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Tender Morsels
Tender Morsels
by Margo Lanagan
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Dark and Gripping Fairytale, 11 April 2012
This review is from: Tender Morsels (Paperback)
Lanagan's Tender Morsels is a quite extraordinary novel. Part fairytale, part fable and part social commentary, this book manages to appal and appeal in equal measure.

A life of incest, rape and enforced abortion has been the lot of Liga, who ultimately finds herself living with her two daughters in a sort of parallel world of safety and kindness. The real world begins to intrude, however, and in the end, Liga - and her daughters - must face up to this reality, finding in the process that, along with the dangers and pains of human existence, there is also real warmth, love and emotion.

Lanagan's writing is both spare and descriptive, and, while not over-indulgent, does not shy away either from some very dark and unpleasant material. The horror of Liga's life at the beginning of this tale is dispassionately drawn and is all the more appalling for it. The reader almost lives Liga's relief along with her when she finds herself in a place where - even if the warmth of human experience does not exist - there is no threat of further violence.

There is a strange, dreamlike quality to this book, where men and beasts (specifically bears) are almost interchangeable and where sex is both alluring and frightening. Men, in fact, are not sympathetically treated, and are almost universally seen as dangerous, potential or actual rapists - there are a couple of notable exceptions, but if I had a criticism of the book this damning image of the male is probably it - penises, in particular, are seen as weapons or threats throughout. At the same time, it is largely what lends the book its sense of darkness and danger. The one or two sympathetic male characters in the book are depicted in a far less sexual light than are their unpleasant counterparts.

I found this book to be deeply abosrbing, entertaining and disturbing. I'm very impressed.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 5, 2013 6:18 PM BST


A Discovery of Witches: (All Souls 1)
A Discovery of Witches: (All Souls 1)
by Deborah Harkness
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

317 of 337 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Tea and Yoga, 2 Dec. 2011
I really, really wanted to like this book.

I thought Twilight was utterly appalling, so when I saw the review on the cover of this book that said something along the lines of "The thinking person's Twilight", I thought, hurray!! An intelligent, well-plotted, well-characterised fantasy with elements of a supernatural romance - just the thing for cold evenings by the fire. Sadly, I don't feel that the book really delivered on any of these fronts. The premise seemed interesting - a mysterious manuscript that supernatural creatures want to get their hands on is called up by the novel's heroine, a witch named Diana. A dishy vampire - the hero, Matthew - sees the danger she is in and decides to get involved. The location (Oxford) is well-described, and the reader gets a nice sense of settling in for a meaty read.

Sadly, nothing much really happens. Diana spends a lot of her time going running and rowing on the river while Matthew eyes her beadily from the banks. At this point, he starts to tell her how extraordinarily brave she is to be carrying on as though there were no danger. He continues to be amazed by her courage throughout the book. I get the impression that we, the readers, are supposed to think that Diana is terribly brave too, though really it's more like she's just oblivious to the strange turn her life is taking.

She drinks enormous amounts of tea. Every time she puts on the kettle (and spoons the tea into a pot and warms her hands on the hot mug and sips at the soothing, fragrant brew), the experience is lovingly detailed for us. I began to think that tea was going to turn out to be a major plot-device, and that perhaps the action would centre around some sort of ancient tea-leaf feud, but no.

Then there is the yoga. I'm not sure why I found this so jarring. I tried to accept that, within the world of this novel, yoga would be be a perfectly normal hobby for witches, daemons and vampires but it just seemed odd. Diana is being threatened by a host of other-worldly creatures, and strong, mysterious Matthew is deeply concerned for her safety so, to relax, the two of them put their yoga mats into Matthew's car and drive off to an "inclusive" yoga class, in which other-worldly creatures put aside their differences and fold themselves into downward-facing-dogs and sun salutations (quite lengthy descriptions of the various postures and movements, and how it felt to do them, are given). I recognise that authors may create their worlds as they wish but this still felt incongruous to me.

Then there is the fact that we are told, time and time again, that Diana is brave, that she is strong, that she is a capable, independent woman. Sadly, and very like Bella in Twilight, once the alpha-male vampire appears on the scene, she is reduced to someone that just needs to be protected. Matthew is constantly ordering her to go to bed, carrying her up the stairs, wrapping her in blankets, propping her up before the fire and telling her exactly what she may or may not do. When she is not drinking tea, in fact, she seems to be permanently in a state of exhaustion - sometimes only a couple of hours after an enormous sleep, she's worn out again - and this seems to be used as a vehicle for her man literally to sweep her off her feet and tuck her into bed again, while looking adoringly at her and telling her what a feisty, strong and stubborn creature she is. I don't really understand what their deep and abiding love is based on, either. There is no sexual tension or chemistry to speak of. The fact that Matthew treats Diana more like a sickly child than anything else doesn't help. There is kissing, but not as much as there is sleeping, enfolded in manly arms, soothed by a strong and manly presence.

Despite all of this, and somewhat to my own surprise, I didn't hate this book.

