Category Archives: LGBT

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

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I had encountered McGuire’s work earlier this year, thanks to a recommendation by Himself – read my review of Rosemary and Rue here. So when this novella featured on NetGalley, my attention was Everyheartadoorwaycaught. However, I’m not a fan of novellas, generally. Far too often, I’m just getting into the swing of the story when it all comes skidding to a halt. Would this be the case, this time around?

Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children
No Solicitations
No Visitors
No Quests
Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere… else. But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children. Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced… they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world. But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of things. No matter the cost.

It’s an intriguing premise. I was convinced I was reading one type of genre – and then found I was reading something quite different. Huge kudos to whoever wrote the blurb to this story – it’s smart and snappy and sets up the narrative without revealing anything vital.

The McGuire magic soon had me engrossed in this little treasure. This delicately told tale pulled me into heartbreak and strangeness of the situation, before ambushing me with the gothic element that ripples through this story. We get sprinkles, unicorns and blood-dripping horror all wrapped up in this story, which is beautifully paced and perfectly concluded.

In short, this is a gem. And I read the last page with a lump in my throat – something that rarely happens in full-length books when I have 300+ pages to grow to care for a character.
10/10

Review of Kindle EBOOK The Art of Forgetting: Rider by Joanne Hall

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I noticed that Rider is currently on a special offer – it’s FREE at Amazon, so I thought I’d reblog my review of this excellent book, in case you are looking for a really interesting, good quality read this week-end…

A young boy leaves his village to become a cavalryman with the famous King’s Third regiment; in doing so he discovers both his past and his destiny. Gifted and cursed with a unique memory, the foundling son of a notorious traitor, Rhodri joins an elite cavalry unit stationed in the harbour town of Northpoint.

riderRhodri bounces off the page right from the opening sequence and his grip wouldn’t let me go until I reached the final paragraph. Although I was in for a whole lot than I initially realised. I thought I was in for a coming-of-age adventure story in the style of L.E. Modesitt’s first book in his Imager Portfolio series. But this is a lot grittier and sexually explicit – so do be warned that if you have youngsters interested in your reading matter, I’d advise you vet this one first.

I was initially slightly caught off-balance. Having expected a particular type of book, it was something of a shock to find what I was reading was a lot more demanding. The easy, readable writing style, action-packed narrative pace, strong characterisation and familiar feel to the world initially had me sure of what I would continue to experience. And then Hall started delivering some smart surprises. I’m allergic to spoilers, so I’m not going to divulge the nuts and bolts of those surprises. However, the elite nature of the troops didn’t stop many of them being fairly unpleasant characters with a tendency to violence… This is fine on the battlefield, of course. But what if they are quartered in a town? And what happens when a large number of very fit, active young men want some female company? Without being remotely moralistic, Hall thoroughly explores this dynamic with uncomfortable consequences for all concerned.

And the curved balls kept coming… Aston’s narrative arc had my jaw dropping. While I was still reeling from the fallout to that shocker – Rhodri finds himself heading into action. But that action ends up taking a form that he could never have predicted – I certainly didn’t see it coming.

Throughout all of this, Rhodri is absolutely convincing. He yearns to find his father to help him sort out his own identity and while he may be the protagonist of the story, with a talent for calming horses and total recall, what he isn’t is a classical hero. He makes a multitude of mistakes – some of them are catastrophic. So many young main characters written by older authors show a chippy surefootedness that anyone who has spent time around real teenagers knows is not remotely realistic. Real teenagers are a mess of moody contradictions, poor impulse control, while capable of judgement errors that would have their ten-year-old selves rolling their eyes in disgust. Which is exactly how Rhodri and his fellow cadets behave a lot of the time.

Does it work? Oh, absolutely. This storming start to the series is an unusual, challenging read for all the right reasons and I shall definitely be tracking down the second book, Nomad. (Which I did – see my review here)
10/10

* NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Radio Silence by Alice Oseman

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This interesting YA offering was published a couple of weeks ago, exploring the pain of growing up and self- discovery under the lens of social media.

radiosilenceWhat if everything you set yourself up to be was wrong? Frances has always been a study machine with one goal, elite university. Nothing will stand in her way; not friends, not a guilty secret – not even the person she is on the inside. But when Frances meets Aled, the shy genius behind her favourite podcast, she discovers a new freedom. He unlocks the door to Real Frances and for the first time she experiences true friendship, unafraid to be herself. Then the podcast goes viral. Caught between who she was and who she longs to be, Frances’ dreams come crashing down and she will need every bit of courage she possesses to help herself, and her friend.

