Profile for Alan McCluskey > Reviews

Personal Profile

Content by Alan McCluskey
Top Reviewer Ranking: 200,742
Helpful Votes: 14

Learn more about Your Profile.

Reviews Written by
Alan McCluskey (Saint-Blaise, Switzerland)

Show:  
Page: 1 | 2 | 3
pixel
Thief's Magic: Book 1 of Millennium's Rule
Thief's Magic: Book 1 of Millennium's Rule
by Trudi Canavan
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.00

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Two intertwined stories of magic, 15 Aug 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
As with many of Trudi Canavan’s earlier books like The Black Magician trilogy and The Age of the Five trilogy, I really enjoyed reading her new novel Thief’s Magic, book one of Millennium’s Rule.

The story, or rather stories, for there are two of them, were gripping. The interweaving of the two is cleverly done, with the author taking her time to establish the characters and the context in the beginning, only to leave the reader with a cliff-hanger when she shifts to the other story. As the stories progress, shifting from one to another becomes more frequent, but never too hastily that the reader doesn’t have the time to plunge into the action. The familiar wish to continue with one of the stories to the detriment of the other did not occur here as both stories, one with a female main character, Rielle, and the other with a male one, Tyen, are well balanced and of equal interest.

I did find myself continually wondering when and how the two main characters would meet, seeing as they lived in quite different worlds, and was surprised, but not upset, that their two paths had not crossed by the end of this first book of the series. There was no shortage of possible clues that a meeting would eventually take place, but that meeting will be quite a narrative challenge. How will the author manage the shift from two very strong but unrelated perspectives to a situation where both meet and interact?

Sustaining the reader’s interest while switching between stories when those stories are apparently unconnected is a real achievement. Unconnected? Well they do handle a similar theme: the nature of magic and its role in society, in particular with relationship to women. As with her earlier books, a great deal of thinking must have gone into the workings of the societies in which her story takes place that makes it all the more credible and engrossing.

As a writer, one of the interesting aspects of Trudi Canavan’s work in this novel is the way she provides insight into characters by subtly revealing the reactions of one to another, like Tyen noticing a twitching muscle in the professor’s face that he takes to be an indication of envy; a perception to be seen in terms of Tyen’s changing view of his professor. With only a few words, like a finger of light probing the page, a whole vista opens up to the reader as deeper layers of the characters are made apparent through their interactions with each other. That depth brings the characters alive and contributes to our delight as we read on.

Review first published on Secret Paths.


Harvest (Hyddenworld Quartet 3)
Harvest (Hyddenworld Quartet 3)
by William Horwood
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A rich harvest, 21 Jan 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Harvest is the third book of William Horwood's Hyddenworld series, following on from Spring and Awakening. These three, along with the recently published Winter, mark the author's return to writing after a considerable pause. Those that have read and loved his tales of Duncton or the very moving Skallagrigg, amongst others, will be delighted to see him back in print, especially as many of the older books are no longer available.
The flow of time of the Hydden, the little people that live unseen at the edge of the human world in William Horwood's Hyddenworld series, might seem laborious to us, accustomed as we are to rushing from one event to another without taking the time to stop and look and listen. Maybe it is this failure to pause and savour life to the fullest that contributes most to our inability to see and appreciate the Hydden and their way of life. For the reader of Horwood's book the difficulty is similar. Weened as we are on the breakneck speed of modern films and TV series, as well as books such as The Hunger Games or Divergent, slowing to the pace of Horwood's narrative can be challenging. But slow you must if you want to enter this world full of unimaginable richness and delightful lightness, not to mention profound wisdom.
Or so I thought as I began Harvest! Then I was abruptly whisked off my feet and whirled away in eddies of action and a flood of emotions. All is not a whirlwind, though. The pace of Harvest varies often. The action reaches an apotheosis when the Earth heaves up wreaking vengeance on a town who citizens remain oblivious to the very last, while the main characters look on, deeply touched by the cataclysm but unable to move. Yet in those moments when the story picks up speed, and that was what intrigued me, it didn't skim precariously over emptiness as many fast-paced novel do. It had depth to its intensity.
As an author, I couldn't help searching from the roots of that intensity in the language. Several possibilities were apparent. The restrained use of dialogue and the brilliance of the descriptions of people and places often built around action and verbs. But above all, the power of Horwood's writing lies in his challenge of the self-evident, in the density and richness of his imaginings and finally, the depth and delightfulness of an astounding range of main characters.
When I reached the end of Harvest, it was not the hallmark emptiness left behind by those helter-skelter, breath-taking novels that awaited me, but rather a dense and satisfying plenitude. All was far from right, Winter was yet to come and losses had to be mourned, but William Horwood's book had nourished me in a way that left me feeling richer and more human.
Review first published on Secret Paths.


