Author Archives: Nollaig

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

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, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood. The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.

Wow. Honestly, wow. I’d been told this book was good, so I hoped for good. I got ‘wow’.  Uprooted is a fantasy story imbued with a feeling of fairytales – set in the surrounding areas of an evil wood and starting with a Dragon taking a girl away to his tower. This is essentially as much information as the reader is given on the back of the book, and I am grateful for having no clue where the story was going to go, because I loved just immersing myself in the world and going with the flow. My review might be a tad short simply because I want to retain that mystery for any potential readers – do not read anything about the plot before reading it!

Novik’s world is captivating and her story compelling. Just the right amount of world-building is employed to create an enchanting setting for a story that takes its time but is never dull. Although quite a chunky read, I tore through it in a couple of days, dying to find out what would happen.The prose is lyrical and light – Novik uses words like rich, vibrant colours in a painting. The descriptions of how Nieshka and the Dragon weave their magic are more metaphorical than literal, and are not just original and clever but also significantly contribute to the feeling of artistry surrounding this book. Everything about Uprooted has the feeling of an old fireside folktale being recollected for modern readers. Not just a simple tale of good and evil, there’s a real heart to this one.

I actually feel that this would be a great starting point for people wanting to get into the fantasy genre – I’m not an avid reader of fantasy myself but this book had just the right mix of all the best elements of fantasy to make it a wholly satisfying read. Highly recommended.

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The Roundabout Man by Clare Morrall

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Synopsis from Amazon:

Who is the Roundabout Man?
                He doesn’t look like a tramp, yet he lives on a roundabout in a caravan. He calls himself Quinn, the name of a boy in a world-famous series of children’s books.
                What he hopes no one will discover is that he’s the
real Quinn, immortalised as a child by his mother in her entrancing tales about a little boy’s adventures with his triplet sisters. It is this inheritance he has successfully run away from – until now. When Quinn’s reclusive existence is invaded, he has to turn and face his past, and all the uncomfortable truths it contains.

The Roundabout Man, as the synopsis reveals, relates a tale about a man who engages in self-reflection and reflection on the past he has come from – but there is so much more to this novel than just that. It feels in a lot of ways like a coming-of-age tale, despite the title character being in his sixties. Despite his age, he has ended up living on the fringes of society in an attempt to escape a past which failed to give him any real sense of self or identity. By living this way, he hopes to finally remove himself from his past, a blend of fact and children’s fiction, but it ultimately results in his attempt to discover himself once and for all.

Beyond that, though, this character-driven novel is a careful and delicate examination of the truths and fictions, as well as preconceptions and misconceptions, which people tend to have; not only about others, but about themselves. The ideal family Mumski creates in her fictional novels is contrasted with the hugely dysfunctional family she was so distant from – Quinn, his sisters and fourteen foster children. This is the central point of this examination, and it serves to beautifully illustrate how the people in our lives influence and shape our perception of ourselves.

This novel is elegantly written, a slow-paced tale full of detail. While this definitely encourages this reader to carefully digest the whole thing, I did find it at times a little difficult to push forward because of the slow pace. This, really the only fault I can find, is the reason I’ve given this novel 9 out of 10. All the same, it’s quirky, funny, insightful, and if the pace doesn’t hold you back it is a very rewarding read which I highly recommend.

9/10

Publisher: Hodder

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Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan

Synopsis from back cover:

Liga raises her two daughters in the safe haven of an alternative reality, a personal heaven granted by magic as a refuge from her earthly suffering. But the real world cannot be denied forever and when the barrier between the two worlds begins to break down, Liga’s fiery daughter, Urdda, steps across it…

Review:
Tender Morsels is essentially a retelling of the Grimms’ “Snow-White and Rose-Red“, and while all the fundamentals are there (the antithetical sisters, the dwarf and his troubles, the bear-who-was-a-man) these elements are taken and deeply woven into a whole new tale, far darker and far more exquisite – an analogy of childhood innocence and the most difficult coming into of adulthood.

