Saturday, February 28, 2015

Mysticism & Myths Anthology

After a long, long time, I'm finally participating in another blog tour! I poked my head out because the subject matter sounded really interesting! (Also, I was hoping to see if any Asian ghosts made their way in). Since it's a collection of short stories, I thought I'd quickly review each story in the collection.

First up, Bound by Blood by Margo Bond Collins. It actually features a Filipino monster (a aswang), which made me really really happy. It did veer into a direction which I didn't completely expect, but I found it to be an interesting read, and it raised my expectations for the rest of the collection.

Second, Isa: Gift of the Baloma by Perri Forrest. I have to admit, I skipped this story. The first scene was rather explicit, and not something that I'd normally read. If you like steamy stories though, you should like it.

Third, Mico, Anguta's Reign by Dormaine G. I liked this one! It involved were-wolves, and a murder mystery. Personally, I would have loved it to be more in-depth, but that would make it a full-length novel instead. I sorta-but-not-really saw the twist coming (I'm not sure. I felt surprised yet not surprised), so yes, it's a pretty good story.

Fourth, Cursed: A Yorkshire Ghost Story by Karen Perkins. A pretty spooky ghost story for me with a vengeful ghost - if this was a movie, I'd avoid it because I'm a scaredy cat. The ending is pretty open, and like Mico, it has the potential to be a full length novel that made me stay up all night. The only small niggle I have is that for one character, the "thou" and "thees" seem to be rather mixed up with "you" arbitrarily. Either that, or the author was using it in the Shakespearean sense ("thou" being the more intimate form of expression), but it didn't really seem that way either.

Fifth, Carnem Levare by Jaxx Summers. I liked the descriptions of Venice in this city, but the story dragged a little. I think it was two different POVs (this involves another vengeful ghost - this time, that of a jilted lover), because I was pretty comfortable in one, and switching to another was a bit of a shock.

Last, but not least, The Life Keeper by Abby L. Vandiver. This was a really strong story to end the collection with. It looks at life in a small Romanian town, and the legend of the strigoi, a sort of vampire. I must say, the ending totally threw me, I did not expect it. But, the dynamics of an outsider coming into the family was interesting, and I enjoyed the narrative voice.

Overall, most of the stories are pretty solid. I wouldn't say that you can give this to any kid you know who likes mythologies, but if you know an older teen or adult that likes reading about different monsters, but doesn't have time to go through a whole novel, this collection would be a pretty good fit.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book as part of Enchanted Book Promotions in exchange for a free and honest review.

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Dress Shop of Dreams by Menna Van Praag

HEY EVERYONE! I don't normally do this, but I found out that Cindercast: A Tale of Tides (Volume 1) by Michael BlackBourn, which is a book I've been wanting to get, is free for Thursday and Friday (I believe US time? So anyway, go get it! The link I included is to the Amazon US store, but I managed to get it on my Amazon Japan store for free too!


I really, really wanted to like this book. It's got a pretty cover, comparisons to authors I like and an interesting sounding story. But, I didn't. Not really. It's really sad, because everyone else seems to really love it.

The Dress Shop of Dreams is about Cora, the scientist who doesn't open her heart, Walt, the guy who's always loved her with the radio-perfect voice, Etta, Cora's grandmother, Milly, the woman who listens to Walt's voice on the radio and fell in love and Dylan, Walt's boss. Those are a lot of people, and they all have their separate stories. Oh wait, there's also Henry, the policeman.

One problem I have is that all the separate stories never feel like they're tied together. If it weren't for the fact that Cora and Etty are related by blood, and that Henry has been in love with Cora (although he promptly got in a relationship with Milly at the start of the book), there are no links. Cora suddenly embarks on a quest to find out what really happened to her parents at the mysterious fire (that was an unexpected turn), and Henry just gives up after one attempt at the start of the book. Meanwhile, Etta just interferes and then has her own thing going on.