Seraphina
Seraphina
by Rachel Hartman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Carrying the reader away, 31 Dec 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Seraphina (Paperback)
Reading Rachel Hartman's Seraphina had me thinking about those ingredients of a story that appeal to me most, probably because her book pleased me so much. I really enjoy stories where people discover they have hidden talents or are finally able to reveal gifts that have long been kept secret, just like Seraphina, Hartman's main character. And in so doing we share her joys and pleasures as well as her difficulties if not nightmares at having such gifts.

Another facet of Hartman's book that pleased me is her exploration of the strange and how she weaves it into the story. Not a contrived strangeness trumped up for effect, but rather an unexpected shift in perspective similar to that born of creativity or humour. Who would think of wondering how a dragon would feel if trapped in a human body and the impact that could have on the uneasy cohabitation between humans and dragons?

Like many stories that feed on suspense, Hartman's book is driven forward by the constant threats that hang over Seraphina, but not to the extent that she wallows in unending pain and misery dragging down the reader with her. The author avoids having the reader cringe about what horrible plight will befall Seraphina next. Yet at the same time, the story is far from tame, which is often the fate of those that spare their main character the pain and suffering.

Perhaps the ingredient that delights me most in such a story is being privy to the blossoming love between two powerful but apparently unreconcilable characters, long before they are aware of the forces at play and then the delight when that love is finally perceived and shared by the two concerned. Succeeding such a progressive flourishing of love requires deft craftsmanship.

All in all, I immensely enjoyed this book and, although there were a few moments when my attention flagged, generally when the author grappled with introducing complex story elements, I can warmly recommend it.

Review first published on Secret Paths.


Neverwhere [Adaptation]
Neverwhere [Adaptation]
Offered by Audible Ltd

5.0 out of 5 stars The sounds of Neverwhere, 20 Oct 2013
The strange and haunting tale of Neverwhere, crafted initially by author Neil Gaiman with Lenny Harry, began its life as a television series in 1996. It was subsequently adapted into a book by Gaiman and finally became a six-episode radio series on the BBC in 2013. My comments here refer to the radio version, published recently in audiobook format, available from Audible.

Neverwhere is built around an imaginative and hilarious use of the names of the stops on the London Underground in the strange world of London below. A familiar, mundane reality becomes the stage of outlandish and gripping adventures witnessed by an "upworlder" who strayed through his goodness and generosity into the world below only to become the central protagonist in a deadly quest.

The radio series Neverwhere is largely made up of short scenes that move the story on at a rapid pace. Cutting backwards and forwards between worlds also gives the author an opportunity to weave them together by his choice of words. Like when a character from the Upperworld says: "You saved my life" about a non-life threatening situation and then the story cuts immediately to a chase to the death in the sewers below.

The sumptuous world of sound in which the radio series is set owes its existence to Dirk Maggs, the same person who directed the original radio versions of many of Douglas Adam's creations. Radio allows only a limited number of layers before sounds begin to merge and the result becomes garbled. Yet Neverwhere is rich in sounds, so much so that the story takes on added depth and breadth, literally oozing into your mind. Watery footsteps in underground wastes, the click of forks on plates in a posh social function, the gurgle of potent wine being poured into a glass, voices echoing off filthy cavernous walls, all anchor the story in a tangible, palpable world.

The radio series had me wanting to read the book, but it also raised questions about my own novel writing. I was intrigued to know if Gaiman's book also switched rapidly from scene to scene so as to employ dramatic irony born of clever juxtaposition. It had me wanting to experiment shorter scenes in my novels with all the challenge that would mean in terms of multiple points of view. And what about the intense world of sound? How, if at all, could a book echo more richly such a sensuousness and depth born of sounds, not to mention smells and touch?

Review first published on Secret-Paths: [...]


Uglies
Uglies
by Scott Westerfeld
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dystopia with rounded edges, 29 Sep 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Uglies (Paperback)
When I read the words `cat vomit` in the first sentence of Westerfeld's book, as he described the colour of the sky, I remember thinking: I hope this is not a taste of what is to come. But nothing came to merit those words, lest it be the opposition of ugliness to a standardised notion of beauty that underlies the book. I wonder why the author used them, especially in his opening sentence.

