#Book #Review: Worlds of Ink and Shadow by Lena Coakley #YAFiction

So, I have recently discovered that I freaking adore augmented histories – particularly when I know a little about the history being augmented and when a little bit of folklore and fantasy is thrown into the mix. For those looking for information on the lives of the Brontë siblings, this may not be for you. But for those who enjoy deeply imaginative retellings and being transported into fantastical worlds this book might be just the ticket.


ink and shadowTitle: Worlds of Ink and Shadow

Author: Lena Coakley

Publisher: Harper Collins

Publication Date: January 5, 2016

Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction, YA Fiction, Augmented History

Themes: The Brontë Family, Family Relationships, Imaginary Worlds

Features: N/A


My Rating: 4/ 5


Synopsis

Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne. The Brontë siblings have always been inseparable. After all, nothing can bond four siblings quite like life in an isolated parsonage out on the moors. Their vivid imaginations lend them escape from their strict upbringing, actually transporting them into their created worlds: the glittering Verdopolis and the romantic and melancholy Gondal. But at what price? As Branwell begins to slip into madness and the sisters feel their real lives slipping away, they must weigh the cost of their powerful imaginations, even as their characters—the brooding Rogue and dashing Duke of Zamorna—refuse to let them go.

Gorgeously written and based on the Brontë’s juvenilia, Worlds of Ink & Shadow brings to life one of history’s most celebrated literary families.

 


My Review

I love it when I find good YA, especially YA that features strong characters, exciting plots, and isn’t dependent on stereotypical tropes and damsels in distress to carry the story along. It’s even better when the characters and author are aware of these stereotypes and obviously poke fun at them. Now add in the fact that this mystical world revolves around the Brontë siblings and the fantastical places that featured in their juvenilia and this book nerd is completely smitten.

Perhaps the only thing that I can really complain about is the multiple alternating perspectives. With all four siblings being given point of view at times it did feel a little jumpy and I had to consciously keep track of which sibling belonged to each chapter. However, after a while the voices and feelings of Charlotte, Anne, Emily and Bramwell became distinct and considerably easier to follow. This is one of those books where I would encourage struggling readers to stick with it, because the climax really is in the final chapters and all of the world building and character development is actually worth it.

It was interesting to see the development and reasoning behind each of the character’s personalities, especially the lasting effects of the loss of Elizabeth and Maria. However, despite the wildness of Emily and prominence of Charlotte, I ended up absolutely adoring Anne. In life she never got the chance to achieve the same fame attained by her siblings, but in Coakley’s version of events this shy and overlooked little lady gets to be the ultimate heroine. I particularly appreciated how vehemently she fought to stay true to herself, and how this conviction was ultimately the trait that saved her family. And, given the tragic reality of consumption in the 19th century, it was touching to be offered an escapist alternative.

When it comes to dealing with real people and events, I always look for authors to disclose their sources or at least acknowledge the influences on their work. I was pleased to see Coakley’s note indicating that while real events in the lives of the Brontë’s were consulted and included, that she took considerable liberties with their lives and where the ways in which she diverged from actuality. I would have appreciated a nod to the inclusion of her sources for the Reynard/ Old Tom folklore, especially since it is deeply rooted in both the area in which the story is set as well as in British literature dating back hundreds of years. But with that being said, I love how the trickster was the traditional fox, anthropomorphic, and at times even assumed the Gaelic Bodach/ Bogeyman form. The presence of this tradition gave Coakley’s version weight and believability that might otherwise have been lacking. I think that it is important for folklore to live on in modern adaptations, and Coakley’s retelling left me wanting more.

Finally, I loved concept of literary worlds being real places that their creators could cross over into. You have no idea how many times I wanted to escape into Middle Earth, stand across the ballroom from Mr. Darcy, or run down the hallways of Hogwarts – this whole idea made me wish I myself could make a bargain with Old Tom, even if it was only once, so that I could visit my favourite places. But most importantly, the fantastical elements of the story were so subtly done that I never really felt like I was leaving reality.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely. I know that it won’t be for everyone, but for me it was a breath of fresh air. This was the kind of story where I picked up the book and after a while completely forgot that I was reading. It is touching, insightful, and masterfully drawn. For those who love a little fantasy with their literary heroes, this one is sure to please.

