Catch-Up Quickies 4

First a quick explanation!

Due to some severe health issues over the last few years, and a lingering chronic condition, my planned review schedule went right out of the window and I have been scrabbling ever since to get it back on track.

In my latest attempt to try to regain some lost ground, I plan to scrunch some of my (overdue) NetGalley reviews together into one or two posts each week: shorter reviews, but still covering all of the points I intended to.

That’s the plan anyway; let’s see how it goes…!

Title: The Road to Woop Woop and Other Stories
Author:  Eugen Bacon
Publisher:  Meerkat Press

Blurb:  Eugen Bacon’s work is deemed cheeky with a fierce intelligence in text that’s resplendent, delicious, dark and evocative. NPR called her novel Claiming T-Mo ‘a confounding mysterious tour de force’. The Road to Woop Woop and Other Stories imbues the same lushness in a writerly language that is Bacon’s own. This peculiar hybrid of the untraditional, the extraordinary within, without and along the borders of normalcy will hypnotise and absorb the reader with tales that refuse to be labelled. The stories in this collection are dirges that cross genres in astounding ways. Over 20 provocative tales, with seven original to this collection, by an award-winning African Australian author.

Review: This collection comprises twenty stories that range in style and content – some crime, some sci-fi/fantasy, some family/relationship drama – but carry an overriding impression of lyrical poetic prose, striking imagery and a resounding flavour of Australian cultural landscapes.

Some of the stories are written in second person narrative form, which worked some of the time but was jarring on occasion. For the most part, though, the prose was lyrical and flowed rhythmically through a series of unusual and expressive word pictures, that captured not only the surface content of the story – a literally disappearing boyfriend, a memory of family love and loss – but hinted a deeper, more connected picture beneath. I was reminded very much of my childhood impressions of the Aboriginal Dreamtime and its stories of ‘how and why’ about the world; impressions which have carried with me into adulthood due to the rich, bold beauty of word and picture.

To borrow a phrase from Sir Terry Pratchett: this is not what a story looks like, it is what a story is.

These are stories to read again and again, to mine for hidden gems and deeper meanings. Not every story will work for everyone, but there is something for everyone – funny, touching, serious or strange.

Purchase Link: The Road to Woop Woop and Other Stories on Amazon

Title: Rest and Be Thankful
Author:  Emma Glass
Publisher:  Bloomsbury Publishing Plc (UK & ANZ), Bloomsbury Circus

Blurb:  Laura is a nurse in a paediatric unit. On long shifts she cares for sick babies, carefully handling their exquisitely breakable bodies.

Laura needs a rest. When she sleeps, she dreams of drowning; when she wakes, she can’t remember getting home. And there is a strange figure dancing in the corner of her vision, with a message, or a warning.

Review: This short novella is written in poetic, stream-of-consciousness-like prose, as it follows a PICU night nurse who is teetering on the edge of physical and emotional breakdown.

Doing an incredibly difficult, heartbreaking job, struggling with a foundering relationship and so sleep-deprived that she is hallucinating, Laura stumbles through her days in a haze of emotional and sensory over-stimulation. Nightmares of drowning blur with a living nightmare of drowning in pain, sorrow, loneliness and stress, forming a surreal waterboarding of continuous, everyday horror.

The author captures the hard physical and emotional demands of nursing – sores, grief, unrelenting tiredness, lack of respite – and highlights the terrible cost of running a human body and brain on empty for too long.

Not an easy read this one, despite the length, but harrowing and memorable.

Purchase Link: Rest and Be Thankful on Amazon

Title: Tales From the Hinterland
Author:  Melissa Albert
Publisher:  Penguin Random House Children’s UK, Penguin

Blurb:  Grimm’s Fairy Tales meets Ransom Riggs in this deeply creepy, gorgeously illustrated collection of twelve original pitch-dark fairytales, from international bestselling author of The Hazel Wood, Melissa Albert.

Journey into the Hinterland, where every page tells a wondrously terrible adventure . . .

In this brutal and beautiful world a young woman spends a night with Death, brides are wed to a mysterious house in the trees, and an enchantress is killed twice – and still lives.

But it’s not safe inside these pages, and once you enter, you may never want to leave . . .

The highly anticipated collection of stories set in the creepy, haunting fairytale world first introduced in Melissa Albert’s internationally bestselling and critically acclaimed Hazel Wood series.

Featuring beautiful interior illustrations by Nick Hayes.

Review:  Most of these stories begin as classic fairytales, then twist into something darker and more disturbing than even the original ‘grim’ folktales… I love it!

Here you will find orphans, quests, constellation origin tales, brides and maidens, fairies and witches, and Death – death over and over again, in so many ways.

