Book Review – The Goddess and the Thief by Essie Fox

The Goddess and the Thief by Essie Fox (Orion Books, 2013)

The Goddess and the Thief was a book I’d put on my Christmas list last year because, as a book worm, a book is the perfect present.

I can’t remember how this book had come to my attention; whether it was a recommendation from friends on Goodreads, or whether it was from one of the many Facebook pages I have liked.

The blurb sounded promising. A girl, called Alice, is uprooted from her life in India and is made to live with her spiritual medium aunt in Windsor, in Victorian England. “Alice,” says the blurb, “is drawn into a plot to steal a sacred Indian diamond.”

After reading the novel The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge (which I absolutely loved) I thought The Goddess and the Thief would be right up my street.

Except, it really wasn’t.

Unlike The Lie Tree, the heroine of The Goddess and the Thief doesn’t really do much. She spends most of the novel in her bedroom, or locked in bedrooms, or completely in the dark. She is always reacting to things and not being proactive at all.

I get it. That’s her story arc – from someone who reacts to events to someone taking control – but it’s so boring! And annoying. And, SPOILER (so if you don’t want to know, please don’t read on) at one point she is sexually assaulted and she swoons after the man who raped her. Not cool, not cool at all. Very, very damaging stuff that. Very troubling to read and I’m not easily troubled by stuff.

The blurb on Goodreads tells says that The Goddess and the Thief is “A beguiling and sensual Victorian novel of theft and obsession.”

No.

It may be a novel of theft and obsession but it really isn’t sensual. Creepy? Yes. Sensual…? Hell no!

And for that person at the back who is saying, “blimey, everyone is so easily offended these days!” F*#k off.

Only joking 🙂

I’m not easily offended, and, I’m not offended by this work. I just find things like this are so unhelpful.

Anyway, I give this book one out of five stars.

Many people on Amazon and Goodreads loved it. You might love it. It just didn’t float my boat.

Great for those who like beautiful prose (the first few chapters are beautifully written). Not great for those who like a pro-active heroine.

 

 

So, you wanna be a writer? Bad reviews.

Imagine this;

You’ve spent three years writing your novel, polished it to within an inch of its life and are incredibly proud of your baby. You’re ready to publish. You press the button to self-publish (or it’s publication day for those who have gone the traditional way) and then wait.

The reviews (if you’re lucky/ unlucky) come rolling in.

Some are five stars. Others are one star.

One star?

Shit.

Pass me the vodka.

My writing sucks!

I’m never writing again.

I’m going to unpublish it.

I wasn’t made to be a writer.

I’m too shit at this! 

Does it sound familiar?

STOP!

Everyone gets bad reviews. I repeat EVERYONE. Even Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, and all the literary geniuses that have ever had the balls to put their work out there.

Have you looked at Goodreads recently? It can be brutal (as I’ve found to my expense! ha ha ha – pass me the vodka too!).

If the bad reviews get under your skin, my advice to you is, don’t read them. Straight up, stop. It’s not worth it. Don’t let it stop you from doing the thing you love.

See, the problem is, reading and writing are very subjective things. Everyone likes different things and you are not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. And you know what? That’s absolutely fine. They are not your people.

Go and find your people.

If you can stomach reading the bad reviews, sometimes you can use them as a learning tool. Is there something which every bad review picks up on? Do you agree with them? Can you change it? Do you want to change it?

But, be warned, using reviews as a learning tool doesn’t always work and can backfire on you spectacularly.

Here’s a sample of a review I received for Everlong (a paranormal romance I self-published a few years ago);

Whenever I read a Young Adult book I always ask myself “am I enjoying this book” and “would my teenage daughter enjoy this book?”.

The answer to both questions is “Not really.” Normally if I have gotten that far into a book and it has not grabbed my attention yet then I put the book away and never finish reading it. The only reason I didn’t is because I made myself resolution to finish reading 52 books this year and review them. However, I won”t review most books until I have finished them because sometimes the ending is better than the beginning. This book is a clear example of why I do that. This book gets off to a rough slow start but ends with a flourish. The end was good enough that I MIGHT just read the next book in the series to find out what happens next to Evie and Josh. Maybe the next book is a 4 star book or better.

This isn’t a particularly bad review. But, I asked myself, is there anything I can learn from this?

Not on its own, but several other reviews did mention that the start of Everlong dragged a little. As a few people mentioned this, it probably follows that the start is a little slow, doesn’t it?

So I changed it.

I restructured the novel to make it more interesting. I changed the title and the book cover. The new book, called Bones, has one review on Goodreads. It’s a 2 star.

Everlong, the original version has nine text reviews, and five of those are four or five stars.

Another reviewer, who gave Everlong five stars, wrote:

When Josh saves Evie from dying everything changes for them both. Mostly because Josh is the Angel of Death. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The story was very original and wonderfully written. I LOVED the forbidden chemistry between Evie and Josh. I really wanted them to be together. Of course, with Josh’s “profession” being together isn’t going to be easy. Josh is a very loving and sexy character! I loved how much he wanted Evie. I absolutely cannot wait for book #2! I highly recommend this book!!