 

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#GraphicNovel #Review: The Outside Circle by Patti LaBoucane-Benson

 

I first read The Outside Circle a little over a year ago, and decided recently that it was time to revisit this book as it is one of those things that takes some time to really sink in. It is powerfully written, strikingly illustrated, and one of the most thought provoking pieces of modern Canadian literature that I have ever had the pleasure of reading.


outsideTitle: This Outside Circle

Author: Patti LaBoucane-Benson

Illustrator: Kelly Mellings

Publisher: Anansi

Publication Date: May 2, 2015

Genre: Graphic Novel, YA Fiction, Fiction

Themes: Relationships, Friendship, Coming of Age, Family, Responsibility, First Nations, Generational Trauma, Gangs, Drug Use

Features: Information on the In Search of your Warrior Program


My Rating: 5 / 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

In this important graphic novel, two Aboriginal brothers surrounded by poverty, drug abuse, and gang violence, try to overcome centuries of historic trauma in very different ways to bring about positive change in their lives.

Pete, a young Aboriginal man wrapped up in gang violence, lives with his younger brother, Joey, and his mother who is a heroin addict. One night, Pete and his mother’s boyfriend, Dennis, get into a big fight, which sends Dennis to the morgue and Pete to jail. Initially, Pete keeps up ties to his crew, until a jail brawl forces him to realize the negative influence he has become on Joey, which encourages him to begin a process of rehabilitation that includes traditional Aboriginal healing circles and ceremonies.

Powerful, courageous, and deeply moving, The Outside Circle is drawn from the author’s twenty years of work and research on healing and reconciliation of gang-affiliated or incarcerated Aboriginal men.


My Review

If you like beautifully written and impactful graphic novels, if you care at all about social issues, and you have the tiniest spec of curiosity about the impacts of Canadian colonialism and it’s lasting impact through generational wounds YOU NEED TO READ THIS BOOK. Yes, I just went all caps. And yes, I genuinely think that The Outside Circle Deserves it. It is complicated, powerful, and undeniably insightful in ways that linger long after you have turned the final page.

But let me start with a disclaimer. This graphic novel is not for the faint of heart, and likely not altogether suitable for young children. The social issues touched upon include gang violence, drug use, poverty, incarceration, abuse, and the systematic destruction of families and cultures. It needs to be read, it needs to be discussed, but it is best suited to older teens and adults. And while the subject matter isn’t the lightest, the presentation is such that it is easily approachable by students, scholars, and independent readers alike.

The style and colouration in this book was incredibly impactful and I had to read through several times in order to appreciate the depth of the details and nuances. I enjoyed the ongoing transformation of masks throughout, the tattoo motif, the circle series, and the repetitive use of smoke and fragmentation. I also found the variety of panels and page layouts to be engaging, and I really appreciated the break from tradition western aspects and transitions. The layering of Aboriginal and pop-culture iconography was beautifully done, and the balance created through the imagery made it easily understandable despite my limited understanding certain cultural motifs. The result is a fast paced, engaging, and visually appealing experience.

I was instantly, and irrevocably, wrapped up in Pete’s journey from the very first page. The very meta nature of the opening page of story, showcasing a storyteller, expounded further by the narrator stating ‘let me tell you a story’ had me going daaaamn. I know it doesn’t sound super amazing in a review, but the layers in the book are so very meta, and I like meta – especially when it comes across without feeling at all pretentious! Now add in the integration of key documents on Residential Schools, the Bagot Commission, the 1867 Indian Act, and some painfully startling statics and I couldn’t look away. I cried during the family mapping exercise (if you haven’t figured out by now that I am a crier, where the heck have you been?), and cried even more at Bernice’s funeral and when Ray came to visit Pete in prison.

I am in love with how everything came full circle in the end, and I know that this isn’t always the case in the real world. But it was really was a touching and uplifting way in which to end this story. But more than anything I am in love with how LaBoucane-Benson actively invites readers to become part of the narrative and to become part of the healing process. For anyone unfamiliar with the treatment of First Nations, or any cultural minority impacted by colonial expansion for that matter, this serves as a powerful jumping-in point.

Would I recommend this book? HELL YAAAASSSS! Especially to Canadian junior and senior high school teachers and librarians. The Outside Circle is empowering, impactful, massively educational, and yet ultimately a story of hope. It is incredibly efficient in breaking down stereotypes, helps readers to understand and identify injustices actively operating in society, and humanizes issues that too often reduced to mere statistics. This is an absolute must read!

