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Reviews Written by
Carmilla "carmillavoiez" (Scotland)

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The Paying Guests
The Paying Guests
by Sarah Waters
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.88

5.0 out of 5 stars The Paying Guests is about a love triangle between a lodger (coyly called a paying guest ..., 15 Sept. 2017
This review is from: The Paying Guests (Paperback)
The Paying Guests is about a love triangle between a lodger (coyly called a paying guest by the embarrassed upper-middle class family). As you would expect from Sarah Waters, the extra-marital relationship is between two women. “The love that dare not speak its name”, and in 1920’s England the necessity for discretion is paramount.

What is most powerful and fascinating about this book is that we cannot be certain of Lilian’s motives or her heart. Together with Frances we find ourselves doubting her love and craving some definitive answer. Is she deeply in love or a master manipulator? Beyond the love story, the murder, the trial, that is the question that troubles the reader the most. We know Frances makes a terrible mistake, but is it worth it? This is the real mystery which is satisfactorily resolved in the final pages.

It’s a beautiful book that reveals a fascinating period of history and looks across class boundaries at how people were changed by the first world war. Highly recommended to people who enjoy crime novels and lesbian love stories.

Symposium (Virago Modern Classics)
Symposium (Virago Modern Classics)
by Muriel Spark
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Funny, sardonic and brilliant. Well worth reading., 9 Sept. 2017
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Muriel Spark's prose is full of meaning. This feels like a full length novel although it only spans 147 pages. It centres around a dinner party, a burglary ring and a woman connected with more deaths and murders than anyone innocent has a right to be.

The book feels modern in spite of the more traditional (old fashioned use of an) omniscient narrator. There is no one character who dominates the tale. Spark is more than talented enough to make this work.

Each chapter feels entirely in the moment, full of immediate description and dialogue, until at the end there is a grim moment of foreshadowing that makes the reader gasp, unable to put the book down and do something else.

Funny, sardonic and brilliant. Well worth reading.

by Margaret Atwood
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best book I've read so far this year, 24 Aug. 2017
This review is from: Hag-Seed (Paperback)
In the modern retelling of The Tempest, Felix (a director usurped by a supposed friend) is cast as Prospero. Felix’s revenge is both elaborate and life-consuming, but thankfully the novel doesn’t limit itself to the original tale of betrayal and revenge. It is so much more.

Atwood writes male and female characters equally well. From primary to minor “players” the book is full of vibrant individuals, who manage to also represent literary archetypes. You don’t need to know the original play to enjoy this novel, but it adds an extra dimension if you do. Prospero, Miranda, Ferdinand, Antonio, Alonso and Ariel all have their modern equivalents in the narrative. And perhaps the prisoners as a whole are Caliban. He is certainly the character most of them wish to play.

I won’t include a plot summary in my review, but I was left with a strong sense that the characters will have fascinating albeit challenging lives, beyond the final page. The theatre group will continue and the actors/convicts will prove time and again what people can achieve when they can access the necessary tools – they can even create some magic.

Iniquity (The Ascent Book 1)
Iniquity (The Ascent Book 1)
Price: £2.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Dark paranormal romance - like Wuthering Heights with demons., 17 Aug. 2017
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Iniquity is about the bad decisions women so often make for love (and lust).

While watching The Handmaid’s Tale I had a profound and painful revelation – we are constantly betrayed by small kindnesses. Iniquity is full of these small kindnesses that make the heroine, Athena, forgive and indeed love two monsters.

Iniquity would be best described as paranormal romance. The heat level is mild to medium, with one sex scene in the book that warms the blood. It’s set in the near future after demons have ascended to Earth, plummeting human life back to the Middle Ages and serfdom.

At each woman’s 21st birthday her status and future (for 10 years, if she survives that long) is decided by the demon who is Lord of that particular village. Thanks to a bargain struck by her grandmother, Athena is married at twenty-one to Paymon, the demon in charge of her village.

Paymon, while a demon who keeps the village poor and the villagers terrified, introduces Athena to a life of privilege and relative wealth. In exchange, she feeds him with her emotions.

The mystery of who kills Paymon isn’t solved in this book, but a new demon, Erebus, takes over as village Lord and as Athena’s husband. Their relationship is abusive. There are times when Erebus tells Athena that it’s her fault he has to torture her friends from the village because she is too weak to feed him. There are times when he is violent towards her – mentally more often than physically. The “romance” reminds me of Wuthering Heights & Beauty and the Beast with demons. In spite of this, slowly but surely, as he hurts her less she falls in love with him more. It’s pretty disturbing, but at the same time intensely human. We can fall in love with demons if we think we can make them good men. The question of whether Athena makes Erebus as good a man as she believes is open to interpretation.

There are twists I will not spoil that make the reader want to discover more about this world and its people. Melody Winter tells an engaging tale and Athena is for the most part a sympathetic and likeable character. It’s left very open at the end, but it is only the first book in a planned series. Care has been taken with editing and the language used to make this an easy and modern read. If you enjoy “bad boy” abusive romances and/or paranormal romance this one is pretty good.

A Charming Nightmare (ACN Book 1)
A Charming Nightmare (ACN Book 1)
Price: £4.03

4.0 out of 5 stars Imaginative and unique, 14 Aug. 2017
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This was a difficult book to review. Because almost all its issues are due to grammar and spelling I will deal with the story and the style separately.

Story – A Charming Nightmare is a futuristic fantasy with a decent “who done it” and why mystery, and some uncomfortably violent romance. The main female character, Aylin, is gutsy and dynamic, albeit often confused and vulnerable. She comes across as very human and rather likeable. 4/5

Style – I was lucky enough to get an answer from the author as to her switching between present and past tense throughout the book. She writes the way she speaks. In some ways this is actually pretty effective. It’s an extremely informal and conversational style and it is possible to get used to the switches as you progress, especially with this knowledge to hand.