Writing Uglies must have been a challenge for Scott Westerfeld. Challenge? The difficulty is inherent in the central theme of the book: the glorification of a standarised canon of beauty imposed by surgical intervention. All teenagers, who are universally called uglies, have come to despise their appearance and yearn for the beauty they will have once they are sixteen and are operated on to make them "pretty". It is not easy to write a story in which most of the population's appearance and behaviour have been normalised such that there are few distinguishing features. There's a sort of faceless grin or grimace to the world. Even the baddies, when they finally erupt on the stage, look alike. No wonder the main character, Tally, and her new-found ugly friend, swim in a sea of faceless people at the beginning of the book. This narrowness of perspective and the flippancy of the two girls makes holding the reader's attention more difficult.

The story did however hold my attention from the beginning, although I did wonder what it was that gave it more rounded edges than many a dystopian novel. I suspect this is partly because the threats and dangers are only hinted at but are not personified or made present in the first part of the story. It is as if the girls can get away with anything without being caught (despite narrow scrapes). Nothing matters. They'll all be pretty soon.

The situation changes radically when Tally is forced to leave her shallow world and has to deal with people who have depth to their personalities and meaning to their lives, despite their `ugly' faces. Even the baddies take on a tangible form and their threat becomes real. From that turning point onwards the story picks up speed and breadth and the reader is carried away by its intensity. The contrast between these two parts of the book is its key articulation and therein lies the difficulty: how do you portray shallowness and flippancy at the outset, without leaving the impression that the story itself is superficial and discouraging the reader from continuing. Westerfeld took the risk and it paid off. A story well worth reading.


Ballad
Ballad
by Maggie Stiefvater
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The magic of music, 29 Sep 2013
This review is from: Ballad (Paperback)
I greatly enjoyed reading Maggie Stiefvater`s Ballad which in no way suffered from me not having previously read her earlier book, Lament. It was a pleasure to discover the unfolding relationship between a young, cocky musician and an all-powerful faerie bent on sucking the life out of him. The story literally overflows with desire and yearning and unrequited love and deep-felt hurt and cutting humour; a tale in which music is the prime mover.

I was wondering why Ballad reminded me of Julie Hearn's The Merrybegot. Rereading the beginning of Ballad I think I found the answer: both authors give more than ample room to a wider range of senses than other authors. As a result, both books are very sensuous. However, Ballad has one key facet that is not in The Merrybegot: that sensuousness overflows into sensuality and beyond to potent sexuality, albeit held at arms length, like in the scene in the practice room on the piano stool.

The intense passion that gripped me as I read Ballad dissipated somewhat towards the end. One possible reason could be the incursion of other characters in the dense relationship between the two main characters. But a more likely explanation was the acceleration of the story and the need to conclude and resolve the plot before the end of the story whereas I would have preferred to have lingered with that relationship and kept the tension unresolved.

Review first published on Secret Paths: http://about-books.secret-paths.com/?p=13


Shiver
Shiver
Price: £2.83

4.0 out of 5 stars A touch of magic..., 29 Sep 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Shiver (Kindle Edition)
A short way into Maggie Stiefvater's book Shiver I had the uncanny feeling that the story I was reading tasted of meat. Now you might think, given the subject of the book, werewolves, that that was an intellectually trumped up feeling but it wasn't. It crept up on me unawares and washed over me. I was vaguely wondering how Shiver differed from Maggie Stiefvater's books about faeries, Lament or Balad, and that was the answer my body came up with. Later on, less surprisingly since it is one of the driving forces of the book, it was the biting cold of winter that got to me with all the range of memories that that season brings: the icy roads, the snow, frosty windows, Christmas,... Maggie Stiefvater is a wonderful craftswoman when it comes to telling poignant stories with a magical touch to them.

The three books of hers that I have read so far have all been centred around an intense but impossible love that appears bound to lead to catastrophe. She skilfully builds on the tension between all-powerful desire and unbreakable constraints such that it holds the reader in its spell. The challenge for the author comes when other characters emerge as the story progresses and the exclusive attention on the love pair threatens to get dispersed. She manages it cleverly by weaving the new characters into the intense relationship such that they serve to increase the tension between the two rather than letting it drop.

Review first published on Secret paths: http://about-books.secret-paths.com/?p=54


Lament: The Faerie Queen's Deception (Gathering of Faerie)
Lament: The Faerie Queen's Deception (Gathering of Faerie)
Price: £5.69

3.0 out of 5 stars Unveiling a world of Fey, 29 Sep 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Although Lament weaves its story around the impossible love affair between sixteen-year-old Deirdre Monaghan and a young man with one foot in the faery world, the real heart of the book is the progressive unveiling of the world of Fey through the eyes of Deirdre. And it is here that lies the magic of Maggie Stiefvater`s writing. And I say writing not story. With her craft, the author manages to invest the mundane with an alarming otherness: a dog that crosses the road; an aunt reading over Deirdre's shoulder;... They say that the world of Fey lies cheek to cheek with ours and a blink is enough to pass from one to the other, for those who have the sight. It is in shifting the mundane by that tiny, almost imperceptible leap to the magic that Maggie Stiefvater excels.