I suppose I could see connections and all that if I cared for the characters. But I always felt this gulf, as though they were distant figures across a huge, fast-flowing river, and I only see what's going on. It may be the present tense narrative, which works wonderfully in many novels (like the book I reviewed yesterday, Broken Monsters), but not this. I just kept feeling like the author was telling, not showing the whole way, and it made me feel detached (also, I checked my notes and there were a few sudden jumps from the head of one character to another, which was a bit dizzying).

For me, this book just lacked the magic spark. Plenty of others love it, so if you're curious, it's worth borrowing the book or reading a sample to see whether you like it. It just didn't quite make the cut for me.

Disclaimer: I got a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a free and honest review.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes

Halfway through this book, I realised that it really, really reminded me of the film The Snow White Murder Case (click the link to read my review, on another blog). Both the book and the film are about a murder (although the murder in the book is much, much, much more gruesome than the movie), but they take a look at modern technology, and how they affect the murder investigation. The main difference, is that one of the main characters of Broken Monsters would be the cop.

Broken Monsters features a whole cast of characters, from the lead detective, to her daughter, to the murderer and the journalist. They each take a turn narrating the story, and their lives eventually tie into the larger narrative - that someone is murdering people and mutilating the bodies. For some POVs, like the daughters and a random character, the connection wasn't immediately obvious. At the end, however, all of them will tie together. Not all the characters will be likeable, and it's possible the character you root for is the one I despise, but that's the great thing about this book.

To me, the book explores the question "Is murder/insanity catching, and can it spread through social media?" This question surfaces in the second half of the book, so I can't talk about it without giving away major spoilers, but it definitely gave me food for thought.

The only downside that I see is that print isn't the best medium to convey social media. Text messages come across fine, but the reddit threads were a bit confusing, especially without the lines to show nesting comments properly (there are indentations, but it's not very clear to me). It may be that the movie spoiled this for me, because the way they showed twitter was very easy to understand, and really added to the film. For the book, the social media sections (calls, reddit pages) were mostly on their own, the exception being text messages, which I think defeats the purpose of most of these sites, which is to connect people.

Overall, this is a fantastic book. It's very dark, so I would only recommend it to mature readers. But, it does raise a host of interesting questions, and the present tense narrative really adds a sense of immediacy, which kept me turning the pages, because I wanted to find out how everything would turn out.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

How to be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis

Unfortunately, this is not a manual on how to be a heroine. Instead, it's the author's reflection on how the heroines of the various books she's read has influenced her, as she goes through a re-reading spree inspired by the realisation that Cathy may not be the ideal heroine after all.

To go back and give you some background, the inspiration for this re-read came from the fear of the author that she had to give up her heroines. I think most of us would never consider something like that, but having been so deeply inspired by Cathy, and then realising she wasn't the best role-model, the author got a shock and decided to revisit all the heroines to see if they were best left alone. Her resulting experience would be this book.

I think, to enjoy the book, two things are needed.

One, you have to be well-read. Like really. The author goes through tons of books, and I find myself quite embarrassed at the number of books that I've not read. It also made me think that perhaps I should try reading Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights again. I received them when my siblings were born (we have the practice of giving the existing children presents, and my parents know I like to read so....), but I didn't finish either book. Perhaps now that I'm older, it's time to go through it. After all, one of the things that this book showed me is that the same book can speak to you differently at different points in your life.

The other thing that you need is to remember that this is one person's experience. I disagree with the author's opinion on Little Women, Esther, Pollyanna, and I think most of her opinions. But, she and I have very different worldviews and upbringing, so I think it's only natural. If I had gotten annoyed every time I disagreed with the author, I bet I wouldn't even have finished the book.

Oh, but I really agreed with this line:
"And maybe it's by appropriating our heroines that we become heroines ourselves." 
Apart from that, I think there's not much I can say. This is basically a very personal book, about the author's experience and thinking. I find it well-written and interesting.

Disclaimer: I got a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a free and honest review.