Lazy Saturday Review: The Amber Fury by Natalie Haynes #BookReview

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I started doing ‘lazy Saturday reviews’ as a way of getting reviews done in just 30 mins, and they proved to be quite popular. They are quick and snappy, and concentrate less on the plot and writing and more on my general feelings about said book. They generally end up being a bit of a rant. My fave!

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Title: The Amber Fury
Author: Natalie Haynes
Series: N/A
Format: Paperback, 320 pages
Publication Details:  November 6th 2014 by Corvus
Genre(s): General Fiction; Mystery
Disclosure? Nope, borrowed from Dora!

Goodreads // Waterstones

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When you open up, who will you let in?

Alex Morris has lost everything: her relationship, her career and her faith in the future. Moving to Edinburgh to escape her demons, Alex takes a job teaching at a Pupil Referral Unit. It’s a place for kids whose behaviour is so extreme that they cannot be taught in a normal classroom. Alex is fragile with grief and way out of her depth.

Her fourth-year students are troubled and violent. In desperation to reach them, Alex turns to the stories she knows best. Greek tragedy isn’t the most obvious way to win over such damaged children, yet these tales of fate, family and vengeance speak directly to them.

Enthralled by the bloodthirsty justice of the ancient world, the teenagers begin to weave the threads of their own tragedy – one that Alex watches, helpless to prevent.

Review

I really enjoyed this story of a theatre director who ends up teaching troubled teens in Edinburgh following a personal tragedy.

It’s one of those books that spoon feeds you most of the story but omits the most important piece of the puzzle to keep you guessing.

We know that Alex’s vulnerable state has weakened her judgement and as a result the children in her care have suffered. We discover that one of the teens in particular has done something terrible, and that Alex perhaps had the opportunity to stop that from happening but failed.

I enjoyed the writing and the setting; I could tell that the author had spent time in Edinburgh where it was set. The characters were well developed and interesting, and Alex was a great protagonist. Her vulnerability had the potential to get a bit woe-is-me, but her passion for the Greek Tragedies she taught and for helping the children stopped that from happening. 

Overall, I thought The Amber Fury was a good, solid read, if not a teeny bit anti-climatic! 

unicorn rating 3

The Quality of Silence by Rosamund Lupton

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Title: The Quality of Silence
Author: Rosamund Lupton
Series: N/A
Edition: Digital ARC, 384 pages
Publication Details: July 2nd 2015 by Little, Brown
Genre(s): Thriller
Disclosure? Yep! I received a free, advanced copy in exchange for an HONEST review!

Goodreads // Pre-order/Purchase

On 24th November Yasmin and her deaf daughter Ruby arrived in Alaska. Within hours they were driving alone across a frozen wilderness. Where nothing grows. Where no one lives. Where tears freeze . And night will last for another 54 days.

They are looking for Ruby’s father. Travelling deeper into a silent land. They still cannot find him. And someone is watching them in the dark.

Review

The Quality of Silence is an assault on your senses. You can feel the snow, smell the petrol, and see harsh landscape of Alaska so vividly, it’ll have you grabbing for your fur-lined coat, such is the magic of Lupton’s writing.

Ruby idolises her father; he gets understands her in a way that her mum Yasmin doesn’t. But Ruby’s father, a wildlife photo-journo and film-maker has been involved in a terrible plane accident in the remote depths of Alaska and hasn’t come to meet them like he should have. Instead, they are greeted by the devastating news that he is dead. His wedding ring and his jacket, the only things remaining from the wreckage.

Yasmin, who loves her husband yet feels estranged from him, came to Alaska to try to make their marriage work one last time. After hearing the news she refuses to believe that he is dead. She will believe it only when she sees it, but the police refuse to help, and have stopped the search, adamant that no one could have survived.

And so Yasmin and Ruby, set off on the most dangerous road trip imaginable, to find Daddy, to find the husband, to keep hope alive.

This book BLEW ME AWAY. I know people say that all the time, but woah…it was just amazing.

I loved the setting, the characters – especially Ruby – who is AMAZING, and the slow, mysterious reveal of what happened to Ruby’s dad…it was all amazing.

The only thing stopping me from giving this 5/5 and claiming it to be the book of the year, is because it took me a while to adjust to the constant switching of perspective. Sometimes, this style can be a deal-breaker for me, but after an adjustment period, Lupton really managed to pull it off!

unicorn rating 4

You can pre-order The Quality of Silence from Waterstones now.

Blog Tour: Rush of Shadows by Catherine Bell (Review)

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I’m delighted to host a tour stop today for Catherine Bell’s Rush of Shadows, depicting the conflict between settlers and natives in 1800’s Calfornia. It was a rollercoaster of a read!