That is part of the rather chatty blurb, but provides an insight into the themes of a book where the main protagonist has bought into the propaganda churned out by schools, these days. That if you are clever, then you must focus on getting great exam results, then go on to the best university you can aim for, in order to get that high-flying job. Frances has focused onto this ambition and, as an only child brought up by her mother, is uncomfortable with her peers, so hides behind the treadmill of study and constant tests to keep her social interaction to a minimum.

But when in her room, she listens to music and podcasts and has decided tastes in clothes and films. The portrayal of a deeply private, socially inept girl is a well depicted and I found myself caring for her – crucial if this story is to work. But the character who is the real star in this tale is the tortured Aled, whose withdrawn exterior also is a veneer. For Aled is the creator of Frances’ favourite podcast, Universe City and as she gradually gets to know him better, she discovers this fact. Though Aled is desperate for it to stay a secret…

I really like this book’s examination of growing up in the modern world and the struggle for teenagers to find their own identities, amidst the peer pressure, demands of school, parental expectations and hopes as well as the pull-push that is social media. Oseman demonstrates both the opportunities the internet can provide for isolated people to express themselves – and the bear trap it can become when online attention turns carnivorous. It helps that Oseman is only twenty-one and therefore, of the generation who has been through this process.

Any niggles? I was increasingly uncomfortable with the pantomime villain depiction of Carol, Aled’s controlling mother. I feel a more intelligent, nuanced characterisation could have added to the story – that of a woman desperately trying to relive her own lost opportunities through her children. It is a common parental trait that can be every bit as lethally damaging as anything Carol offers up. Whereas Carol’s behaviour would immediately have every parent reading this book realising their own parenting is far better than the unhinged portrayal demonstrated. It is a shame, because I think Oseman missed a trick, here. However, given the amount she manages to get right – including her characters’ negotiation through their own sexuality – it isn’t a dealbreaker.

The story gripped me throughout, and as I am not anywhere near the target age group, that is a testament to the writing, strong characters and narrative structure and the ending satisfactorily provides a conclusion. All in all, a worthwhile, enjoyable read.

The ebook arc copy of Radio Silence was provided by NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
8/10

Review of The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

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I tracked this book down after a number of my students and online friends recommended it. Would I enjoy it as much as they did?

thepayingguestsIt is 1922 and London is tense. Ex-servicemen are disillusioned, the out-of-work and the hungry are demanding change. And in the south of the city, on genteel Champion Hill, in a hushed Camberwell villa still recovering from the devastating losses of the First World War, life is about to be transformed. Widowed Mrs Wray and her daughter, Frances – an unmarried woman with an interesting past, now on her way to becoming a spinster – find themselves obliged to take in lodgers. And the arrival of Lilian and Leonard Barber, a modern young couple of the ‘clerk class’, brings unsettling things with it: gramophone music, colour, fun…

That’s as much of the very blurting blurb I’m prepared to include, as the rest of it lurches into Spoiler territory and given that this is such a cracking tale, having the shine knocked off it in any way would be an outright sin. However, I will disclose that there are some fairly explicit sex scenes between two women – while it is handled with tenderness, if you find such material difficult to deal with, then this isn’t the book for you.

The protagonist, Frances, is sleep-walking through her life, numbed by the loss of all her dreams, the death of her brothers during the war and any prospect of escaping the drudgery of trying to keep the house in one piece over their heads. Waters beautifully portrays the ashy wasteland of her life without any handwringing self-pity. In fact, it is Frances’ stubborn ability to endure that is one of her greatest strengths – and weakness. Waters builds up a detailed portrait of her main character by walking us through her life, giving us a plethora of period details that has me humbly giving thanks for my washing machine, dishwasher, wet-wipes and nifty throw-away duster mops…

It is really important that we strongly bond with Frances in the early stages of the book – because if we don’t really care about her and feel appalled at having a ringside seat as she atrophies in front of us, then we’ll clearly struggle later on. Because the story morphs from being a beautifully depicted period piece about the plight of women at a particularly grim time in English history into a police investigation, culminating into a classic courtroom drama. A drama with Frances caught up right in the middle of the action…

I had intended this morning to read for half an hour, and then get up. An hour and a half later, rather drained and emotional, I tottered out of bed, having completed the book. It is a triumph. Waters manages to weave a thriller in amongst her wonderfully observed early 1920’s landscape that is a masterpiece. No wonder everyone was so effusive in their praise – and I am now joining the chorus. If you haven’t yet read this gem, and your taste runs to historical thrillers interleaved with a strong, convincing love story, then track it down.
10/10