a retrospective poignancy with remembered lives set against a bleak future.  Many questions are raised about what it is that should be kept from the past and shared with the children growing up in the future.  The intimation that there will be a future is deeply consoling.

One of the most interesting reads so far this year.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Review: 'The Black Hours' by Alison Williams

I must say that I was gripped by this book.  There are parts that are so suspenseful that I had to sneak off and hide so that I could finish a chapter in peace!  The character of Matthew Hopkins is remarkably drawn and I note at the end of the book that Alison Williams did a great deal of research into the subject of witch hunting in 17th century England before writing this book.  Hopkins is both evil and almost childlike in his actions.  He never fails to justify his beliefs with logic that, to him, is water-tight.  His victims are helpless in the face of his practised undermining of their defence, and we are made to feel the intensity of their suffering and the terrors that await them.  The settings are beautifully drawn, the characters absorbing, and the story all the more devastating for being based on fact.  If you like great writing with archetypal heroes and villains portrayed with skill and sensitivity, this book is for you.  More, please!