Uprooted by Naomi Novik

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Title: Uprooted
Author:
 Naomi Novik
Publisher:  Macmillan
Date of Publication:  21 May 2015
Number of Pages: 438
Read between: 09-11 August 2017

Rating:  stars

I had no expectations for this book, it was simply on my listed of ARC’s that needed to be read. What I was very pleased with was the story, the writing, the world created, the characters, the plot arc, everything.

Are there other readers out there who will disagree with me? Going by some of the reviews of Goodreads, vehemently yes.

Do I think they’re wrong? No, because there are books where the roles are reversed (see Gone Girl, Girl on the Train for just two examples).

However, some reviews are so nasty I can’t help but wonder what else was going on in their lives that they are so hate filled.

Were there problems with the book? Sure. Every single book published has problems.

But what did I like? I liked the mythology that Novik introduced and weaved through the pages. I liked the threads that almost felt like they didn’t mean anything that were suddenly tied up into an interesting crescendo and I liked that while Agnieszka might have been bullied and belittled by Dragon to start with, their relationship is far more nuanced than what some have called, a 50 Shades of Grey relationship. The two books don’t even compare.

For me, it was the magic of the world that Novik created. It was the overall believable nature of the characters, within a mythical world that kept me reading. In a world where everything is getting progressively more and more intolerant, it was nice to disappear inside Novik’s world for a few days.

Would I recommend this book? Yes. Anyone who wants to get away from this world, who likes fiction, who likes European mythology, who likes tales of battles, and redemption. This is a book for you.

 

Summary: Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, ambitious wizard, known only as the Dragon, to keep the wood’s powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman must be handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as being lost to the wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows – everyone knows – that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia – all the things Agnieszka isn’t – and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But no one can predict how or why the Dragon chooses a girl. And when he comes, it is not Kasia he will take with him.

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The Dog Master: A novel of the first dog by W. Bruce Cameron

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Title: The Dog Master: A novel of the first dog
Author:
 W Bruce Cameron
Publisher:  Forge Books
Date of Publication:  04 August 2015
Number of Pages: 416
Read between: 07-08 August 2017

Rating:  3-star

Summary: Thirty thousand years ago, ice was storming the planet. Among the species forced out of the trees and onto the steppes by the advancing cold was modern man, who was both predator and prey.

No stranger to the experiences that make us human–a mother’s love and a father’s betrayal, tribal war and increasing famine, political intrigue and forbidden love, joy and hope and devastating loss–our ancestors competed for scant resources in a brutal landscape.

Mankind stood on the cold brink of extinction…but they had a unique advantage over other species, a new technology–domesticated wolves.

Only a set of extraordinary circumstances could have transformed one of these fierce creatures into a hunting companion, a bodyguard, a soldier, and a friend. The Dog Master by W. Bruce Cameron is an evocative glimpse of prehistory, an emotional coming-of-age saga, a thrilling tale of survival against all odds, and the exciting, imaginative story of the first dog.

Review: You know those books you postpone reading because part of you knows you’ll dislike it but part of you feels obliged because it was a Netgalley ARC? This is one of those. To clarify though – I didn’t like it but I didn’t not like it either. Indifferent is probably the best word. I don’t feel as though my life has been changed for having spent a day reading it but I was on holidays so I didn’t lose anything either. The only note I made was, “not what I expected – kind of repetitive but I can’t not finish”.

Looking back, The Dog Master is over simplified in terms of the historical aspect. There was a kind of stasis that didn’t sit well for me. In trying to portray hardships faced by the different kin / ethnic groups, it ended up feeling sanitised and clean. A lot of the problems had no resolution and there was no attempt at correlating the tensions between the different groups.

There was a lot of othering as well – we start with the Kindred and automatically, from this name, we’re supposed to understand that these are the good guys but with an internal bad guy. Then there’s the Wolfen who, as the name suggests, follow the wolf and throughout the text are, supposedly, no better than animals and these two groups all try to evade the Cohort, because they just kill and rape everything that moves. It was all a bit melodramatic.