The greatest element of this book is the underlying sense of unsettlement, something ‘not quite right’ about the fantasy world in which the three women live. Liga’s world feels as hazy and unreal as it truly is, and there’s always a sense of  something deeper flowing underneath, over which this heaven is pulled taut and thin and at every moment at risk of tearing, breaking through. The nature of this world inspires disregard for the way things should be, an intrinsic lack of desire to question how things are, and for a time it seems miraculous. It sounds liberating, the endless forest, the abundant river, the accommodating townsfolk, the inherent friendship of Bear and Wolf. This is how fairytales read, but for the first time (in my reading experience) here is a novel that captures that essence without removing reality entirely from our peripheral vision. In that faux perfection, it sublimely accentuates the necessary darkness in life, without which, existence merely reflects some good values once held but now rendered indefinite by the absence of anything else.

In terms of characters, there is a well-rounded bit of everything. The three main women: Urdda, representing that innate natural curiosity for meaning in life, the advance toward adulthood, for all aspects of existence; not just the safest. Branza, her counterpart, who suffers a childlike withdrawal and who would will away real life. Liga, the source, who is aware of the former, but chooses the latter until it simply cannot be denied. There is a wonderful empathy in this story with those who would hide away from pain and loss and trauma, but there is also the illumination of immense possibility – the possibilities of real life which cannot exist without the risk of painfully failing to attain them. All these allusions and illusions contrast with characters who verify and nullify fears and doubts – the greedy littlee-man whose presence throws Heaven out of whack, Teasel who would soil it, the tender-hearted Bear whose sympathy and love is the first of a man’s heart extended to Liga. Muddy Annie, a world-weary woman who would give those their escapes and Miss Dance, that reassuring figure of authority,  a source of sense and right.

The novel is beautifully written; surprising easy to read despite the implicitly morbid events of Liga’s past. Fortunately the worst in over in the first 60 pages, because it really is a tough, heart-breaking read, and I must admit I’m surprised it’s classed as a Young Adult novel. It certainly begs a mature and open-minded reader, regardless of the age. If that reader is you, however, I can’t recommend this novel enough. Shocking, gripping, poignant, delicate. It is incredibly unique, achieving and perfecting absolutely that troubling juxtaposition of fairytale and reality; culminating elegantly in the most fitting realisations of life.

9/10

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The Baker Street Phantom by Fabrice Bourland



Synopsis from publisher’s website:

In the spring of 1932 the private detective agency of Messrs. Singleton and Trelawney quietly opens its doors in Bloomsbury.
The first person to call on their services is a worried Lady Arthur Conan Doyle. She tells of mysterious events at 221 Baker Street – and a premonition that the London murders signal terrible danger for mankind.
Their investigation will take our intrepid heroes into a world of séances and spirits. Aided by the most famous detective of all time, they must draw on their knowledge of the imaginary to find the perpetrators of some very real and bloody crimes before they strike again…

Review:
In short, I absolutely loved this book. If books could be caricatures, this would be a blended caricature of detective and sensation novels. It takes the most thrilling fundamental aspects of both genres and emphasizes them wonderfully  in a slightly comedic manner, which might feel like a parody if it didn‘t feel so much like a loving tribute by the author. So, the first thing I would say to any potential readers looking for a modern Christie or Conan Doyle equivalent, this book is not what you‘re looking for. It is however well worth reading. It’s a mix of crime fiction and supernatural fantasy – essentially imbuing the classic detective novel with an element of the Gothic sensation novel. It is a light, easy read which never takes itself too seriously.

The writing is very engaging, the story inspired by a historical photo and featuring historical figures. It is well enough researched to give it a satisfying level of depth despite it‘s short length- even including fascinating footnotes about Arthur Conan Doyle, his master creation Sherlock Holmes and his other works.  Fast-paced and featuring twists at every corner, it is most exciting because neither the reader nor the characters have a minute to pause for breath.  All the same, you quickly get a feel for the likeable characters and the narrative is accentuated perfectly by their interesting back-stories. The two main characters, Singleton and Trelawney take a little bit of a back seat to the plot; considering it’s their introduction I thought there might be a bit more time spent with just them, but solid character types are established and I expect they will develop brilliantly in later titles. As previously said, it’s quite a short novel, so it actually works in it’s favour that the author doesn’t get too bogged down in gratuitous detail- there’s plenty of time for development as the series progresses!

