Book Review – Inferno by Dan Brown

Inferno by Dan Brown (Doubleday Books, 2013)

As a huge Dan Brown fan (love The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons) I was really excited to get my copy of Inferno.

However, for me, Inferno was a big disappointment, and reading it, at times, felt like I was descending into the bowels of Hell myself.

I get the impression that whoever edited the book was just too much in awe of him to say “Dan, very pretty prose but you really need to cut it”. I get his passion for architecture and history – I love it myself and find his passion contagious – but there is just too much description which only serves to jar the flow of the narrative. For example, Langdon is racing to find the place that the virus is stashed before its too late and we are given a page and a half description of the Hagia Sophia before the chase resumes.

The architecture is stunning, Dan’s description is beautiful but this is the wrong place for so much description – it’s not a travel guide! Dan get back to basics, put the pace back into your novels and remember, sometimes, less is more.

2 out of 5 stars

Not sure it’s a great book for anyone (sorry Dan :() but if I had to push myself, it’s great if you like beautiful descriptions of places and architecture and don’t mind it slowing the pace of the novel down to the point where it practically stops. Not so great for those who like pacy novels.

 

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Book Review – The Green Mile by Stephen King

The Green Mile by Stephen King (Orion Books, 1998)

I’ve very late to the party with this book! I must also say that I have watched the movie loads of times and it happens to be one of my favourites.

The Green Mile is narrated by Paul Edgecombe, the superintendent in charge of the death row section of Cold Mountain Penitentiary – known as the Green Mile – in 1932. The book is a recount of his days on E-block and the strange events that took place in that year.

In particular, the arrival of John Coffey, condemned to die on ‘Old Sparky’ for the rape and murder of two young girls. But, it soon transpires that everything isn’t quite what it seems with this gentle giant who cries a lot and is deeply afraid of the dark. Paul soon comes to question whether Coffey is innocent of the crimes he’s been convicted of especially when it seems that Coffey has been gifted the powers of healing.

This book is beautifully written and, at times, heartbreaking. I can’t remember the last time I cried reading a book but The Green Mile managed to break me. It’s easy to see why Stephen King is hailed as a master of writing.

This is a weighty book filled with themes such as damnation, salvation, racism and atonement. It’s an exploration of power, or lack of it, and the illusion of superiority. It’s a book about death, morality and death used as a punishment. But, it’s also a story about love, compassion and healing.

It goes straight into my list of favourites. I would give it five out of five stars,

Great for those who like deep, unsettling and dark narratives. Not so great for those who don’t like magical realism and want a light read.

My Faves – Book Review – The Lie Tree by Sarah Hardinge

So, I thought it would be good to go over some of the fiction that has inspired me whilst I’ve been on my writing journey (oh, that sounded a bit cliche, didn’t it?). I don’t have a list in order, as such, of my favourite books because that would be like asking me to pick a favourite child; it just wouldn’t happen. Besides, I’d end up with about one-hundred books in my top ten, lol!!!

I’m going to start with The Lie Tree, by Sarah Hardinge, just because…

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge (Macmillan Children’s Books, 2015)

This book won the Costa book of the year in 2015 but I only read it last year so, not for the first time in my life, I was behind everyone else.

The Lie Tree is a wonderfully atmospheric historical novel – with a smidge of magical realism – focusing upon Faith, a fourteen-year-old girl, whose family is uprooted from Victorian England to live on the small island of Vane because “one of the most widely read and respected newspapers in the nation has decried” Faith’s father “as a fraud and a cheat.” Faith has no idea why this would be so as “his bleak and terrible honesty were the plague and pride” of her family.

When Faith’s father is then found dead under mysterious circumstances, she decides to investigate. She goes through his papers and belongings and finds a strange tree which only grows and bears fruit if you whisper a lie to it. Not only that, eating the fruit of the tree allows one to uncover truths. “The bigger the lie, the more people who believe it, the bigger the truth that is uncovered” (from the Amazon Blurb).

Faith decides to use the tree to root out her father’s killer by spreading lies across the island of Vane but soon she realises that lies and truths can hurt as well as heal.

This book is so well written, I devoured it in record time!

A thoughtful and provoking read which delves into a vast number of issues including class, good and evil, lies and truths, the treatment of women in Victorian society, the limits of science, the power of religion and family loyalty.

