The Death of Mrs Westaway – a review

Thursday_horizons

This week’s Thursday Creation Review is somewhat unexpected in that I had something else put aside to read. That novel had to wait as this book shot to the top of the reading pile. Read on and find out why.

DeathOfMrsWestaway

The Death of Mrs. Westaway

by

Ruth Ware (Goodreads Author)

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of In a Dark, Dark WoodThe Woman in Cabin 10, and The Lying Game comes Ruth Ware’s highly anticipated fourth novel.

On a day that begins like any other, Hal receives a mysterious letter bequeathing her a substantial inheritance. She realizes very quickly that the letter was sent to the wrong person—but also that the cold-reading skills she’s honed as a tarot card reader might help her claim the money.

Soon, Hal finds herself at the funeral of the deceased…where it dawns on her that there is something very, very wrong about this strange situation and the inheritance at the center of it.

Full of spellbinding menace and told in Ruth Ware’s signature suspenseful style, this is an unputdownable thriller from the Agatha Christie of our time.

Review 5 stars

This novel derailed my reading plans, and I have no regrets. After reading a blogged review, I had to discover more so I read the sample and was swept into Hal’s world.

I felt her dilemmas as she struggled to make finances stretch – and fend off loan sharks – as she side-stepped through life as a tarot card reader. Like Hal, I lived in Brighton – although never all-but-on-the-streets. Full marks to Ruth Ware for resurrecting the West Pier – artistic licence at its best. Plus, I’ve had experiences with tarot cards – but not as a card reader.

Anyway, I knew that the answer must lie in the mysterious letter that Hal receives, tempting her with an inheritance that she knows isn’t hers. She had to attempt to claim the money, so I had to buy the book as I needed to keep reading.

She entered another world, Trepassen House, facing another class, one where money seems to grant advantages, even privileges – but there are consequences. Love can be a rarer commodity in such circles, unlike Hal’s childhood, ironically.

However, Hal and the reader are plunged into the menacing world of the country house – Gothic with wonderful details that rang true for me. I grew up in that world, so the house and its occupants came alive – except that was as much the author’s words and their phrasing.

Hal isn’t fully prepared for the Westaway family and all the secrets. Yet, she has the skills to adapt to the situation – not an easy feat as even I would struggle. Families and inheritance can be vicious whatever is at stake – I’ve been there, and it never ends, for some. I recognised too many of the family members and aspects of key supporting characters. I wanted to discover what those secrets were, and who was determined to stop Hal at any cost. Mrs Westaway might be dead, but she had left a legacy that posed questions. Why did she make that will? What did she know? What happened at Trepassen?

There were elements that were pure Daphne du Maurier, so I was amused when someone mentioned Mrs Danvers. But this was gothic intrigue meets internet revelations – but only when there was a signal and no distractions. Trepassen’s remote Cornish setting – another Rebecca echo – with its charming magpies, adds to the menacing atmosphere.

Although the third-person deep POV of Hal carries the main story-line, the unidentified first-person diary entries are a clever addition. For me, that diary added new questions and new scenarios. The entries also added red herrings for unwary readers like me. At one point, I thought I had identified the writer and resolved what was happening. Wrong. Yes, I realised before the end, but not entirely. So, I was pleasantly surprised at what had really happened, especially as all the clues were there – just cleverly disguised.

Five days after Hal pulled me from Brighton to Cornwall, I had finished this novel – that’s fast for me. I was tempted to drop everything to discover what the author had so artfully contrived – and I was never disappointed.

A well-deserved five stars.

Story – five stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Authenticity – five stars

Characters – five stars

Structure – five stars

Readability – five stars

Editing – five stars

 

Look the Other Way – a review

Thursday_horizons

Kristina Stanley is among my favourite mystery authors and when her Stone Mountain series closed with Avalanche, I wondered where we would be swept to next. (Well, if I was truthful, I had an inkling as Kristina is one of my gurus.)

So, in the next mystery, we are transported in Look the Other Way from the mountains, we are now afloat.