I adored the element of the supernatural in this story. The author pays tribute to some of the greatest Gothic literary figures of the Victorian era not only with the classic style of this story, but with their actual inclusion in this novel. As an avid fan of these famous figures I must admit to giggling with delight when I realised who they were. The story is exaggerated, fantastical and darkly humorous at times. It’s also quite original, and I was more than happy to suspend disbelief in order to enjoy the supernatural elements. Lastly, I cannot possibly review this book without mentioning: the classic feel of this novel is enhanced by the beautiful cover art, a vintage style which features the effect of faded, bent cover edges. Absolutely perfect for the novel.

Overall, this is a very exciting debut novel, which I think should be enjoyed by fans of crime, mystery, suspense, classic Victorian detective fiction, fantasy, the supernatural – so very many things! A very promising introduction to the Singleton And Trelawney series; I’ll definitely be looking out for more.

9/10

Publisher: Gallic

R.R.P: £7.99

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Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma

Synopsis from Amazon:

She is pretty and talented – sweet sixteen and never been kissed. He is seventeen; gorgeous and on the brink of a bright future. And now they have fallen in love. But …They are brother and sister.

Review:
Short synopsis, but what more needs to be said? The term ‘food for thought’ comes to mind and is immediately redefined by this novel. Emotionally driven, unrelenting, shocking but not gratuitous – this story is the epitome of open-minded topical address. I’m not a prudish reader – in fact the more trying a novel is, the more inclined I am to have a go at it. That said, I don’t think anyone with a sibling (or many without) could possibly read this without the occasional bout of discomfort. Particularly during those (surprisingly frequent) occasions where you just KNOW what’s coming next, you might find yourself having to put the book down for a moment, take a breath, and brace yourself.

First and foremost, however, Suzuma creates an incredibly authentic, insular sense of family through the emotional, social and financial tensions and strains this unit of characters suffer as they struggle through daily life – 5 siblings dealing with issues like innocence, rebelliousness and social anxiety. With very few peripheral characters, it’s easy to get lost in this small domestic world as you become familiar with the complex workings of their every-day life. Nothing is ‘normal’ here, an alcoholic mother, an absentee father, constantly ducking social services – the family is a self-contained safe-haven, a prejudice-free zone where Maya and Lochan take on parental roles, and later where their love is free to flourish. The novel moves from dealing with common familial and social issues which will resonate with many readers, to dealing with something which, at first glance, inspires revulsion, but which almost seems like a natural progression for the two eldest characters.

And that’s the ethical debate every reader will have with themselves – it’s impossible not to wish Maya and Lochan could be together somehow, not to feel the natural progression of their love – and then suddenly remembering what it is you’re wishing for, how unnatural most of us feel it should be. That is the biggest achievement of the author in this novel – so successfully creating that moral opposition, rooting it within the reader and pushing it as far as possible critically and emotionally. The entire novel is beautifully written, and the core theme of incest is approached carefully, without bias (in a dual narrative) and with great credibility (Maya and Lochan are as torn as any reader will be) – but also without compromise.

Despite the unsettling subject matter, Forbidden is an amazingly compelling and often fast paced read – I completed it in less than 48 hours, despite pausing regularly to digest the difficult content. You will, without doubt, get caught up in this disturbing, fantastical, fantasy world where love runs deeper than blood; but at the end of the day fantasies are mere whims and there’s a severe price to pay for taking on the world and going against society. Harsh, beautiful, inspiring and utterly heart-breaking, this is a novel which will challenge your morals, really get you thinking, and stay with you for a long, long time.

10/10

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Cinema Blue by Sue Rulliére

Synopsis from Publisher:

29-year-old Frankie is scarred by events in her past. Hoping to make a fresh start, she rents a chambre de bonne at the top of an apartment block in Paris. There she meets the mysterious Antoine and is drawn into the murky world he inhabits—a world where nothing is quite as it seems.
Set against the vivid backdrop of Paris and drawing inspiration from the Surrealist movement, Cinema Blue is an intense and disturbing story. It is told from two viewpoints: Frankie, determined to build a new life for herself, and Francesca, the woman her husband insisted she should be. As Frankie struggles to establish her own identity, Francesca haunts her dreams and her waking life.