 

 

#Book #Review: Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein #YAFiction #HistoricalFiction

As I sit here writing this review I am still bawling – just when I think I have it under control I see something in my house that triggers thoughts not only about Rose but also my own grandfather who was also POW and I start crying all over again. Hell, It’s not often I am hit so hard by a work of YA fiction, but I guess that’s why Rose Under Fire has been awarded so many literary honours. I don’t care who the intended audience is, Rose Under Fire is one heck of a read, and I would recommend it to anyone.


roseTitle: Rose Under Fire

Author: Elizabeth Wein

Publisher: Doubleday Canada

Publication Date: September 17, 2013

Original Publication Date: June 1, 2013

Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction, WWII Fiction, YA Fiction

Themes: WWII, Concentration Camps, Prisoners of War, Ravensbruck, Nuremberg Trials

Features: General Bibliography, Suggested reading – accounts of Ravensbruck Survivors, Suggested reading – Internet Sources

Literary Awards: Schneider Family Book Award for Teen (2014), Josette Frank Award (2014), SCBWI Golden Kite Award Nominee for Fiction (2014), Milwaukee County Teen Book Award Nominee (2015), Carnegie Medal Nominee (2014)


My Rating: 4.5/ 5


Synopsis

Rose Justice is a young pilot with the Air Transport Auxiliary during the Second World War. On her way back from a semi-secret flight in the waning days of the war, Rose is captured by the Germans and ends up in Ravensbrück, the notorious Nazi women’s concentration camp. There, she meets an unforgettable group of women, including a once glamorous and celebrated French detective novelist whose Jewish husband and three young sons have been killed; a resilient young girl who was a human guinea pig for Nazi doctors trying to learn how to treat German war wounds; and a Nachthexen, or Night Witch, a female fighter pilot and military ace for the Soviet air force. These damaged women must bond together to help each other survive.

In this companion volume to the critically acclaimed novel Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein continues to explore themes of friendship and loyalty, right and wrong, and unwavering bravery in the face of indescribable evil.


My Review

I loved this book. It took longer to read than I had planed on because I kept having to stop for a good ole’ cry, but it was absolutely worth it. I was expecting something lighter because I picked it out of the YA section at the bookshop, but I was absolutely delighted that it didn’t pull any punches regarding conditions and brutality despite it’s audience. I quickly became so wrapped up with the Ravensbruck Rabbits that I was rooting for the girls, enraged by the single-mindedness of their persecution, and actually cheered out loud every time I read that one of them made it out of the camp alive.

Okay, so we’ll get the elephant out of the corner right away. Yes, Wein includes poetry as part of this text, and girl guide camp songs, and Rose Justice is a plucky 18 year old female ATA pilot. Some people don’t like this, I made the mistake of reading the reviews first. But guess what? I don’t care. I think these things worked. Even if I’m not the greatest fan of Wein’s style of poetry, it helped move the plot, gave deeper insight into Rose’s character, and relayed some of the means these women adopted when it came to coping with their situation in a more palatable manner. And while some might not agree with the inclusion of the arts in the midst of atrocity, I feel that it was both believable and relevant given the Slovenian and Polish poets that are known to have passed through Ravensbruck and the fact that so much Holocaust art work and poetry has managed to survive.

I did think that it was an interesting choice to tell the story through the eyes of Rose, instead of Roza, as by comparison her story could be considered ‘light’. But at the same time it brings to light the issues of survivors guilt and PTSD. I thought that it was neat how the entire story was told through Rose’s notebook, which gave it the feel of a genuine memoir. I found it particularly interesting how Wein addressed head on the issues related with memory and retelling, the ways in which the most horrid of details are simplified, and the construct of memory. By presenting the whole story as Rose’s memory, readers are able to see where she struggled with details and how easy it is for minutiae to become obscured. It also highlights the challenges with testimony, and the last fear felt by survivors, which is a huge contributing factor as to why witnesses are reluctant to come forward.

I didn’t connect with Rose as much as some of the other characters, likely because there were elements of her that I felt belonged in a chick-lit heroine, but she was still a strong and believable lead – more so in her scenes as a survivor than in her depiction of camp life itself. However, there are undeniable echoes of Eileen Nearne, the real ‘Agent Rose’, who worked as an intelligence agent, was captured and sent to Ravensbruck, and who refused to do her prison work and later escaped with two French prisoners. Despite being an acknowledged work of fiction, the subtle nods to very real women like Eileen Nearne and Nina Jirsikova who drew comics of the camp added immensely to weight of this work.

It is clear that Wein does her research, and I love nothing more than when that research is not only given credit in the acknowledgements and the sourced shared with the readers. It was also incredibly touching that the names of the Rabbits were worked into Rose’s poetry, and pointedly included on the title pages of each chapter. This makes my librarian heart go pitter-patter, and my inner historian cheer as the dissemination of primary sources to a generation that often doesn’t know how to effectively assess the validity of news.