See what I mean?

You can’t please everyone.

So, don’t even try!!!

And leave the reviews alone, even the good ones, because, in the end, it will do your head in!

The best thing you can do if you want to know what works and what doesn’t work in your writing is to get a team of BETA readers to read it BEFORE you publish. Or join a workshop for writers. If there isn’t one near where you live, well, why not start one up yourself?

BUT, leave the reviews alone.

Unless you’re like me and are a bit of weirdo! 🙂

 

 

My Faves – Book Review – Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (Black Swan Books, 2014)

This book is simply amazing.

At the heart of the book is the question; What if?

The blurb asks:
What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right?

Ursula Todd, born on a snowy February night in 1910, gets to relive her life over and over again, with glimpses of past lives (and futures) guiding her to make changes – sometimes for the good, sometimes the bad – as she re-takes her journey.

BEWARE SOME SPOILERS LURK BELOW!!!

At times this book had me in tears (in Germany where she gives her sick child a “glass capsule”, before taking one herself so that they might die together and avoid the invading Russian army (I run to death, and death meets me fast, And all my pleasures are like yesterday) or when she dies with her beloved brother at home when still young after contracting flu).

This is, at times a hard book to read, but there is beauty in its sadness. As one reviewer said, “Life hurts like this”. And it does.

Life After Life is a bleak look at what makes us human and the choices we make. This book is wonderfully written and totally immersive. It’s a fantastic work of historical fiction that will be in your thoughts for weeks and weeks afterwards.

Great for those who want to read something beautiful and deep. Not so great for those who dislike gimmicks and find it boring going over the same territory again and again.

Book Review – Different Seasons by Stephen King

Different Seasons by Stephen King (Hodder Paperback, 2012)

This book is a collection of four Stephen King Novels; Hope Springs Eternal (Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption), Summer of Corruption (Apt Pupil), Fall from Innocence (The Body), and A Winter’s Tale (The Breathing Method).

Hope Springs Eternal

This is my favourite of the four stories. It’s a beautifully written novella that first came to my attention through the film, Shawshank Redemption.

Hope Springs Eternal is the story of Andy Dufresne’s stint in Shawshank Prison for the murder of his wife and her lover, told through the eyes of Red, a fellow inmate. At times, Hope Springs Eternal is horrific to read as we see Dufresne attacked by The Sister’s, a gang of prisoners who prey on the vulnerable, and his treatment at the hands of the guards and the Governor, especially when Dufresne uncovers evidence to prove his innocence. Essentially though, Hope Springs Eternal is a story about hope as Dufresne clings to his innocence and the idea that, one day, he will get out of prison.

Summer of Corruption.

This has also been made into a film called Apt Pupil starring Sir Ian McKellen.

Apt Pupil begins as thirteen-year-old Todd Bowden uncovers evidence to suggest a neighbour, Kurt Dussander, is actually a fugitive Nazi war criminal. Instead of turning Dussander into the authorities, Bowden manipulates and blackmails him into sharing stories about the horrors and atrocities he committed in the Second World War.

As the story progresses, the pair form a sort of friendship or bond that brings the worst out in each other. Being reminded of his past reignites Dussander’s dark side. In turn, Bowden’s destructive bond with the Nazi encourages and grows Bowden’s own dark side. The result is horrific.

Summer of Corruption is horrific, but also strangely absorbing.

Fall From Innocence

This was my least favourite of the four novellas. As with the above two stories, this novella has also been made into a famous film called Stand By Me.

Fall From Innocence is set in 1960 in the fictional town of Castle Rock, Maine, and follows a group of boys as they set out to find the body of a twelve-year-old boy, Ray Brower, who went missing and is presumed dead. The story is narrated by the adult Gordon Lachance and is told from his point of view.

This is a coming of age tale. A story of boys from dysfunctional families coming to terms with where they come from and the harsh realities of life and death.

Personally, I found this story a little bit boring (sorry, not sorry) but I know many of you will disagree.

A Winter’s Tale

Now, this little story tucked at the back of this large novella is a bit of a strange one to review as it seemed to be vastly different from the three preceding stories.

The Breathing Method follows David, a Manhattan lawyer who is invited by a senior partner of the law firm to join a mysterious Gentlemen’s club where the participants are encouraged to tell stories.

On one such occasion, Dr Emlyn McCarron tells the horrific story of a woman who is determined to give birth to and raise the illegitimate child she is carrying, whatever the cost. The Breathing Method refers to the technique that McCarron teaches her to keep her calm during childbirth and which has an unintended and gruesome consequence when the woman is involved in an accident.

A Winter’s Tale is very atmospheric, a chilling tale which really is a story within a story. I just wish it had been longer!