Review:
‘Unique’ is the first word that springs to mind when I think about this novel. In style, execution, story, characterisation; in every way, unique. ‘Engrossing’ and ‘emotive’ are another two. The story is so absorbing you’ll find yourself trying to slow down in order to savour the beautiful language. You would not think this was a debut novel, so refined and perfectly executed is the narrative – lyrical and powerful but easy to read, containing all the artistry Frankie herself has lost. Don’t be fooled though, it’s no pretty picture we’re painted. Cinema Blue is a dark and often deeply unsettling story about the complex nature of human emotion, attachment, detachment, deception and abuse.

One of the most defining aspects of the novel is the lack of chapters, and division into only three sections. I’m not usually one for books without chapters, but the fragmented collection of events and memories beautifully accentuates the nature of this story – reminiscence and the half-assimilated daily experiences of a tumultuous mind. The writing flows exactly like a thought process without ever being meandering or confusing – it remains lucid – and retains all the gripping mystery and suspense of someone gradually unfolding their story to you.

The other defining aspect is the switch between first and third person, representing the present day Frankie (third person) and her recollection of her past self, Francesca (first person). Personally I found this not only highlighted brilliantly the difference between who Frankie was and who she is now, but also provided access to the tragedies she once suffered, while creating a sense of detachment in association with her current, broken self. This is furthered by her isolation in Paris, a beautifully depicted backdrop which she cannot become a part of. All the life and emotion is gone, the subjective nature of experience given way to an analytic, unfeeling objectivity, stirred only by the mystery of a handsome stranger with an invitation into his surrealist world.

The characters are authentic and accessible – Frankie’s frailty, Antoine’s charm, JP’s intimidation – and even the secondary characters will evoke sympathy if not empathy. The emotions are genuine and the story genuinely moving. The overall ensemble results in a rich, accomplished and unique debut novel.

8/10

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Hector And The Search For Happiness by Francois Lelord


Synopsis from back cover:

Hector is a successful young psychiatrist. He’s very good at treating patients in real need of his help. But many people he sees have no health problems: they’re just deeply dissatisfied with their lives. Hector can’t do much for them, and it’s beginning to depress him. So when a patient tells him he looks in need of a holiday, Hector decides to set off around the world to find out what makes people everywhere happy (and sad), and whether there is such a thing as the secret of true happiness.

This ‘modern fable’ is indeed just that – written as though for a child with simple, innocent observations not just about the nature of happiness, but about the whole world Hector discovers. The novel is short and fast paced. The idea of searching for happiness could be a very complex one, and it is one, as Hector notes, upon which religions are founded, endless scientific studies are conducted. The search as portrayed through Hector’s naïve eyes, however, is boiled down to an uncomplicated, unaffected set of observations; and while its light-hearted humor and cartoony feel make it an engaging and easy read, that isn’t to say it isn’t thought-provoking. The author occasionally captures massive ideas, powerful sentiments and universal truths in simple, offhand statements, belaying a cynical wisdom and witty intelligence beneath the outward style.

Hector’s unbiased attitude warrants no moral judgement of anything he encounters – or anyone. He travels between China, Africa, unnamed countries and associates with monks, criminals and other people from all walks of life, hoping to find a theory revealing the secret to true happiness. The serious nature of some situations Hector finds himself in is viewed through a narrow lens which looks only for yet another lesson about happiness. This morally unbiased observation of events gives a beneficially clear focus to the story and leaves the nature of all else for the reader to ponder. Among the diverse character cast there also happens to be a woman in every country, and while the innocent writing style romanticizes these encounters, the overall portrayal of women in the novel does (I feel) leave a little to be desired.