Another facet of the author's writing that struck me is her changes of rhythm. Out of the threatening storm, the unexpected surges into the story, heralded by a sound or action, then revealed and almost immediately gone again leaving our hearts beating wildly and our minds wondering what the hell happened.

As with Ballad, the follow-on from Lament, the ending left me unsatisfied, or should that be bereft. That final cadence, when the tensions resolve, at least partly, and the magic dissolves leaving only a faint whiff in the air and a deeper yearning, the reader is dumped back into the everyday world that lies beyond the covers of the book.

Review first published on Secret Paths: http://about-books.secret-paths.com/?p=42


Stargirl: Love, Stargirl
Stargirl: Love, Stargirl
by Jerry Spinelli
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The heart of life, 29 Sep 2013
It's been one of those long weekends with everyone off somewhere, so I spent the time with Stargirl, reading her long diary-like letter between feeding the cat and doing the cleaning ... and writing, of course. Stargirl is so endearing, it is difficult to imagine anyone not wanting to spend time with her even if that might be challenging. And when you do spend time in her company some of her stardust inevitably rubs off on you. And hers is a special brand of magic. It's hard to put a name to it. She's different. Being a homeschooler could well have relegated her to the fringes of society, but she has in no way opted out. She is no angry renegade. On the contrary, she is constantly at the very heart of life in her encounters with the people around her. Many of those she befriends are people who are stuck at the limits of society because they are different or because they find living in society difficult. They might greet her with anger or indifference at first, but she persists, coming to appreciate their special brand of being. And in making them feel they are appreciated for what they are, she helps ease them back into the fold. Such a role might make some bigheaded. Not Stargirl. She's a natural, a solid mixture of self-assurance and self-questioning. Of course she makes mistakes, but through her courage in going out of her way to encounter people who are authentic, however strange they might seem, she learns from every single encounter.

Jerry Spinelli adopts a different point of view in this follow-up to his successful Stargirl book. The entire narration is seen from the perspective of Stargirl as if she were writing an on-going dialogue with Leo, her one-time boyfriend now left behind in another State. Dialogue? Well mostly monologue. But there are moments when she fills in for Leo and converses with him about what is happening to her. Now such inner dialogues can lead astray and she does get it wrong sometimes, but with a little help from her friends she always ends up finding the right way. And as the end of the book reveals, those conversations do not go unheard.

Review first published on Secret Paths: http://about-books.secret-paths.com/?p=138


Inside Out (An Inside Story)
Inside Out (An Inside Story)
by Maria V. Snyder
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A haunting story, 29 Sep 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
One of the book reviewers quoted on the inside cover of Maria V. Snyder's book Inside Out, says that the world of the book: "...is by turn alien and heartbreakingly familiar." The haunting familiarity of this alien world is one of the most far-reaching consequences of Inside Out that stays with you long after you've closed the book and thoughtfully placed it back on the bookshelf. There's probably no point in asking yourself where you could have possibly fished up such a vital memory, lest it be some primal, inter-uterine souvenir. The world of Inside Out is above all a world of touch and tastes and smells, a world of blood and water, a world of skin and textures, yet in which a caress would seem suspicious if not dangerous. And extreme wariness is justified: the slightest deviance could be sanctioned by a sharp knife and a brutal end.

Inside Out is alive with a constant hum of unspecified machinery, but it is not a world dominated by machines. Although the world is made of sheet metal bolted piece by piece, that surface is smooth and curved rather than hard and angular. The hardness springs rather from those who keep order and channel people's efforts in well policed routines. It is a world of limited space, of dense crowds and narrow passages. It is a world where most people hold their peace. A nod speaks louder than words. So when Trella, the Princess of the Pipes as she is nicknamed because her job entails cleaning the many pipes that criss-cross their world, begins playing with words in her search for passwords to open secret doors in quest to get outside, her linguistic ability jars, sending out warning signals that ripple through the whole world of Inside Out, as if she were from another world. Her use of words and her subsequent reluctant acceptance of leadership heave her above the undifferentiated mass and single her out as special. Someone to look up to, someone to believe in, someone to die for.

Review first published on Secret Paths: http://about-books.secret-paths.com/?p=28


Page: 1 | 2 | 3