This book is the realisation of the text referred to in The Hazel Wood and the stories it contains are terribly wonderful – spellbindingly dark in thorn and claw – and feature women as the main actors, for good and for bad, throughout.

Some familiar tales and recognisable motifs appear but are immediately and deftly reworked into something new and unfamiliar, yet that feels old and true.

Here universal female fears take new forms as sinister woods and wicked wolves become fears of marriage, child-bearing, infertility, death, aging, loss and poverty. In other words, these are ‘fairytales’ done right.

Stay out of the shadows, children, and don’t stop to speak to strangers…

Purchase Link: Tales From the Hinterland on Amazon

Title: Shadow in the Empire of Light
Author:  Jane Routley
Publisher:  Rebellion, Solaris

Blurb:  MAGIC. MURDER. MAYHEM. But keep it in the family.

Shine’s life is usually dull: an orphan without magic in a family of powerful mages, she’s left to run the family estate with only an eccentric aunt and telepathic cat for company.

But when the family descend on the house for the annual Fertility Festival, Shine is plunged into dark intrigue; stolen letters, a fugitive spy, and family drama mix with murder, sex and secrets, and Shine is forced to decide both her loyalties and future…

Review:  I really wanted to love this book – the matriarchal family set-up is intriguing and the main characters, Shine and Shadow are engaging – but there is just so much going on, with not enough explanation or direction.

I left the story with no idea who many of the (many) characters were or how they were related, and I couldn’t fathom how the magic system worked, or what the main focus of the plot was meant to be.

The story follows Shine, as a first-person narrator, as she struggles with her place in a magical, bloodline-obsessed family when Shine has ‘failed’ at both magic and breeding, and is generally disdained by all around her. When the whole family descends on the plantation she feels trapped into running, for a huge festival celebration, she has to deal with all the inner power politics, whilst attempting to hide foreign (spy?) Shadow from those who might hurt him.

There is a lot of repetition involved, as Shine spends large chunks of the plot searching for a letter and moving Shadow from one hiding place to another; some of the sex scenes felt unnecessary and gratuitous; and I really wasn’t keen on the way everyone – including Shine – dismisses non-family members as ‘peasants. No names, identities or distinguishing features at all. They are all simply ‘the peasants’, ‘a peasant’, ‘one of the peasants’ throughout.

All of that said, there was a lot of potential here in the main characters, the actual action that occurred and the general set-up of the world. It just needed a tighter focus on the plot and character development, and a little more explanation of how the whole world works, then this would have been a great fantasy family-drama.

Purchase Link: Shadow in the Empire of Light on Amazon

Title: The Absolute Book
Author:  Elizabeth Knox
Publisher:  Penguin Michael Joseph UK, Michael Joseph

Blurb:  Taryn Cornick barely remembers the family library. Since her sister was murdered, she’s forgotten so much.

Now it’s all coming back. The fire. The thief. The scroll box. People are asking questions about the library. Questions that might relate to her sister’s murder.

And something called The Absolute Book.

A book in which secrets are written – and which everyone believes only she can find. They insist Taryn be the hunter. But she knows the truth.

She is the hunted . . .

The Absolute Book is a tale of sisters, ancient blood, a forgotten library, murder, revenge and a book that might just have the answer to everything.

Review:  I found this epic faerie fantasy a fantastic concept, but quite hard to connect with in practice.

There are two main elements to the story: a thriller in which Taryn is trying to resolve her sister’s murder, with some sinister stalking and an official investigation; and a faerie-tale about the Sidhe, demons and a Tithe that must be paid. I loved both of these storylines separately, but didn’t feel they fit together well.

Also, the pace is very, very slow. At one point we get pages and pages of very detailed description of two characters attempting to drag a huge tyre through mud/water. It should be thrilling, because the characters are in danger of their lives due to the rising water, but the whole scene goes on for so long that it loses its emotional impact and just becomes a slog for the reader as well as the characters.

The two main characters, Taryn and Jacob, are both very guarded in their emotions, which makes it hard to empathise with them or their struggles. I found myself gradually becoming indifferent to what happened to them or how their stories would resolve.

Don’t get me wrong – the concepts and world-building here are absolutely great! It’s just that those aspects got buried under the mass of words, and of events just kind of happening, one after another, without any clear focus or direction. The writing is excellent, but the plot could be trimmed and tightened.

Purchase Link: The Absolute Book on Amazon

Quite a mixed bag here – some I really enjoyed, or even loved, and a couple that I just didn’t gel with. If we all loved the same books, life would get quite monotonous!

Happy reading to you all, on this rainy weekend. I hope you’ve found a book that keeps your heart warm.


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