Would I recommend this book? Oh hell yes! I have already passed it on to my colleague to be included in her high school library as it wasn’t yet in their collection. Not only does it feature a whole cast of strong women, it’s historical accuracy is both awe inspiring and horrifying. I really appreciated the use of Ravensbruck as opposed to Auschwitz or Buchenwald, especially given the presence of medical experimentation and the world’s denial of the atrocities being committed there in early reports from escapees. Rose Under Fire is a tale of two strong Rosie’s, of undeniable strength and determination, of immeasurable horrors and true suffering, but most importantly it is an uplifting tale of unbreakable loyalty and genuine friendship in the most trying of circumstance. Elizabeth Wein has done it again with her companion to Code Name Verity, and I won’t hesitate to say that Rose Under Fire is an absolute must read.


Thank to Elizabeth Wein for making me cry so uncontrollably, for including the names of the ‘Rabbits’, and for continuing to TELL THE WORLD in a time when too many have chosen to forget.

#BlogTour #Review: Christmas at the Gin Shack by Catherine Miller

Today I am delighted to be hosting a stop on the Christmas at the Gin Shack blog tour. This fun little holiday mystery will not only kick your Christmas spirit into high gear, but it will also leave you craving good company and an even better G&T.


Christmas at the Gin Shack Full Tour Banner


Synopsis

Welcome in the festive season with love, laughter and the perfect G&T in Christmas at the Gin Shack – the most uplifting holiday read of 2017!

Gingle bells, gingle bells, gingle all the way…

Olive Turner might have lived through eighty-four Christmases, but she’ll never get bored of her favourite time of year. And this one’s set to be extra-special. It’s the Gin Shack’s first Christmas – and there’s a gin-themed weekend and a cocktail competition on the cards!

But, beneath the dazzle of fairy lights and the delicious scent of mince-pies, Olive smells a rat. From trespassers in her beloved beach hut to a very unfunny joke played on her friends, it seems that someone is missing a dose of good cheer.

Olive knows she’s getting on a bit – but is she really imagining that someone in the little seaside town is out to steal Christmas? More importantly, can she create the perfect gin cocktail before Christmas Eve – in time to save the day?


My Review

Okay, okay, despite my love of deep and twisty thrillers sometimes I can’t resist a a campy holiday read. And Christmas at the Gin Shack fits that bill perfectly. Truth be told though, if this story had been written with anyone other than Olive as the protagonist I might have bailed. But our gin drinking, Segway riding, craft-fiti fighting pensioner made for a story that I couldn’t peel my eyes off of.

Now add in the fact that Miller used this novel as a platform to address some pretty serious issues and my little activist heart goes pitter-patter. Elder abuse, maltreatment in care facilities, and poor programming that fails to contribute to quality of life are issues that I have fought with in the care of my own grandparents. The presence of these elements made the story feel so damn real, and grounded it in a way that made me feel Olive and Matron were actual people and that advanced crochet was possibly the most boring experience on the planet.  Other heavy hitting topics included the precarious situations of the self-employed, managing family relations after the loss of a loved one, absentee parents and navigating the aftermath of toxic relationships.

That’s not to say, however, that this was a heavy or overtly political read. Rather, the balance between these elements, Olive’s humour and infectious holiday cheer, and the cozy mystery of the craft-fiti bomber made for a light and enjoyable experience. I loved the tight-knit nature of Olive’s circle of friends, and truly felt as though I was being drawn into their circle the further the story progressed. Their unwavering support for one another was as heart warming as the holiday timing, as was the tidy nature of the ending. I won’t say too much as I hate handing out spoilers, but it really was the perfect fit for this feisty tale.

Would I recommend this book? Oh heck yes! By the time the snow starts flying this little novel will be the perfect pairing for a warm drink (or a G&T) and a blazing fire. If you’re looking for a fun, festive escape that doesn’t revolve around a holiday romance this little mystery might just be for you.


Author Information 

thumbnail_B1Tc3dIeBMS._UX250_

When Catherine Miller became a mum to twins, she decided her hands weren’t full enough so wrote a novel with every spare moment she managed to find. By the time the twins were two, Catherine had a two-book deal with HQDigital UK. There is a possibility she has aged remarkably in that time. Her debut novel, Waiting For You, came out in March 2016. She is now the author of four books and hopes there will be many more now her twins have started school. Either that, or she’ll conduct more gin research on Olive’s behalf.

