Select Page

Review: ‘Fir’ by Sharon Gosling

Fir - Book CoverSharon Gosling’s Fir was an interesting addition to the already extensive collection of YA horror, but like many books in the genre didn’t quite live up to expectations.

Fir tells the story of the Stromberg family, who leave their comfortable inner city Stockholm life to move to a remote tree farm where the Stromberg patriarch hopes to rebuild the lumber business.  But there is something out in the old growth forest that begins terrorising the family, while they try and survive the harshness of Sweden’s remote winters.

There were some fascinating elements in Fir.  The forest had character, and the descriptions of the woods, the cold, the dark and the isolation were incredibly well rendered.  There were some promising moments with the introduction of old world mythology which had the potential to make this a much deeper story and Gosling took the opportunity to make some important and tactful observations about environmental ethics without coming across as forceful or on the nose.

Unfortunately, despite these elements, Fir utterly failed to be believable.  Within the first few pages, it had already fallen into the YA trap of choosing just to have unreasonably rubbish parents to mask the fact that it’s difficult to write a believable relationship between a teenager and a parent once you’re past the age where you no longer rely on them.  I say difficult, which is why so many YA authors just either omit the adults of the story entirely (I’m looking at you Leo Hunt) or make them such caricatures of bad parenting that the focus naturally sways toward its teenage protagonists. Their reactions to situations and lack of communication with their daughter were simply not believable, and so made the plot feel entirely contrived.

One of the most effective elements was that the plot developed to allow for some ambiguity as to the truth of the ‘supernatural’ occurrences in the book.  I liked this, as it left it entirely open to interpretation, and made the premise of isolation even more frightening.  Letting the characters’ experiences speak for themselves made the local mythology even more interesting, as it highlighted how remote isolation could give rise to fears like these.  Had the book ended before the appendix I might have rated it far higher, but instead, Gosling chose to spoon feed the readers a supernatural ending that detracted from the whole narrative.  A book is only as good as its ending, so had it ended a few pages earlier, it would have been a much better book.

Overall, Fir was a quick and easy read.  It wasn’t particularly cerebral, certainly didn’t bring much to the YA horror genre, but was most definitely full of unrealised potential.  The plot had the potential to be unique with a critical message about environmental responsibility,  but instead just read as a generic supernatural YA story about bad parenting.

Goodreads Icon

See this review on Goodreads.

Bloglovin Icon
Follow me on Bloglovin

Review: ‘The One Memory of Flora Banks’ by Emily Barr

The One Memory of Flora BanksThe One Memory of Flora Banks was an interesting if problematic book.  It tackled a very interesting subject matter, but I’m not entirely sure it did it wholly effectively.  I enjoyed the book since the narrative was sweet and interesting, but I’m not entirely sure it was the healthiest portrayal of chronic illness.

Flora Banks is a teenager who has anterograde amnesia.  A tumour when she was ten made it impossible for her to create new memories and so she lives her life in a state of confusion, with the memories of a ten-year-old, but the body and emotions of a teenager.  One night, she kisses a boy on the beach and for the first time she has a memory that stays.  What follows is the story of her trying to hang on to that memory, a story that will twist and turn and take her on an adventure to the other side of the world.

Flora is an incredibly memorable character.  As the narrator, her quirks and mannerisms show themselves in interesting ways.  A lot of the narrative is repetitive for that reason, because we are experiencing the way that Flora’s mind works, but the repetition had just enough difference as to keep it interesting.  I found the way it was written fascinating rather than boring.  Flora writes things down (think Memento) to remind herself of them, and builds a physical trail of memories for her future self to follow.

The other characters in the book have no real characterisations of their own.  Instead we experience them through Flora’s eyes, and for obvious reasons she proves herself a rather unreliable narrator.  What is true of the people that she knows in one chapter can be completely turned on its head the next.  We see Flora’s parents how she sees them at certain times in the narrative, and the same goes for the boy she kissed and her best friend.  It made for very interesting reading and stylistically I simply can’t fault this book.

The big problem with this book, and indeed with so many books dealing with any kind of chronic illness, is that it doesn’t always deal with said illness in the best possible way.  Despite the characters of the novel responding to her positively and appreciating her for everything that she is, Flora herself latches on to the one thing she feels she needs to be; normal.  It is this idea of normalcy that makes this novel so problematic, especially when we factor in the layers of self-deception practiced by her family, and by herself on more than on occasion. It is this self-deception that needed to be tackled to give this book the depth that it needed.  For me, one of the most tragic and underdeveloped characters of the whole novel is Flora’s mother.  At times she is painted as a villain, but reading between the lines you can see a deeply troubled woman with her own mental illness to deal with who is given virtually no page time.  The One Memory of Flora Banks had the potential to delve so deeply in to the subject of chronic illness, but instead it seemed to romanticise it and ultimately raised more problems than it solved.