All this adventure is packed into only 162 pages and my only real criticism is that the book moves at such a pace that it ends up unable to adequately curb its momentum towards the end; I found it’s conclusion to be a little rushed and unsatisfying. The fact that the author is a psychiatrist slips through in some passages which feel a little forced and theoretical, particularly when it comes down to gathering Hector’s discoveries all together, but these aspects aside, it’s easy to see why the original French story was so successful. Hector & The Search For Happiness is in fact the first in a series of Hector’s Journeys, and also the inspiration for an upcoming film. It’s a charming, lighthearted tale which will make you smile and consider what you might find in your own search for happiness.

8/10

Publisher: Gallic
Release Date: April 2010

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The Titanic Experience by Beau Riffenburgh

The Titanic Experience
Beau Riffenburgh
(2008)

Synopsis from Amazon:

Nearly a century on, the fate of the Titanic remains the worst disaster in seafaring history. Dozens of books have charted the all-too-short life of the Titanic but this is the first to contain 30 fascinating facsimile items of Titanic memorabilia. These give the reader a unique and compelling insight into life on board the Titanic as she ventured out into the icy seas of the North Atlantic in April 1912

Review: When such a wealth of information as regards the legend of Titanic exists, it’s difficult to know where to begin reading. While the selling point of The Titanic Experience seems to be the 20+ facsimile documents included, I can without hesitation recommend this as one of the most comprehensive general texts available. Although only 63 pages long, it covers in considerable detail the competitive development in ocean liners during the 1800s which led to the concept of Titantic and her sister ships, Olympic and Britannic; right through the construction, launch, sinking, rediscovery and representation in books, movies and on stage of the ill-fated ship. Heavily (if not melancholically and beautifully)illustrated by paintings, posters, and, in particular, photographs, the book brings a level of realism to the tragedy I had not before encountered, and also to the many crew and passengers, famous and anonymous, survivors and dead. Small fact boxes documenting statistics and figures (including food and cutlery brought aboard, estimated departmental crew figures etc)accentuate the more general overview of the main text.

Many key figures are traced throughout the events with regard to their actions, famous people(Molly Brown, the band that went on playing etc)but also slightly lesser known persons such as Harold Bride. Bride was the Junior Wireless Officer aboard Titanic and as the book chronologically documents the disaster, his story is gradually told. Recipient of some ice warnings throughout the 13th April, the officer who relayed distress calls to the Carpathia, who went down with his ship; surviving 45 minutes trapped under a lifeboat in an air pocket with all but his feet in tact, the man who spent the night with another Harold, (Cottam, the Wireless Officer aboard the Carpathia) relaying the names of survivors until his arrival in New York where, unable to walk, he was carried away. His is but one of many stories chronologically interwoven with the likes of Stanley Lord, captain of the Californian, J. Bruce Ismay, Managing Director of the White Star Line, Captain Smith, and many unknowns.

The facsimilies include blueprints, posters, advertisements, the telegrams exchanged between the Carpathia and Titanic the night of the disaster, later propositions for new lifeboats and safety measures; arguably my favourite is the four page letter handwritten by Captain Stanley Lord attempting to clear his name of the fabricated accusation that the Califorian was the infamous Mystery Ship seen by Titanic which sailed into the night without offering aid. My second favourite is a typed letter from the sons of Ismay and Lord regarding the inaccurate portrayal of their fathers in the 1958 film “A Night To Remember”. Later pages include the details of aftershock of the event, the impact on sea travel developments, on the survivors lives and the controversy surrounding recovered artefacts from the wreckage.

All in all, the book spans over 150 years of information relevant to the creation, destruction and subsequent legend of Titanic. A condensed and concise modern text, it’s suitable for both the new Titantic explorer or old enthusiast. It comes complete with a list of recommended further reading, including books written by survivors of the disaster, and a list of related websites, making it the perfect base resource for further study. Highly, highly recommended.

Rating: 10/10

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The Absence by Bill Hussey

Synopsis from Beautiful Books:

It was a tragic accident. That’s what his family told Joe Nightingale, but the boy is tormented by sinister visions of his mother s death.
Seven months after the fatal car crash, the Nightingales learn they have inherited an old house from a distant relative, the reclusive Muriel Sutton. Hoping to escape the shadows of the past, they decide to spend the summer at Daecher’s Mill. But darker shadows await them…
Who are the guests that have been brought here over the years? Why did the late Muriel Sutton murder her little sister, Alice? And what is the connection between Joe and this lonely Fenland millhouse? Something is moving in the attic. It looks and sounds like a little girl, but its eyes are old and its voice runs like water…
It is a weaver of shadows. A creature of Absence…

After the success that was Bill Hussey’s debut novel, Through A Glass, Darkly (TAGD), one might have wondered how exactly he might follow it up in this, his second offering.