This is probably only because, truth be told, I rather like descriptions of food and drink and gothic places (luckily, in this case), so I didn't find the novel quite as tedious as its lack of action deserved. Nothing much happens and I really don't like either of the main characters much, but the cosy images of meals and fires and old castles and quirky houses were enough to get me through to the end - just about. Ideally, the food et al would be coupled with some real plotting and interesting personalities, a female lead who isn't a droopy-drawers and a male lead who isn't an aggressive, over-protective know-all. In this day and age, are we really supposed to be into this image of how relationships should be?

I'm torn between giving two stars and three for this book, so I'll err on the side of generosity! I won't be buying the sequel, though.
Comment Comments (43) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 7, 2015 1:48 PM BST


Breaking Dawn: Twilight, Book 4: 4/4 (Twilight Saga)
Breaking Dawn: Twilight, Book 4: 4/4 (Twilight Saga)
by Stephenie Meyer
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.74

11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars ...and the wolves howled "MARY SUUUUUUUUUUUE!", 14 Sept. 2010
We could go through this appalling book page by page and end up with a criticism almost as long as the book itself. I need a rant but I'll try to curtail it a bit at least.
SPOILERS FOLLOW

Given her lack of interests, ambitions or conversation, it remains an utter mystery as to why all the other characters in these books just love Bella Swan, but smitten they are. She's at her irritating best in this book.

Bella has spent a lot of her time in this series being carried about or rescued, having fainted or fallen or had some other unlikely mishap. In this particular book she is even more than usually frail due to an impossible (don't get me started on the "science" in this book - we'd be here for a week) and debilitating pregnancy. She must at all times, for example, have either a hunky werewolf (hot to the touch) or a dashing vampire (cold) snuggled up next to her on the couch - they regulate her temperature when she's feverish, you see. She is carried to and from the toilet by members of the vampire family, who also hold basins for her to vomit into, all the while gazing anxiously and lovingly at her while she smiles feebly, wanly, up at them from her sickbed. It's all very Victorian, really. The foetus, meanwhile, is busy breaking her ribs and covering her with bruises. Meyer, while unable to write sex-scenes in any detail, positively REVELS in descriptions of gory and violent illness. Bella, a blood-vomiting, cracked-spine martyr to Meyer's cause, bears all of this because the developing half-vampire is worth (bizarrely) more to her than anything else in the whole world.
Never mind; the "baby", when it arrives (chewed out of Bella's abdomen by Edward, our hero), is possessed of a full set of snowy teeth, a formidable intellect and, within days, shoulder-length ringlets. Lovely. This fast-growing creature is saddled with the unfortunate name of Renesmee (no objections are raised by anybody) and is, apparently, The Cutest Baby Anyone Has Ever Seen. Everybody instantly loves her, passionately and for no very good reason. Jacob has, in fact, a Particular Love for this baby. He has done a creepy thing that werewolves in Meyer's world do: Imprinted. This means that, whether Renesmee likes it or not, they are now An Item, and just as soon as she is of age (remember the rapid development? In just a few years' time, then), they will be married and together forever. Nothing inappropriate about that AT ALL.
While Jacob gazes misty-eyed at his new love, Bella transforms into a vampire. This, we have been led to believe, is very dangerous. A new vampire is a wild beast for a year or so and must be closely guarded so as not to attack and gobble all around them. Not our Bella, though. Magnificently contravening all the lore that Meyer has painstakingly built up, Bella springs into the world the most fabulous and self-controlled of all vampires ever. She runs off on her first hunt in a stunning cocktail dress (eh?) and manages everything beautifully. Suspense killed there, then.
Remarkably, the final third of the book is worse than any of the nonsense I have just outlined. There is some rubbish about evil vampires that want to kill Renesmee. It is officially a deadly sin of writing to introduce new characters at the end of a book but such trifles don't bother Meyer. A whole bunch of other vampires are called up in Renesmee's defence and, once they see how utterly adorable she is, decide they'll fight to the death for her. Each of these other vampires (about five hundred of them, I think) is introduced individually and described in some detail. Much time is spent discussing all their different super-powers and how they could be used in the upcoming battle. When the evil vampires arrive, all the super-powers so painstakingly discussed turn out to be irrelevant because - of course - it turns out Bella has one that'll do for everybody: a highly effective, if deadly dull, Mind Shield , a sort of invisible umbrella that utterly foxes the enemy. The details escape me now because my eyes were glazed at this point, but I believe that the evil vampires, given a bit of time to think, agree that, in fact Renesmee IS The Cutest Baby Anyone Has Ever Seen, and even give a sort of abashed "sorry for any hassle, lads" before shamefacedly slinking off. What was the point of all that, then?!
So there we have it - a silly story-line, enormous loopholes in the plot, a Mary-Sue protagonist, an anti-feminist (and even anti-human!) agenda and a really peculiar coda that serves only to waste a few trees' worth of paper. And this has sold millions!!!
Comment Comments (10) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 14, 2012 10:42 AM BST


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