I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of reading The One Memory of Flora Banks, even if I didn’t really love where it went.  It was beautifully written, with a unique style and a memorable protagonist.  With a bit more depth I think it could have been a great, and indeed important work of YA fiction, but it is not quite there yet.

Goodreads Icon

See this review on Goodreads.

Bloglovin Icon
Follow me on Bloglovin

Review: ‘The Doll Funeral’ by Kate Hamer

Kate Hamer - The Doll FuneralThe Doll Funeral was a novel that attempted to be a great many things, and proceeded to be none of them with great aplomb.  It had the potential to be a touchingly deep story about domestic abuse and the difficulties of coping with adoption, both as the adopters and the adoptees, but instead it got bogged down in a swamp of mystical weirdness that did nothing to help the story along.

Kate Hamer’s The Doll Funeral tells the story from the point of view of a teenage girl who lives with her adopted parents in the Forest of Dean.  Her adopted father Mick is abusive but she finds solace among the trees and with a shadowy friend who has always been in her life.  The narrative follows her search for her real parents, while simultaneously weaving the story of her parents and how she came to live with Mick and Barbara.

The way Kate Hamer writes is beautiful.  She weaves her words with talent and imagination.  She paints a great picture and really brings the Forest of Dean to life as a character in its own right.  The forest plays such an important part in the lives of all its characters that her characterisation of it really made the narrative.  The plot is bleak, dark and otherworldly with a cast of quirky characters who were interesting enough to keep me reading.  The Doll Funeral wasn’t fast paced, or action packed.  It plodded along slowly and steadily and had a decent pace for a relatively serious novel that dealt with some pretty deep issues.

The big problem with The Doll Funeral is the way it chooses to deal with those issues.  The paranormal elements of the narrative fell flat and didn’t serve to heighten Ruby’s story in any way.  The weird Sixth Sense-esque skills that Ruby possesses simply made so much of the plot feel convenient and off kilter all at the same time.  The novel deals with abuse, poverty and mental illness.  By adding the supernatural in to the mix it somehow detracted from the gravity of what I feel the novel was trying to achieve.

Ruby herself wasn’t even particularly believable as a character.  She is 13 years old at the beginning of The Doll Funeral but her voice doesn’t match her age.  Her characterisation is much younger, as are the other ‘child’ characters in the novel.  The adults of the novel are largely absent during the narrative which ultimately felt a little too convenient in places, and her supernatural abilities are never really explained in any way.  This is a criticism I often level at works of supernatural fiction; your paranormal elements need to have their own internal logic to them.  I need to be able to believe that these things exist and the way that they manifest themselves as a reader.  In The Doll Funeral they simply felt like convenient ways to move the plot along rather than as essential elements in the characterisation of Ruby.

That Kate Hamer can write with talent is not in any doubt.  There was a lot to commend The Doll Funeral for, but ultimately I just felt like it was lacking in some sense.  I needed it to be more or less of everything that it was.  I either needed no paranormal elements or they needed to be rendered with more depth, or I needed more focus on the very serious subject matter of the novel with characters that were interesting for who they were, and not for some weird powers they either did or didn’t possess.  It was a novel with great promise that simply didn’t deliver.

Goodreads Icon

See this review on Goodreads.

Bloglovin Icon

Follow me on Bloglovin

Review: ‘The Phantom Tree’ by Nicola Cornick

I Blame Wizards - The Phantom Tree

Nicola Cornick’s The Phantom Tree, while not perfect, was a pleasant surprise.  It was an easy read with some fantastic elements of historical fiction that were believable and genuine. It had similarities to A. S. Byatt’s Possession but lacked its literary focus and genuine depth, yet despite this it was an enjoyable read, if not entirely convincing in its narrative.

The Phantom Tree tells the concurrent stories of two friends, separated by time.  Allison Bannister is a woman living in the present, ripped from her family and stranded in a time that isn’t hers.  Mary Seymour is a woman lost from history who holds a secret she needs to communicate through time itself.

Tudor historical fiction is a dime a dozen these days.  It’s always been popular, so the fact that Nicola Cornick tried to do something different with the formula is commendable.  Her descriptions of the period are emotive and beautiful and gave a deep sense of what life would have been like for the ‘forgotten’ aristocracy of the Tudor period.  It was less about the large political machinations and big personalities that punctuate what we know about the time, and instead put these elements in the background of a much more personal story.  They gave a sense of time and place, rather than becoming the focus of what is, essentially, a very personal story.