LookTheOtherWay_35613947

Look the Other Way

by

Kristina Stanley (Goodreads Author)

SUBMERGED BENEATH THE DEPTHS IS A SEA OF SECRETS…

A year after her Uncle Bobby mysteriously disappears in the turquoise waters surrounding the Bahamas, Shannon Payne joins her grieving aunt to trace Bobby’s last voyage. Shannon hopes the serenity of the sea might help her recover from a devastating breakup with her fiancé.

Sailing the 38-foot catamaran, A Dog’s Cat, is Captain Jake Hunter, a disillusioned cop who has sworn off women. While Shannon tries to resist her growing attraction to the rugged captain, she uncovers dark truths about her uncle’s death that might send them all to the depths.

Review 4.6 stars

I’m always ready to pick up another Kristina Stanley mystery and I wasn’t disappointed with this one.

She takes her diverse life encounters and creates great stories from them – this time tapping into her sailing experience. As a result, the characters, settings and situations ring true, and I was with Shannon Payne in the Bahamas, sailing A Dog’s Cat, attempting to resolve what happened to her Uncle Bobby, and I had to wonder when something might happen with rugged Captain Jake Hunter. Is he what he says he is?

The novel was well-structured, balancing mystery and romance while weaving the plotlines together. As a mystery writer, I attempt to unravel the threads and there were more than enough to keep me reading – even after I worked out who the antagonist was, sometime before the end.

From that point onwards, the suspense element went up some notches as my concern for Shannon’s situation grew. My mind was trying to keep ahead of her…and the villain. Getting that revelation moment right needs skill as not all readers ‘click’ in the same place – keeping them on board takes craft, and Stanley has that in boatloads.

Also, there were some clever red herrings that kept my ‘little grey cells’ buzzing for page after page. All the characters had backstories and depth, with various reasons to suspect them of committing some crime. Their actions were sometimes deceptive and there were plenty of misunderstandings as in all good mysteries.

The Bahamas setting was both enticingly exotic and hidden with subtle threats. Many of the places must be real – or felt that they should be. The author’s knowledge of boats and sailing lent the writing an authentic vibe – and from my limited experience ‘mucking around in boats’, I felt swept along with events of a maritime nature. And the characters’ relevant skills varied appropriately from those that knew their charts to those needing a bottle or a life-jacket – or both.

Look the Other Way is another excellent Kristina Stanley novel that kept me thinking, so if you like a good mystery plus sailing and romance, I would recommend this book – 4.6 stars raised to Five.

I suspect that if this isn’t meant to be the start of a new series, then popular opinion might demand the return of Shannon Payne. However, until then we can anticipate a new Kristina Stanley mystery that is in the works. For now, I’ll just recommend each one she’s already written.

Story – four stars

Setting/World-building – four stars

Authenticity – five stars

Characters – five stars

Structure – four stars

Readability – five stars

Editing – five stars

Sword of Destiny – a review

Thursday_horizons

Ever since I met Geralt of Rivia in the game, The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt and posted about it in W is for Witcher, I have been exploring the origins of that world in the creations of Andrzej Sapkowski.

After reviewing the first book in Geralt’s chronology – The Last Wish – I kept reading. I will eventually review the game but I have many hours left so today my Witcher journey continues with a review of the second collection of short stories, Sword of Destiny:

SwordOfDestiny

Sword of Destiny (Saga o Wiedźminie #2)

by

Andrzej Sapkowski

The New York Times bestselling series that inspired the international hit video game: The Witcher.

Geralt is a witcher, a man whose magic powers, enhanced by long training and a mysterious elixir, have made him a brilliant fighter and a merciless assassin. Yet he is no ordinary murderer: his targets are the multifarious monsters and vile fiends that ravage the land and attack the innocent.

This is a collection of short stories, following the adventures of the hit collection THE LAST WISH. Join Geralt as he battles monsters, demons and prejudices alike…
The Witcher series 
The Last Wish
The Sword of Destiny 
Blood of Elves
The Time of Contempt
Baptism of Fire

The Malady and Other Stories: An Andrzej Sapkowski Sampler (e-only)

Review 5 stars

I’m attempting to remain chronological in reading and reviewing Andrzej Sapkowski’s absorbing books about Geralt of Rivia, although I first met the White Wolf in The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt video game. I also know that there are some shorts that might not fit this chronology.