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Title: Rush of Shadows
Author: Catherine Bell
Series: n/a
Publication date: October 15th 2014
Genres: Historical Fiction; Literary Fiction
Purchase from: Amazon

Synopsis
When American pioneers set their hearts on a California valley where Indians had been living for thousands of years, a period of uneasy appraisal emerged, followed by conflict and soon enough by genocide. The epic greed and violence of the 1850′s and 60′s has been brushed aside by history, conveniently forgotten in the pride of conquest. Willful ignorance and cruelty, terror and desperation were common in that time, but there were moments too of nobility and compassion, ingenuity and forgiveness, qualities which might have prevailed if certain things had been different. Rush of Shadows brings to life two freethinking women, Mellie, a white, and Bahe, an Indian, who enact the clash of their cultures, endure, and come to an unlikely understanding.

My Review

I’ve always had a weird fascination with this period of history, despite not actually knowing much about it (shamefully). I remember a book my dad had when I was growing up which was essentially just photos of Native American Indians going about their lives, and I thought it was beautiful and magical.

So when I came across this book and was asked to be part of the blog tour, I was delighted. And, I still am!

Rush of Shadows is about Mellie and Law, a recently married couple who become some of the very first settlers in an area of California, an area inhabited by Indians.

Mellie is sweet-hearted yet extremely strong-willed, with a degree of irreverence about her. You get the feeling from the start that she’s not entirely happy about her lot in life, and has reservations about her husband, Law, but she goes along with his plans regardless.

When they arrive at the place Law has his mind set on, he is concerned with building their home and finding sustainable work, leaving Mellie feeling isolated and alone. This is when she meets Bahé. Bahé, as Mellie names her, is the opposite of Mellie, yet somehow they are similar in many ways too.

To Law’s dismay, Mellie finds herself seeking Bahé out more and more. But as time goes on and more settlers arrive bringing with them their ignorance and fear of the Indians it gets increasingly harder for Mellie and Bahé’s friendship to develop.

This book was such a rollercoaster. On one hand, I loved the way the Indian’s were portrayed, in that the way they lived was such a mystery to the settlers it made them seem so spiritual and almost magical, but on the other hand, the way the settlers saw them and feared them made me so angry.

I liked that Mellie had her own mind and stood up to her husband on occasion (and that he enjoyed it!), but she also let the influence of others impact on her relationship with Bahé and her family.

There is massive scope in this novel. We start at the very beginnings of settlement, when there were only two houses in the region, to the development of a town and a government. I found this really interesting and enjoyed the contrast of this story to that of Bahé’s who learns a lot from Mellie but will never fully understand her or their ways – which I guess works both ways.

Bahé and her family’s lives are in danger from the settlers. Everything that was once theirs – nature, wildlife, freedom, is slowly taken away from them to the point that they begin to starve, and their traditions are basically damned, but she never blames Mellie, or lashes out – such is her spirit.

I found Rush of Shadows dramatic, emotional and infuriating – but all in a good way. Catherine Bell did such a great job of juggling multiple narratives, something which I often dislike in books. I thought it was written really beautifully and the amount of research she did comes across in every single line (you should see the list of sources)! It is definitely one of those books that gives you food for thought, as the themes here are universal and can be applied to any era.

unicorn rating 4

Meet the Author

DSC_0974Catherine Bell grew up in a New England family with a sense of its past as distinguished and its culture superior, as chronicled in many of her short stories.

An early reader, she found in fiction that penetrating experience of other people’s lives that opens a wider world. The Winsor School, Harvard, and Stanford prepared her to recognize good writing and thinking. She credits work as a gardener, cook, cashier, waitress, and schoolbus driver with teaching her how to live in that wider world.

She has also worked as a secretary, freelance writer, and therapist, served as a teacher in the Peace Corps, and taught in inner city schools. She has lived in Paris, Brasilia, Nova Scotia, Northern California, and Washington, D.C. Culture clashes, even within families, are often subjects of her fiction. She has published stories in a number of journals, including Midway Journal, Coal City Review, Green Hills Literary Lantern, Sixfold, Solstice, and South Carolina Review. Her story “Among the Missing” won The Northern Virginia Review’s 2014 Prose Award.

She researched and wrote Rush of Shadows, her first novel, over a period of twenty years after she married a fourth-generation Californian and fell in love with his home territory, the Coast Range. The bright sunburned hills, dark firs, clear shallow streams, and twisted oaks were splendid, but the old barns and wooden churches and redwood train station didn’t seem old enough. Where was the long past? Where were the Indians? There was only the shadow of a story passed down by her husband’s grandmother late in life. Born in 1869, she grew up playing with Indian children whose parents worked on the ranch her father managed. One day the Army came to remove the Indians and march them to the reservation, and that was that. She was four years old, and she never forgot.