His writing has developed and become more focused since his debut. Rather than taking a wholly supernatural spin on things, it emphasizes real guilt and the fears that people suffer. These are recreated by a supernatural force, creating immensely frightening scenarios from the sorts of everyday emotional conflicts everybody experiences. Possibly the best aspect of Hussey’s first novel was his ability to make the grey area between good and bad in his characters prominant, and he brings this to new depths in The Absence. Hussey explores alcoholism, suicide, the guilt inherent in the destruction of one’s own life, family or friend’s lives. The darker side of the Nightingale family is the focal point of the story, their secrets, their pasts, become the very things they fear the most. The story is layered with supernatural events and an ancient being at their roots, but the tools of it’s trade are natural human fears, expanded and realised in terrifying ways.

Several aspects of the novel reflect aspects found in TAGD. The most obvious is the initial return to the chilling setting of the Fens, the equivilant of settling (or unsettling!) into familiar territory and knowing you’re in for a treat. Additionally, it’s richly layered with character histories, ominous atmospheres, and interspersed with interludes which highlight realistic attention to detail; overall Hussey’s distinctive style has created yet another novel that’s pretty much impossible to put down. There is a constant, almost morbid fascination inspired in the reader, with the stories these characters have to tell, and a desire to learn the fate that awaits them. Several stories are gradually interwoven into a larger picture which culminates in a fast paced, aptly chilling ending.

Hussey’s style consists partially in an awareness that it’s often difficult to pin down a true villian, and in The Absence really explores the idea that there is no strict embodiment of good and evil, there are only fears and perspectives. All in all, while wrought of the same raw talent, the novel’s execution is arguably more concise and even a little sharper than it’s predecessor, a sure sign that Hussey is on the up and up.

9/10

Published by: Beautiful Books

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The Wrecking Ball by Christiana Spens

Synopsis from the back cover:

The Wrecking Ball intimately follows four friends as their summer reaches a crescendo of music, heat and hedonism. Rich and degenerate, Alice, Harry, Rose and Hugo traverse the clubs and crevices of London, music festivals disturbing the English countryside, parties in Manhattan and break-downs in hotel rooms. A satirical glimpse into a world of excess and distress, The Wrecking Ball is an invitation into an intoxicating swirl of parties, trips and debauchery. As the jet-set crash and madness dominates the glaring summer, the dream of decadence becomes a nightmare of consequential decay. The Wrecking Ball is the low-down on the comedown of a generation: what happens when the party ends?

The Wrecking Ball is a highly intimate but artistic view of a fast paced high life spiralling inevitably downward for four young people caught up in a world of fashion, parties and abuse. The novel follows each of the four narrators as they describe their constant attempt to mentally break free from the confines of the pressures of society, becoming oblivious to the world through the physical abuse of drugs and alcohol. They sweep along moment by moment, surviving the lows only by making it to the next high, and disregarding the accumulating, inevitable conesquences of living dangerously. Surprisingly, if not disturbingly honest, Spens’ beautiful prose illustrates a raw, constantly moving insight into how destructive the high life can really be, and touches on the more philosophical desires of people striving to understand themselves and what life can or should be.

Perhaps the only possible downside is the lack of individuality of the characters, in that just by reading their voices I wouldn’t be able distinguish them. They all spoke with the striking articulation of the author and so seemed to blend into a hazy unanimity. This also has upsides, however. It unites the four main characters into one solid perspective of the world, which in it’s own way strengthens the picture the author portrays. Each character, despite the unanimous voice, has his or her own personal demons to face, be it drugs, family, inability to make connections, and a more fundamental desire to find a place in it all, something universal to every reader. A highly unique and compelling read; darkly sublime.

8/10

Published by: Beautiful Books

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