However, the six short stories in this second collection are on the one hand standalone but on the other, there are strong threads linking them – not least the White Wolf himself, Geralt of Rivia.

Some see him as emotionless and ruthless, but his potion-subdued emotions emerge, and he is torn by his heart and by his destiny. Sapkowski creates an evolving and complex character who has a code, relationships, habits, quirks, dreams, nightmares…and destiny.

That destiny unfolds in the stories – and I know in later books. However, the author doesn’t use a linear style for the plot, weaving the threads with flashback memories, nightmares and encounters. Some readers might find this approach confusing, but when the pieces fall into place, I sat back and admired the craft, grinning with pleasure.

Each story deals with an event in Geralt’s journey, introducing both new characters and old ones, like Dandelion, the bard and Yennefer, the sorceress. From the opening story, The Bounds of Reason, when we encounter the mysterious Borch Three Jackdaws, we realise that this is neither a black-and-white world nor classical fantasy, but a multi-faceted and richly-visualised world of many hues, some grey and muddy, some earthy and verdant, and some red as blood or purple as lilacs.

Each character, in this and the other stories, has levels of complexity, none more so than the child called Ciri in the last two stories – The Sword of Destiny and Something More.

I could write about all six stories, but other reviewers can do that better. Do I focus instead on Yennefer’s devious attractions or Dandelion’s humorous escapades? Not this time – even if they are both play memorable character-driven episodes.

Ciri is the person who fascinated me most, watching her cope with events as a child, her raw emotions and reactions, seeing her encounter Geralt and struggle together with Destiny. The whole plot comes together in their story, with seeds sown in one of the key stories in The Last Wish collection and continued in the novels (and games).

Everything takes place in a world that mirrors issues that our society still struggles with, like prejudice and racial segregation. Pogroms directed against elves and dwarves echo the horrors that the Jews suffered, totally – and witch burnings were for real. And the persecution of ‘minorities’ continues. People even dislike Witchers so abuse and exploit them – so why not send all Moslems back where they belong.

Geralt’s world is filled with monsters, and sometimes the human ones are the worst – as in ours. Sapkowski takes folklore and cleverly twists it, posing dilemmas. What side do you stand with, Order or Chaos? Are all dragons evil because a knight-errant must rescue maidens in distress? Sapkowski also raises topical issues, such as the struggle to preserve the natural world, vanishing species struggling to survive. Do we have a right to their land?

I have just taken a few enjoyable steps exploring Sapkowski’s creation, even if I’ve visited the world others built from his imagination. Playing the Witcher 3 game and reading the early books creates moments of ‘understanding’ about this complex world. The depth originates in Sapkowski’s mind, so I must keep reading.

Story – five stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Authenticity – five stars

Characters – five stars

Structure – five stars

Readability – five stars

Editing – five stars

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – a review

Thursday_horizons

Another Thursday, another review, but my brain won’t co-operate. Not because I don’t know what to review, but because I’m uninspired.

At the end of April, I posted Z is for Zelda which included the information that F Scott Fitzgerald’s wife was called Zelda. When I admitted that I’d never read any Fitzgerald, one well-read follower suggested The Curious Case of Benjamin Button as a great start to discovering him – thanks, Heather Erickson.

This review will be shorter as this is a short story.

Benjamin Button 

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Today, F. Scott Fitzgerald is known for his novels, but in his lifetime, his fame stemmed from his prolific achievement as one of America’s most gifted story writers. “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” a witty and fantastical satire about ageing, is one of his most memorable stories.

In 1860 Benjamin Button is born an old man and mysteriously begins ageing backwards. At the beginning of his life he is withered and worn, but as he continues to grow younger he embraces life — he goes to war, runs a business, falls in love, has children, goes to college and prep school, and, as his mind begins to devolve, he attends kindergarten and eventually returns to the care of his nurse.

This strange and haunting story embodies the sharp social insight that has made Fitzgerald one of the great voices in the history of American literature.