Faith, for me, was a great protagonist and her story arc was satisfying. She progressed from a timid girl to one who wasn’t afraid to speak her mind. Her arc was refreshing given the male-oriented times the novel is set in.

I loved the fact that the only ally Faith really has isn’t human at all. And, is the tree really her “friend”?

I found The Lie Tree to be a beautifully written and dark tale. And how I wish I’d written it!!

Great for those who love intricate, escapist tales filled to the brim with the supernatural and mysterious. Not great for those who want something easy and light to read.

 

 

Book Review – Bodies of Light by Sarah Moss

Bodies of Light by Sarah Moss (Granta Books, 2014)

I put this book on my Christmas list after seeing it recommended on a literature page on Facebook. I can’t remember why it piqued my interest now because it’s not a book I would usually choose for myself.

Bodies of Light is a historical novel set in Victorian Manchester and revolves around the two Moberley sisters, Ally and May and their parents, the evangelical “Mamma” and their painter father.

It’s a difficult and thought-provoking read about family and familial abuse. We start the novel with the marriage of Elizabeth to Alfred Moberley and the domineering presence of Elizabeth’s mother who likes to assert control by doing things such as putting a stone in boots and lacing them up tight so that “each step will remind you how you have disappointed us.” She even keeps a basket of stones in the hall just for the purpose. “Mamma’s methods,” remarks Elizabeth, “are not exactly violent but she does believe in the salutary effects of pain.”

I thought this first section of the novel was slow and rather drawn out but, it is rather important as we see the cycle of abuse continue when Elizabeth has her first child, Ally. As Ally grows we see Elizabeth transform into her mother and in turn, inflict pain upon Ally. I was slightly troubled that Elizabeth is shown to have post-natal depression – not because I think we shouldn’t talk about it (we definitely should!) but because I didn’t want it to seem as if the depression was an excuse for the violence inflicted on Ally. It wasn’t used as an excuse and Moss handled the subject brilliantly.

Alexandra Harris states, in her review of Bodies of Light, (in the Guardian, 19th April 2014), “Moss is too challenging a novelist to allow us simply to despise Elizabeth. We must respect her tough commitment to her work as she pushes into the brothels and asylums of mid-Victorian Manchester’s dismal underworld.” I don’t agree. Whilst I admire Elizabeth’s work, I despise Elizabeth more for knowing that she can show more kindness, more generosity to those who aren’t of her own flesh than to her own children. Not to say the “fallen” shouldn’t be helped, of course, just that to not show your own children love and affection and then to show it to others is something I have a great deal of difficulty with. At one point, Elizabeth takes in a child who has been exploited as a prostitute, but then Elizabeth seems completely oblivious to the fact that her own daughters could be in danger. One of them is even coaxed into taking her clothes off by her father’s painter friend so that he can paint her. As you can probably tell, this novel messed with my head in several ways!

Ally manages to escape Manchester and moves to London to study as a doctor. This section was riveting for me, as a woman, seeing how Victorian women had to fight to achieve anything. Although, the ending did seem a little rushed as she meets and marries, Mr Cavendish. Ally still has intentions to study as a doctor, but, it just didn’t sit right with me for her to marry quite so easily (not that there’s anything wrong with marriage). Perhaps it was just the way it was slotted in at the end. It does give the novel a “coming full circle” feeling as it begins and ends in marriage. I just hope Ally doesn’t go on to transform into her mother!

Even at the end, Mamma casts a shadow over the marriage proceedings even though she doesn’t attend. There’s an over-arching sadness that broke my heart in this novel. A child, even as an adult, still desperate for her mother’s affection and acceptance. I have a particular interest in the motherhood myth and the way mothers are presented in society and what happens when a mother has a personality disorder. I have written about it myself in my Bones, Ashes and Dust Trilogy. It’s also the subject of another novel I’m working on.

And yes, these types of mothers do exist!!

Overall, I’d give Bodies of Light 3.5/5. The historical detail is fabulous and even taught me a few things I didn’t know about the plight of women in Victorian England (and Paris). The subject of family and familial violence was handled well, although, sometimes it was drawn out a little.

Good for those who don’t mind thought-provoking literature and discussions on familial abuse with a great dollop of historical fiction. Not so great for those who want a little bit of light reading.

Further Reading:

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/apr/19/bodies-of-light-sarah-moss-review-hard-working-novel-hard-working-women