The book breaks the fourth wall. While it seems to be a first person tale the pronoun “you” is frequently used. The book can be viewed as a one-to-one retelling of events between the reader and Aylin, perhaps over a few beers. The story is told rather than shown. The immersion of the reader is through this unique direct engagement technique.

There are brilliant touches of comedy throughout and I loved the frequent reference to 20th century pop culture and fine English literature. It brought the distant future, the present and the past together in utterly charming ways. For me this was the strongest and most successful aspect of the book. 3.5/5

Grammar – The book needs an editor’s touch. While no book is error free, this one is riddled. Possessive apostrophes are missing. Their/they’re/there and your/you’re are used as if completely interchangeable. Often homophones are used rather than the correct words. It does make it difficult to understand at times and while this feels less important as the book progresses, it doesn’t become any less frustrating. 1/5

Conclusion – Charming Nightmare typifies the differences between indie and traditional publishing. A battle between fine art and street art. This book is interesting and often beautiful graffiti that tells us something about modern parlance, which Tolstoy or Hemingway cannot. It is a rule breaker. Gag your inner editor if you can and give it a go. You too might uncover something very worthwhile.

by Flora Rheta Schreiber
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: £7.73

4.0 out of 5 stars Sybil Dorsett was the most famous multi-personality ever treated. ..., 14 Aug. 2017
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This review is from: Sybil (Mass Market Paperback)
Sybil Dorsett was the most famous multi-personality ever treated. This book describes the history, treatment and recovery of Sybil. It also looks at the likely reasons for dissociation and the very different and autonomous 16 personalities. It is a tragic story with an uplifting end, written in a documentary style rather than a fictionalised account. A fascinating read.

Swing Time: Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2017
Swing Time: Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2017
by Zadie Smith
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Heart warming and very funny., 27 July 2017
Swing Time is set in London, where the main character was born, New York and a village in West Africa. Neither the main character nor the village are named.

The main character and her troubled childhood friend, Tracey, are mixed race. The story delves into race in fascinating and multi-faceted ways. A lot of its humour derives from faux pas in ways a white person, like myself, can uncomfortably relate to. It looks at class and privilege, from the two childhood friends – one of whom never leaves the poor housing estate while the other travels the world in private jets.

It’s s frequently light-hearted read. The dialogue and narrative feel intensely real, but the scenarios often seem far-fetched in the way Aimee uses her wealth to live out her fantasies. The end is abrupt yet filled with hope. Tracey, while perhaps not redeemed, is shown as a loving and vibrant mother in a scene that echoes their shared childhood.

Zadie Smith is one of my favourite authors. Her working class, racially diverse characters are always beautifully drawn with a tenderness that allows her, and us, to laugh with and at them at times. I love this novel and cannot recommend it enough.

by Kevin Berry
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.33

5.0 out of 5 stars Great read. Wonderful heroine., 14 Jun. 2017
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This review is from: Kaleidoscope (Paperback)
Chloe is an Aspie (on the Autism Spectrum) and she's also bipolar. This book looks at her experiences during the Christchurch NZ earthquakes of 2011. She's a flawed, but inspiring heroine. Because the book is told from her perspective it is painful to watch how deep she gets into a manic episode before anyone around her notices. By the time they do she's hit rock bottom. Where she goes from there is even more compelling than her descent. If you are a woman on the spectrum and want a deliciously honest portrayal this is the book for you. It can be read alone or after Stim. I'd recommend you grab both books.

Whitby After Dark
Whitby After Dark
by Stella Coulson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A quick read perfect for YA vampire fans, 6 Jun. 2017
This review is from: Whitby After Dark (Paperback)
Whitby After Dark is a tale of abuse and a girl who sees ghosts, or are they something else?

There is a dark mystery in Whitby and at her new school Lenore beings to rub shoulders with supernatural beings. She takes this in her stride, perhaps because she has bigger problems than vampires. Yet as the vampires work with her she finds that her bigger problems are very closely connected to a killer they’ve been pursuing. It’s a simple plot with thin characters, but it is also supernatural and full of characters with amazing talents. I’d liken it to a prose superhero book for young adults.

There are some annoying errors, especially in the eary chapters, but nothing a good edit wouldn’t fix and they are possible to ignore. What is delightful is the engaging use of slang that really bring the narrator to life, and references to geek culture abound.

As is often the way in life, in Whitby After Dark, one abusive relationship leads to another and in a scene reminiscent of Twilight we have a vampire and a wolf fighting for the soul of our heroine. As with Twilight, Lenore seems to bond with her abuser and it feels like love. I have to admit to some serious discomfort with regards to this relationship.

There’s a collection of Gothic poetry by the author at the end of the book. All in all it feels like a story written by a young author with promise. If you love simple supernatural stories then it’s worth checking out. It feels like an origin story for Lenora, who might become a future Willow Rosenberg.

I was given a free copy of this book in return for an honest review.

The Secret History of Twin Peaks
The Secret History of Twin Peaks
by Mark Frost
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.99

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It is easy and enjoyable to read and helps explain much of ..., 5 Jun. 2017
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This book is gorgeously presented inside and out. It is a supposed facsimile of a dossier compiled by one Twin Peaks character, analysed and annotated by another. It is easy and enjoyable to read and helps explain much of the background mysteries of the iconic TV show while playing liberally with conspiracy theories and government/deep state cover ups.

Sadly when my copy arrived the dust jacket was badly damaged. I was very satisfied with Amazon's resolution of the problem and it doesn't warrant a reduction in the score or my enjoyment of the book.

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