Review 4.3 stars

This cleverly crafted short story was inspired by a remark of Mark Twain’s that, “Life would be infinitely happier if we could only be born at the age of 80 and gradually approach 18.”

Ageing backwards has its advantages, and Fitzgerald explores various elements of such a life, Benjamin Button’s, showing how the happiness is balanced with frustration and misunderstanding – disadvantages. He weaves humorous moments alongside poignant ones creating a satirical commentary on society’s response to growing up, ageing, appearances and abilities.

The language may feel dated, and the social standing of the Buttons may seem alien to many, yet the attitudes and expectations of people around Benjamin ring true today.

Have our attitudes really progressed? A quick but thought-inspiring read from a master craftsman.

Story – four stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Authenticity – four stars

Characters – five stars

Structure – four stars

Readability – four stars

Editing – four stars

 

 

 

 

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe  – a review

Thursday_horizons

Today’s review post is of a book I re-read for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group (Book Club). As a child, I had read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and it became a book that I’ve re-read a few times. I admit that it’s not my favourite Narnia book – that honour goes to The Magician’s Nephew, which I was intending to read next, but the set I have is too bulky to lug around in a wheelchair.

Anyway, on with the latest review.

Lion Witch Wardrobe

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe 

(The Chronicles of Narnia (Publication Order) #1)

by

C.S. Lewis,

Pauline Baynes (Illustrations)

A full-color paperback edition of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, book two in the classic fantasy series, The Chronicles of Narnia. This edition is complete with full-color cover and interior art by the original illustrator, Pauline Baynes.

Four adventurous siblings—Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy Pevensie— step through a wardrobe door and into the land of Narnia, a land frozen in eternal winter and enslaved by the power of the White Witch. But when almost all hope is lost, the return of the Great Lion, Aslan, signals a great change . . . and a great sacrifice.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is the second book in C. S. Lewis’s classic fantasy series, which has been drawing readers of all ages into a magical land with unforgettable characters for over sixty years. This is a stand-alone read, but if you would like to explore more of the Narnian realm, pick up The Horse and His Boy, the third book in The Chronicles of Narnia.

Review 4.4 stars

This was still as enjoyable as when I read the book as a child some decades ago. and then, I read it again, a few times or more. The magic never goes when I return to Narnia and I will always encourage other kids to escape there, and to relish the magical use of words and phrases.

This book never gets old. It’s the first Narnia book that I encountered – and the first written then published, although chronologically the second.

I always felt that talking animals would be amazing and C. S Lewis makes them believable and unique characters. For me, the children were always of less interest than the creatures of Narnia – starting with Tumnus the Faun. Although in her defence, Lucy is always the most endearing child. Everyone has things that make them contrast with the others, creating a memorable cast including Aslan.

However, while giving human characteristics to a faun seems credible, it’s harder to accept animals described in similar terms. For Narnia, that works, but as an adult, I can sense it’s not being true to their real nature. But don’t let that spoil the weaving of the spell.

This is a classic fantasy for children, and disbelief is wonderfully suspended from the moment that Lucy Pevensie finds her way through the wardrobe and begins an enchanting adventure. In Narnia, we have a world where the unexpected is possible and magic is at the heart of the creation. For the older reader, this world poses a few questions. Perhaps that is why C.S Lewis felt compelled, after five books, to eventually write about the world’s origins in The Magician’s Nephew – my favourite Narnia book and chronologically Book 1.

Yes, there are aspects that are dated like attitudes to girls/women fighting, and there are the Christian undertones, but I can forget these as the whole creation transports me.                                                                                                                                                                   There is clever use of language, of humorous phrases, of adjectives to evoke emotions – both in the dialogue, and in the descriptive passages that abound, bringing Narnia alive in the imagination.

“…And you are riding not on a road nor in a park nor even on the downs, but right across Narnia, in spring, down solemn avenues of beech and across sunny glades of oak, through wild orchards of snow-white cherry trees, past roaring waterfalls and mossy rocks and echoing caverns, up windy slopes alight with gorse bushes, and across the shoulders of heathery mountains and along giddy ridges and down, down, down again into wild valleys and out into acres of blue flowers.”