Conclusion

This anthology collection is well worth delving into. I would give it 4 1/2 stars out of five simply because I found The Body a little boring (however, I know many of you will disagree!)

Great for those who love to read about real-life horror. Not so great for those wanting some of that supernatural horror King writes so well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review – The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell (Sceptre, 2014)

David Mitchell’s Bone Clocks has been a difficult book to read and review. I think this is partly to do with the fact that it’s actually a series of six interconnected novellas that vary a great deal in terms of tone and genre.

The first novella, A Hot Spell 1984, is, in my opinion, the strongest. It focuses on Holly Sykes, a very likeable character, who decides to leave home after an argument with her mother. I think if David Mitchell had stayed with Holly Sykes’ story I would have loved this book right until the very end.

That’s not to say I didn’t fall in love with some of his other characters – Ed Brubeck, and Crispin Hershey (despite their flaws) were favourites of mine – but I would have preferred more on each of them.

I found myself completely lost in The Horologist’s Labyrinth, but not in a good way. The science fiction and concepts in that novella went completely over my head, although this is probably more to do with my lack of knowledge in this area rather than anything lacking in Mitchell’s writing.

I felt overwhelmed by all the different words and ideas in this section but continued reading anyway because of Mitchell’s talent.

I felt that the last novella, Sheep’s Head, was a little too preachy about the environment and man’s destructive side, although I did enjoy the fact that it was told from Holly Sykes’ perspective as she was my favourite character. I didn’t like seeing her grow old though; I would have preferred the book to end on The Horologist’s Labyrinth, whilst Holly was still in her prime rather than having her face the Apocalypse scenario as well. Not that I don’t like reading about older characters, but it was just a step too far for me in this particular novel. Too much had happened to Holly and I just wanted Mitchell to give her a break!

I did like this book (I must have because I read it quite quickly) but I didn’t love it. It was too much of a genre-bending novel for my taste. Therefore I would probably give it 3 ½ stars out of five.

Great for those who like genre-bending thoughtful and provocative novels. It’s certainly a great adventure!

Not so great for those who like a little bit of light reading that doesn’t take too much thought. Be warned – you may end up with a headache! Also not a good read if you don’t like to be introduced to too many characters.

Death’s Apprentice Writing Experiment – A Review of my work so far.

Now I’ve written a fair chunk of the beginning of Death’s Apprentice, I thought it would be a good opportunity to review what I’ve learnt so far.

I’ve written thirty parts of the story at this point and, I have to say, it’s been a thoroughly enjoyable, if a little scary, experience.

The Good Points:

I like how this whole experiment has opened me up to a new way of writing a novel. I have never pantsed a novel before. Pantsing doesn’t mean pulling down someone’s pants. In writing it’s used to describe a way of writing which isn’t plotted. A pantser writes by the seat of his or her pants, with no fixed outline. The story develops as you write it. This is also known as winging it and whilst I’ll admit to winging a lot in my life, I have never winged writing. Until now!

It’s not necessarily stretched my imagination because I had a very vivid imagination anyway, but, it’s made me think on my feet.

I’m not a rigid plotter but I do like having some sort of destination fixed in my head. I don’t write in chronological order but write the parts that appeal to me as I’m plotting. If I become stuck in the plot I go away and think about it, write another scene and let the problem tumble around in my head. With Death’s Apprentice, I haven’t been able to do that and it’s forced me to confront the plot issues as they happen. I’ve found this both challenging and rewarding.

The Bad Points:

I feel out of control of the writing. In a way this is liberating but also has taken me out of my comfort zone.

I feel that I don’t really know who Joe is yet, although he does keep surprising me with his actions.

Sometimes, it’s quite daunting sitting in front of a blank screen, knowing that I’ve got to write something because it’s Wednesday. I haven’t had writer’s block so far, so that is a good thing (thank heavens for that!). I’m sure there will be a stumbling block at some point, but I’ll deal with that if it happens.

I haven’t been reading all my work before I write the next section. I usually refresh my memory with a brief look at the week before’s post. Now I’ve done a review of the story so far, I can see I’ve somehow changed from the first-person viewpoint to third! That’s not too much of an issue though, as that can be sorted when I’m editing. Although, it does leave me with the question of which point of view I should use for the narrative.

It’s hard knowing that my mistakes are there for everyone to see. My writing isn’t polished and some of it is downright crap, lol!!

In Summary:

I like where the story is heading so far. It’s been a challenge, but one that I’m enjoying in a masochistic kind of way. I’m enjoying where it’s taking me, but I know that sometimes, my writing isn’t necessarily the most exciting because I am struggling to write some parts. It’s helping me to let go and write a little freer. It’s helping me to become less of a perfectionist.

What do you think of Death’s Apprentice, so far? What’s boring you? What do you think is good? More importantly, what’s bad? What’s grinding your gears? Where can I improve?

Let me know 🙂

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.