Thursday 21 November 2019

Grey Sister by Mark Lawrence

A couple of years have passed since the events of Red Sister (the first book of Mark Lawrence's The Book of the Ancestor trilogy) and Nona Grey has been living comparatively quietly at the Convent of Sweet Mercy. She's not, as you might expect, spending long hours in prayer, or working on calligraphy or needlework, for this is a convent with a difference. One where, under the supervision of Abbess Glass and the sisters, novices are trained in martial arts - both practical hand to hand combat and the subtler ways of poison and mind manipulation.
Nona is now leaving many of her friends behind and moving up a level to Mystic class; making new enemies there, to add to the powerful ones she already has outside the convent. Combined they're determined to see her thrown out of the convent, preferably killed. Fairly obviously, Nona isn't going to co-operate - and a lot of other people are going to end up dead.

The second book of a trilogy is always tricky - the characters have been introduced, the world building is done, but the reader needs to be reminded of things they may have forgotten from the first book, while the action has to move forward to keep us engrossed. Despite a slightly slow start with a little too much emphasis on the 'school' aspect of Nona's life for my liking, I really enjoyed this return to Nona's world. As the story progresses the pace picks up with plenty of fight scenes and danger, but I also liked the less violent, sly, political manoeuvring of the abbess.

Something I hate about fantasy series is the hiatus between books as the next is written, edited and finally published. It's taken me an awfully long time to get round to reading this, so I'm lucky in that the third and final book, Holy Sister is already published.

Just a couple of warnings - despite the school style setting this is NOT a children's book (don't confuse it with Harry Potter or The Worst Witch) and you DO need to have read book one, Red Sister;without it little will make sense.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Harper Collins (Harper Voyager)
Genre -
 Adult fantasy

Wednesday 13 November 2019

Faces on the Tip of my Tongue by Emmanuelle Pagano

translated by Jennifer Higgins and Sophie Lewis

I'm not sure whether to describe this latest book from Peirene as a novel or a collection of short stories; the thirteen stories which make up the English version of Emmanuella Pagnano's work read like something falling between the two. Although each can stand alone, they link together to bring to life the inhabitants of a remote community high on a plateau in rural France. 

Some of the shorter pieces are more vignettes than stories, capturing a moment or mood rather than telling a tale, but I found a sense of loss - of happiness, or innocence - pervading them all. They aren't stories of 'happy ever after', more of the things that can go wrong in life - whether devastating like the accidental death of a small child, or the dark comedy of a random stranger turning up at a wedding instead of the expected relative. A childish prank goes wrong, an elderly man whose only purpose in life is automatically trotting out the tales of the district, another who waits everyday at the spot on a mountain road where his family died, a woman weighed down by life trying to commit suicide but thwarted by random strangers.

The plateau itself seems a slightly other-worldly place - the weather is always colder to that in the valley below - and somewhere that 'misfits' can find a home. In some of the stories there's a feeling that life is simpler there, that people are more in touch with themselves and nature, but maybe they're just more inured to pain and suffering.

At first the stories appear to be a random selection linked only by location, but as the reader progresses the relationship between them becomes apparent. Characters, while not appearing in every tale, show up again here and there, often seen from a different point of view, or at a different point in time; the child in one becomes the parent in another. Noticing this, seeing how the stories fit together, has the satisfaction of spotting that strangely-shaped jigsaw puzzle you've been searching for and seeing the whole picture come together as it slots into its space.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Peirene Press

Genre - Adult Literary Translated Fiction

Wednesday 6 November 2019

Supernatural reads

For Halloween I thought I'd look round the bookshelves and see what I had sitting waiting to be read in the way of scary supernatural reads - and these were the first to come to hand; Bram Stoker's Dracula (unbelievably, perhaps, I've never read it!), and a short story collection, Oxford Twelve Tales of the Supernatural edited by Michael Cox. I thought I'd have time to read both before Halloween, as neither are very long, but things didn't work out that way.

I started with the collected stories. Hmm, that didn't go well. I've said before that a lot of supposedly scary stories leave me cold, but in a bad way, and these did that. Despite some big names among the collection - LeFanu, and M R James, for example - they didn't seem spooky or tense to me. Maybe back when they were 'new' there was an element of surprise to them, but I found them dreadfully predictable.

On to Dracula ... although I haven'r actually READ this before it's difficult to not have some idea of the plot from films, even if they aren't entirely 'as the book'. It's hard therefore to put yourself into the mindset of someone reading the book with no idea of what will happen, of why the Count can only see his visitor at night, of why it's probably best for all concerned that Jonathan Harker does as the Count tells him and stays safely in the rooms assigned to him. I was also afraid that like some of the short stories it would just be so predictable. It was, as obviously I'd an idea of the plot, but it was still very readable. The writing conveys a definite feeling of growing dread, but having reached a high point, instead of attempting (and possibly failing) to maintain it, moves back to the more prosaic world of daily domesticity - and manages to pull this off several times. The Count of course moves to England and attempts to continue his vampiric ways here, but a group of young men, aided by vampire-expert Van Helsing, strive to put an end to him. Towards the end, I felt the story became more 'thriller' than ' 'supernatural tale' but was perhaps better for it.
It's a bit slow at time, especially when Van Helsing is explaining something, and there are dodgy attitudes towards women and 'foreigners' but in all it's a good read.

For some of my favorite Halloween reads see here over on my Other Thoughts blog