I’m sure that Pauline Baynes’ illustrations were in the first copy that I read, and they helped create the vibrant images in my head of Narnia, but the words on the page were what transported me there. The most abiding image seems to be that lamp post and whenever I see a real or replica Victorian one in real-life, I drift back to that fir-fringed clearing in Narnia.

Time to introduce my great grandkids to this spellbinding world and this can be another book to encourage their imagination.

Story – four stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Authenticity – three stars

Characters – four stars

Structure – five stars

Readability – five stars

Editing – five stars

Lord of the Flies – a review

Thursday_horizons

Today’s review post is of a book read for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group (Book Club). I read William Golding’s 1954 novel Lord of the Flies in February, and this is my belated addition to the group’s discussion. This novel was chosen by club members for how the author used symbolism throughout the story.

LordofFlies18964701

Lord of the Flies

by

William Golding

At the dawn of the next world war, a plane crashes on an uncharted island, stranding a group of schoolboys. At first, with no adult supervision, their freedom is something to celebrate; this far from civilization the boys can do anything they want. Anything. They attempt to forge their own society, failing, however, in the face of terror, sin and evil. And as order collapses, as strange howls echo in the night, as terror begins its reign, the hope of adventure seems as far from reality as the hope of being rescued. Labelled a parable, an allegory, a myth, a morality tale, a parody, a political treatise, even a vision of the apocalypse, Lord of the Flies is perhaps our most memorable tale about “the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart.”

Review 4.5 stars

It’s hard to review a classic that has been around in many ways all my life from novel to screen. My first reaction was that it’s a gritty and a difficult read that may be literary in style, but the messages are there. The beast lives so why should kids be immune to its power? Yes, it could be written in other ways, – and it has been. But I understand the author’s intent (as does Stephen King).

In Lord of the Flies, symbolism is everywhere, from the moment a group of schoolboys are stranded on an uncharted island along an inevitable path to the heart-wrenching climax. As we meet the boys, each one is unique and typical of certain English schoolboys – like myself. Yet each one is an archetype that plays a specific role – none more so than Ralph, Piggy, Jack and Simon. Their distinct appearances add to their character and their roles as symbols.

The early scenes realistically show the boys forming groups, their personalities coming out in how they make friends – and in how they can quickly hurt the vulnerable people like Piggy. Tragic to see that bullying still exists today, although it is more often exposed – perhaps. (I was bullied but never like Piggy is.) However, at an early stage, it seemed that Piggy should be in charge, as the most grounded – the rational symbol of common sense…even if Ralph took that role in survivor’s eyes.

There were vivid images to establish the differences – from the choirboys like black-feathered creatures to the innocent, distracted young’uns. Sometimes, the imagery and description might feel heavily applied, but that can work if the reader lets the complexity carry their imagination to another level.

Golding paints images that show the multi-facets of symbols – like fire being the tool that nurtures society but also destroys. There is a cruel irony in the role that the signal fire plays and how the novel deals with the possibility of rescue.

Simon was crafted as both the hermit and the seer, just as the reader gets the sense that the beast is always real.

It’s hard writing this without spoilers just as it was hard to ignore the memories of Peter Brook’s film as I read, knowing what came next – and I know that the actors’ experiences mirrored the novel. Yet that inevitability as the story unfolds added to the fear that the writing engendered. There’s always that sense of the Lord of the Flies, aka the beast being unrelenting and still alive today. This might have been written in 1954 and a product of an era, and yet we live with the same underlying terrors.

Maybe our self-awareness, as portrayed most notably in Jack, has kept us from stumbling over a precipice and fuels progression as well as dangerous fascination. There is some dialogue at the end that hinted at adults not having the answer. Perhaps there is something in innocence after all.

So, a hard book to enjoy in the entertainment sense, but Golding as a master craftsman does incite a multitude of thoughts. That alone is worth four or more stars.

Story – four stars

Setting/World-building – four stars

Authenticity – five stars

Characters – five stars

Structure – five stars

Readability – four stars

Editing – four stars