It’s a shame then that the modern-day narrative didn’t have the same heart or depth as the historical narrative.  Cornick’s love is obviously history, and that love showed through every word where the Tudor period was concerned.  The modern elements simply felt flat and lifeless in comparison.  We are introduced to Allison when she is already well established in our time.  She has a job, an apartment, has already had a serious relationship (which is rekindled with absolutely no spark or romance) and so we never get to know the difficulty she must have had adjusting to modern life having just come from a time that is so far removed from our own as to be a different planet.  Despite Allison being the protagonist, it was Mary who had all the characterisation and soul.

I think one of the reasons this may have been the case is that there is no internal logic or believability to the central premise of magic and time travel.  At no point is it explained why it is possible.  All the characters simply shrug and seem to say ‘that’s just the way it is’.  There wasn’t enough in it that could suspend my disbelief at the fantasy elements.  If it had been as simply as ‘time travel exists’ I probably could have been ok with that, but there are so many other elements jammed in there that didn’t heighten the narrative at all, that it did bear some kind of explanation. There are visions, precognition, telepathy and a weird telepathic romance that left me a little confused as to why it was necessary.

The ultimate resolution to The Phantom Tree was far too neat.  All Allison’s modern day compatriots simply accept her story of time travelling without even a blink of disbelief.  In only ten years we are meant to simply accept that she perfectly came to grips with modern life, learns to drive, studies abroad with a university despite having no documentation to even prove that she exists and lands a dream job with a start-up travel company that people would probably kill for, despite there being countries on the itinerary that hadn’t even been discovered at the time she was born.  Even the answer to the plot’s great mystery somehow just seems to appear in her mind, despite the plot being set up as a tale of sleuthing through time.

There was a lot to commend The Phantom Tree as a work of historical fiction.  But the fantasy elements and blind acceptance of the fantastical situations by the books characters were a little hard to swallow.  Where the historical elements flowed naturally and worked as a believable narrative, the modern-day and fantasy elements felt somehow forced and made the book in to something that I don’t think it should ever have been.

Goodreads Icon

See this review on Goodreads.

Bloglovin Icon

Follow me on Bloglovin

Review: ‘The Creeping Shadow’ by Jonathan Stroud

The Creeping Shadow by Jonathan StroudPrepare yourselves, because The Creeping Shadow ends in one hell of a cliff hanger!  Jonathan Stroud’s Lockwood & Co. series goes from strength to strength, widening its scope with even novel and hooking me in with every page.

Not often can we say that middle grade fiction rises to the strength of the Harry Potter series, but I honestly believe that Lockwood & Co. is just as good.  And finally, with this new installment we are entering the territory surrounding the root of ‘the Problem’.

Lockwood & Co. are a small, independent agency dealing with the problem of ghosts that have been plaguing the UK.  No one knows why the problem began and only children are equipped with the psychic talents to deal with the infestation.  The small agency must battle internal politics, external politics between the largest rival agencies, navigate the criminal underworld, the paranormal otherworld and eat cake!

The characters are strong and flow with personality.  They each have a unique voice and represent archetypes to which we can all relate.  Watching Lockwood, Lucy, Holly and George (with the newest addition of Quill Kipps) fight side by side is an absolute joy.  The way they interact with each other, their humour and their individual ideals make them the perfect team.  You can’t help but be invested in them.

The plot of The Creeping Shadow finally leads us down the path to resolution.  The source of the ‘Problem’ has been hinted at since the beginning, but the events of this novel really make it feel like we’re reaching a climax.  People we trusted turn out to be up to no good, and characters who we’ve learned to distrust save the day!  Everything happens for a reason, nothing is incidental, and the descriptions of ghosts, ‘sources’ and other paranormal activity are visceral and spooky.  The way the story unfolds is like a puzzle, with all the pieces coming together right at the end to reveal the big picture.

I finished The Creeping Shadow in a day, and I’m desperate for more.  Jonathan Stroud is the reason I look forward to September.

Goodreads Icon

See this review on Goodreads.

Bloglovin Icon

Follow me on Bloglovin

Google Doodle: The Neverending Story

 

 

If you’re anything like me, today’s Google Doodle will take you back to your childhood.  The Neverending Story by Michael Ende was one of my all time favourite books as a child, and it’s fantastic to see google celebrating 37 years since its first publication with such a beautiful Doodle.  Even if you didn’t read the books you’ll surely remember the film adaptation which brought my childhood book to life in such a spectacular way.

Who doesn’t still love Bastian, Atreyu, the Childlike Empress?  Who doesn’t still want a pet Falkor, or cry at the memory of the death of Artax?  (Oh god, I’m crying now just thinking about it).

 

 

See the Google Doodle here.

Pin It on Pinterest