As you’re reading this review, you’re probably thinking, yes, humans but what about the first dog. Well this is where the tenuous link between the title and the content comes into play. A female wolf is attacked by a lion and subsequently births her pups in a cave. She’s found by Mal who looks after them and ultimately, keeps the female pup with him until she’s tame and loyal. It’s how most animals are tamed or broken. There’s nothing new here. As for it being “the first time”, well, it’s all just a bit easy.

Would I recommend this book to other readers? Yes. Do I think it’s worth the time of reading it when there’s so much else out there? Eh. Maybe. Would I call The Dog Master an epic or a masterpiece as some of my reading brethren have? No.

Between Sisters written by Cathy Kelly

Between Sisters

Title: Between Sisters
Author: Cathy Kelly
Publisher:  Orion Publishing Ltd.
Date of Publication:  08 October 2015
Number of Pages: 368

Rating: 3-star

Summary: Cassie has spent her married life doing everything right – making sure her children have the perfect life, being a devoted wife to her husband and a dutiful daughter-in-law to his mother, even when her patience has been tested. Although it has left her so exhausted that ‘wine o’clock’ comes a little earlier each afternoon. But she wouldn’t change a thing, she’s certain, until temptation comes her way…

Her sister Coco runs a vintage dress shop and sure, she’s shied away from commitment over the years. It’s just that Coco believes men complicate things more than necessary, and she’s got enough to contend with looking after her business and her staff, who seem to rely on her more and more for relationship advice. But who is she to give advice, when her own life is so simple?

Watching over them is grandmother Pearl, tucked away in her little house in Delaney Square with her chickens, busy with her poker club and a secret lover. But something is keeping her awake at night. Was she right to do what she did all those years ago? Surely, if she were right, she wouldn’t be thinking about it so often now…?

And then there’s Elsa, the polished face of daytime TV, who’s battled demons of her own in the past and come out on top. Now Elsa faces one final battle – but this one will require more bravery than anything that’s come before.
Review: This is the review where I contradict myself about not being a fan of chick-lit and only ever wanting to read it on Kindle when I have it to review because, Between Sisters, I really quite enjoyed.

I felt so many similarities between myself and Cassie and even with Coco at different times. There were also a lot of similarities between my sister and I. Admittedly, there were a few moments where the happenings were a little contrived (the perfect boyfriend and the break up over nothing) and even, to a degree, the easy coming together of individuals.

Between Sisters is a nice read for anyone wanting to escape life for a little while. It’s easy to read, and ultimately, it’s a non-offensive bit of fluff.

 

The Mare written by Mary Gaitskill

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Title: The Mare
Author: Mary Gaitskill
Publisher:  Serpent’s Tail
Date of Publication:  20 April 2017
Number of Pages: 439

Rating: 4-star

Summary: Ginger is in her forties and a recovering alcoholic when she meets and marries Paul. When it becomes clear it’s too late for her to have a baby of her own, she tries to persuade him to consider adoption, but he already has a child from a previous marriage and is ten years older than her, so doesn’t share her longing to be a parent at any cost. As a compromise, they sign up to an organisation that sends poor inner-city kids to stay with country families for a few weeks in the summer, and so one hot July day eleven year old Velveteen Vargas, a Dominican girl from one of Brooklyn’s toughest neighbourhoods, arrives in their lives, and Ginger is instantly besotted.

Bemused by her gentle middle-aged hosts, but deeply intuitive in the way of clever children, Velvet quickly senses the longing behind Ginger’s rapturous attention. While Velvet returns her affection, she finds the intensity of it bewildering. Velvet’s own passions are more excited by the stables nearby, where she discovers she has a natural talent for riding and a deep affinity with the damaged horses cared for there. But when Ginger begins to entertain fantasies of adopting her, things start to get complicated for everyone involved.

This is a heartbreakingly honest and profoundly moving portrait of the nearly unbridgeable gaps between people, and the way we long for fairytale endings despite knowing that they don’t exist.