Bell lives with her husband in Washington, D.C. and visits children and grandchildren in California and Australia. As a teacher at Washington International School, she loves reading great books with teenagers.

Links:
Check out the rest of the tour schedule here: JKS Communications
Add Rush of Shadows on Goodreads
Available from Amazon

Many Thanks to Catherine Bell and JKS Communications!

Friday Feature: Man Booker Prize Time Again

I’m pretty sure that last year I decided that no one really cares about the Man Booker Prize, but I still can’t help being intrigued as to what’s made the list.

Following last year’s controversy when it was announced that the prize was being opened up to International authors (with UK Publisher) after 46 years, it seems the longlist is not quite as overrun by American authors as some feared, although they do make up a third of the entries.

The most interesting thing about the nominees this year though, I think, is that one of the novels was funded entirely by its readers. The Wake, by Paul Kingsnorth is the first crowdfunded novel to ever be nominated for such a prestigious literary prize. And I must say, it sounds like one of the more interesting reads on the list.

thewakeEveryone knows the date of the Battle of Hastings. Far fewer people know what happened next…Set in the three years after the Norman invasion, The Wake tells the story of a fractured band of guerilla fighters who take up arms against the invaders. Carefully hung on the known historical facts about the almost forgotten war of resistance that spread across England in the decade after 1066, it is a story of the brutal shattering of lives, a tale of lost gods and haunted visions, narrated by a man of the Lincolnshire fens bearing witness to the end of his world. Written in what the author describes as ‘a shadow tongue’ – a version of Old English updated so as to be understandable for the modern reader – The Wake renders the inner life of an Anglo-Saxon man with an accuracy and immediacy rare in historical fiction. To enter Buccmaster’s world is to feel powerfully the sheer strangeness of the past.

The Longlist in Full

Joshua Ferris (American) – To Rise Again at a Decent Hour (Viking)

Richard Flanagan (Australian) – The Narrow Road to the Deep North (Chatto & Windus)

Karen Joy Fowler (American) – We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (Serpent’s Tail)

Siri Hustvedt (American) – The Blazing World (Sceptre)

Howard Jacobson (British) – J (Jonathan Cape)

Paul Kingsnorth (British) – The Wake (Unbound)

David Mitchell (British) – The Bone Clocks (Sceptre)

Neel Mukherjee (British) – The Lives of Others (Chatto & Windus)

David Nicholls (British) – Us (Hodder & Stoughton)

Joseph O’Neill (Irish/American) – The Dog (Fourth Estate)

Richard Powers (American) – Orfeo (Atlantic Books)

Ali Smith (British) – How to be Both (Hamish Hamilton)

Niall Williams (Irish) – History of the Rain (Bloomsbury)

The Shortlist will be announced 9th Sept

More info on the nominees and titles

Thoughts?

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

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Title: Burial Rites
Series: N/A
Author: Hannah Kent
Edition: Paperback, 355 pages
Published: February 27th 2014 by Picador
Genre(s): Historical Fiction
Disclosure? Nope, it bought it!

Goodreads
Purchase

Northern Iceland, 1829. A woman condemned to death for murdering her lover. A family forced to take her in. A priest tasked with absolving her. But all is not as it seems, and time is running out: winter is coming, and with it the execution date. Only she can know the truth. This is Agnes’s story.

Burial Rites is one of those books in which not a lot happens, but you’re compelled to read regardless. Hannah Kent has written a beautiful novel, based on real events that took place in Iceland in the 1800s.

Agnes Magnúsdóttir is awaiting execution for playing a part in the murder of two men. We are not sure how or why she was involved, or if in fact she actually committed the crime, and the slow release of that information is where the tension, and intrigue comes from.

Agnes is sent to the isolated home of Jon Jonsson and family where she will await her execution date, much to the family’s dismay. But as they get to know Agnes, she begins to open up about the events leading up to her incarceration, and starts to become a part of all their lives. Everyone is affected by Agnes’ presence in different ways.

Burial Rites is a chilling read, and written a lot more simplistically than I was expecting, considering all of the literary awards it has been nominated for. In parts it reads like a Thriller or Family Saga rather than literary fiction, and that was a pleasant surprise for me.

I also thought that Kent captured the harsh environment of Iceland, and the hardiness of its inhabitants well. One of the main reasons I was so looking forward to this book was because I visited Iceland earlier in the year and totally fell in love with it. And while Burial Rites is set when Iceland was completely different to how it is today, I still saw a lot of similarities. What I loved about Iceland, I also loved in this book – the beauty in bleakness.

Agnes’ story reveals a whole other story of strength, faith, and survival. It is bleak, but not depressing, and definitely a story worth telling.

unicorn rating 4

Burial Rites is available now in hardback & paperback from Waterstones. See how you can get 10% off HERE.