 

Social Media Links

https://www.facebook.com/katylittlelady.author/

https://twitter.com/katylittlelady

https://www.instagram.com/katylittlelady/


Many thanks to Rachel Gilbey at Rachel’s Random Resources for organizing this blog tour, for inviting me to join, and to Catherine Miller for providing a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

#BlogTour #Review: Dead Lands by Lloyd Otis

Today I am delighted to be hosting a stop on the blog tour for Lloyd Otis’ debut novel Dead Lands. This vintage police procedural is the perfect balance of drama and deadly. An absolute must-read for lovers of mysteries, thrillers, crime fiction, fantastic writing and believable characters.

BANNER


Dead-LandsTitle: Dead Lands

Author: Lloyd Otis

Publisher: Urbane Publications

Publication Date: October 12, 2017

Genre: Fiction, Literary Fiction, Crime Fiction

Themes: Murder, Racism, Organized Crime


My Rating:  5/ 5 


Synopsis

Dead Lands is a thrilling crime story set in the 1970s. When a woman’s body is found a special team is called in to investigate and prime suspect Alexander Troy is arrested for the murder. Desperate to remain a free man, Troy protests his innocence, but refuses to use his alibi. Trying to protect the woman he loves becomes a dangerous game – questions are asked and suspicions deepen. When the prime suspect completes a daring escape from custody, DI Breck and DS Kearns begin the hunt. Breck wants out of the force while Kearns has her own agenda and seeks revenge. Breck has his suspicions and she wants to keep it from him, and a right-wing march provides an explosive backdrop to their hunt for Troy. Dead Lands is the thrilling debut of award winning short story writer Lloyd Otis, and intelligently covers issues of race, discrimination and violence in a changing 70s landscape.


My Review

There is nothing I love better than a good, old fashioned police procedural. And Lloyd Otis’ debut novel certainly hit the ticket. Not only is the police action and investigation absolutely spot on, but it takes the notion of ‘old fashioned’ back to an era that give the give the story the perfect vintage feel.

Oh, and that opening! I couldn’t have asked for a more engaging entry point into this twisted little thriller. Starting off with the killer’s viewpoint left me constantly guessing as to who they actually were and how they fit into Otis’ carefully crafted puzzle. The details of the kill kit, the cellophane, and the rituals of the murder left me expecting a serial spree, so I was thrown for a loop when it started looking more like organized crime. The forever shifting landscape, approach, and viewpoints kept me off balance and from guessing the ending, and for that I have to give kudos!

Normally I’m a sucker for the female lead in any story, but I have to say that DI Arlo Breck absolutely stole the show. I really enjoyed how the depths of his character and the personal challenges that he is facing is unveiled slowly. The breadcrumb style of character building kept me constantly sympathetic and always wanting to know more about what was coming next. And, being me, I was almost more interested in finding out what happened to Breck’s girlfriend and the resolution of her case – but the ways in which her case and Breck’s current investigation were intertwined were absolute gold. The stories drove one another, and I must admit that I was completely caught of guard by the ending. I wasn’t expecting Breck to take the high road, but I’m really glad that he did!

And where to start with DS Kearns? I gripe about gaining ground in the workplace, and her struggles to be taken seriously and earn respect seriously forced me to take a step back and be thankful for what I have. What I loved the most about her though, was how she tried to take the other female officers under her wing, trying to raise them through the ranks based on merit rather than gaining ground through promiscuity… even when she doesn’t particularly care for an officer.

Ultimately though, the stories of Kearns and Breck come together perfectly to create the perfect balance between police procedural and personal drama. Now add in the 70s fashion that left me dreaming of bell bottoms and gold hoops, suspects using aliases, some stereotypical douche-bag officers, and a seriously twisted killer and you’ve got a but novel that leaves one dreaming of a series, or at the very least a follow-up or two delving deeper into the stories of Kearns, Breck, or maybe even the adventures of the elusive Troy.

Would I recommend this book? Oh hells yes! Not only is it a fun piece of historical fiction in an underwritten era, but it touches on so many issues that are still relevant today. Dead Lands is a must read for lovers of crime fiction, mysteries, and thrillers.


Author Information 

LO2Lloyd was born in London and attained a BA (Hons) in Media and Communication. After gaining several years of valuable experience within the finance and digital sectors, he completed a course in journalism. Lloyd has interviewed a host of bestselling authors, such as Mark Billingham, Hugh Howey, Kerry Hudson, and Lawrence Block. Two of his short stories were selected for publication in the ‘Out of My Window’ anthology, and he currently works as an Editor.

 

Authors links:

Web: http://www.lloydotis.com/

Via Urbane: http://urbanepublications.com/book_author/lloyd-otis/

Twitter: @LloydOtisWriter

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LloydOtisWriter


Many thanks to Lloyd Otis for providing an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review, and to Abby Fairbrother-Slater @annebonnybooks for arranging this fabulous Blog Tour!