Review: There are so many reasons why this book shouldn’t work in the format that Gaitskill has written it. Each chapter continues the preceding chapter but is told by a different character in a completely different voice. The first chapters are primarily told by the two main characters but as the book progresses, extra voices are included. Instead of becoming a confusing riot of information, Gaitskill keeps the story flowing and the prose is so concise, there’s almost no moment where the reader is left behind. I know I’ve read books in the past where the story is told by two characters and it has been a mess. I have to confess, this is what I thought was going to happen with this book and it was wonderful to be proved wrong. It’s a testament to the skill of Gaitskill that she created this work.

The tone of the book is well measured and believable. There’s no moment where it becomes over sentimental or preachy. The emotional violence is well handled and the damage of each character is natural without being overwrought. I liked the manipulative Velvet and the way she created her relationship with Ginger. I liked that Ginger had awkward relationships with her mother and sister. Unlike some readers who state there was prejudice in Gaitskill’s writing, I didn’t find that. The author was almost completely absent from the book. It’s rare when you find a book that is written specifically for and by the characters. There was no Mary Sue element – no desire to prove how clever Gaitskill is compared to others. The story is so strong that it is a self-sufficient narrative and doesn’t need interpretation.

With all of that said, it’s not a book I would feel comfortable recommending to everyone. Adventurous readers, yes. My Mum? Maybe not. Regardless, if you decide to read The Mare you’re going to have an experience that you probably weren’t expecting.

 

Summer Secrets written by Jane Green

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Title: Summer Secrets
Author: Jane Green
Publisher:  St Martin’s Press
Date of Publication:  23 June 2015
Number of Pages: 368

Rating: 1 Star

Summary: June, 1998: At twenty seven, Catherine Coombs, also known as Cat, is struggling. She lives in London, works as a journalist, and parties hard. Her lunchtimes consist of several glasses of wine at the bar downstairs in the office, her evenings much the same, swigging the free booze and eating the free food at a different launch or party every night. When she discovers the identity of the father she never knew she had, it sends her into a spiral. She makes mistakes that cost her the budding friendship of the only women who have ever welcomed her. And nothing is ever the same after that.

June, 2014: Cat has finally come to the end of herself. She no longer drinks. She wants to make amends to those she has hurt. Her quest takes her to Nantucket, to the gorgeous summer community where the women she once called family still live. Despite her sins, will they welcome her again? What Cat doesn’t realize is that these women, her real father’s daughters, have secrets of their own. As the past collides with the present, Cat must confront the darkest things in her own life and uncover the depths of someone’s need for revenge.

Review: Part of the tag-line for this book is “Jane Green delivers her second blockbuster novel of 2015,” and I can’t help but wonder if maybe she shouldn’t slow down and concentrate on producing quality over quantity.

It’s hard to review a book where there is very little content to work with and even less in the way of original ideas that weren’t glaringly obvious even before the half-hearted set up. Overall, Summer Secrets is the worst kind of chick-lit. The pedestrian, the predictable and the embarrassing. On top of this, I even skipped ahead three chapters and picked up the “story” without any problem. Cat, the protagonist isn’t terribly likeable and the outcome of the relationship with her sister seems so farfetched, I have difficulty believing anyone believes it.

Thankfully, because I was given an advanced copy (yes, I know, I’m very far behind) from Netgalley, I could at least read on Kindle and not cringe every time I pulled it out of my bag.

I will be saying no thanks to future books by Green. Life’s too short for this kind of dreck.

 

Best Adventure – Matthew Reilly

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What a wild ride! This book is so much fun. Anyone who has read Reilly’s earlier work will have an idea of what to expect. For anyone reading Reilly for the first time, you’re in for a blast. Think Hollywood blockbuster for the page.

What surprises me is how many negative reviews for The Great Zoo of China appear on Goodreads. Seriously, what do people want? Most of the criticisms are shallow and snobby and I’m really shocked. Reilly even says, to paraphrase, he wants readers to enjoy his books and have a good time, which I did. I can understand people might find some of the elements cliched but so are a lot of books – think stereotypical Mills and Boon, half the fantasy I see being published or the young adult, I need to have a boyfriend to be a real girl, garbage, Walking Dead or half the dreck out of Hollywood lately. If these are the dominating books on your shelves, you will never convince me your argument is valid. Never. Ever.

Suspend your disbelief, go with the flow and enjoy yourself.