#AWW2019 // Book Review: “The Serpent and the Flower” by Madeleine D’Este

Title: The Serpent and the Flower
Author: Madeleine D’Este
Genre: Contemporary/horror
Target audience: YA
Rating: ★★

Review:

Confession: I don’t really know Macbeth that well. I don’t really like Shakespeare’s tragedies. And that probably affected by enjoyment of this book. (Someone give me a romcom set around a production of Much Ado About Nothing, please!)

Well, then, Emily, if that’s the case, why did you put your hand up for an ARC of a book about a group of teenagers staging Macbeth?

Well, because while I might have been more into musicals, I was the theatre nerd at school. And I’m honestly surprised haunted theatre stories aren’t more of a thing – that was up my alley, too. I love theatre ghost lore. Also the cover is gorgeous.

Madeleine D’Este definitely does creepy well. There’s a seance scene in her novella Evangeline and the Spiritualist that creeped me out completely and that was why that was my favourite of the Evangeline stories. And there are equivalent spooky scenes in this one, too. There are some scenes in this book where characters find themselves alone in the theatre or elsewhere in the school, hearing voices or having chairs pelted at their heads by invisible hands.

The characters certainly had their moments (one of my GoodReads updates was ‘Whoa, Ravenswood, you need to calm down!” and another was “Actors like Violet make me glad I’m only ever in the chorus – no one’s going to want to hurt me for my part”). But for the most part I never really felt like the characters leapt off the page… some of the other reviews have referred to parallels between these characters and those in Macbeth, and perhaps if I had been able to spot those parallels,  there would have been some added depth to the characters that I was missing.

My reading experience mostly depends on how invested I am in the characters, but the writing and plotting are both very good, and I think the right reader will definitely enjoy this.


Thank you to the author for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for a review.

This review is part of my 2019 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

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“It used to be simply noises. The noises were dreadful enough. But now sometimes I think I see it in the shadows.” // Review of “The Dead of Winter” by Chris Priestley

Title: The Dead of Winter
Author: Chris Priestley
Genre:
Horror
Intended audience: Middle-grade
Date Read:
01/10/19 – 03/10/19
Rating: ★★

Review:

Ah man. I was really looking forward to a spooky haunted house story here, and while I knew it was middle-grade, I didn’t think that would affect my enjoyment. How can you go wrong with orphan boy dealing with a haunted house at Christmas?

I want to say that I absolutely think that I would have found this a lot spookier if I had read it when I was ten or eleven, and that I feel this  is one of those books that doesn’t quite transcend its target age group (some MG books don’t, and that’s fine).

As it was, I felt that it was a bit of a checklist of haunted house tropes. We had the ghost of a pale woman in a shift out on the moors, we had banging from within the walls, we had footsteps in the corridor, we had shadowy figures in mirrors… It was all there and yet apart from a couple of scenes, I never really felt like any one haunting was gone into in any depth, nor did it feel like anything particularly new was being done.

The other thing that was while this is ostensibly about a young boy, it is written from the perspective of an older man looking back on something that happened when he was small. I couldn’t help thinking that emulating a Gothic style narration was probably not the way to interest young readers. The last chapter and the epilogue are set years later after Michael has grown up, and I don’t know that MG readers will consider that a satisfactory ending.

But at the end of the day, while this book wasn’t for me, I can’t say what the target audience would think. It’s highly possible that they would find it a lot more enjoyable.


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“In a world where you can’t open your eyes, isn’t a blindfold all you could ever hope for?” // Review of “Bird Box” by Josh Malerman

Title: Bird Box
Author: Josh Malerman
Audio book narrator: Cassandra Campbell
Genre:
Horror/dystopia
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 26/02/19 – 07/03/19
Rating: ★★

Review:

I didn’t really have any intention of reading  Bird Box, but there was a lot of hype about the Netflix movie starring Sandra Bullock, and since I don’t have Netflix, I thought by reading the  book I’d at least have some idea of what people were talking about. It sounds like there were some pretty big changes for the movie, but I’ve got the gist.

For those who missed the hype, Bird Box centres on a woman called Malorie and her children, known only as Boy and Girl. They live in a world where creatures can kill you with a glance, and thus they must wear blindfolds as they make a trip upriver to a safe haven. Meanwhile, we learn what happened to Malorie over the last four years that led to this point.

Malerman definitely created the atmosphere of staggering around sightless. I felt like I was doing the same, feeling around for the picture  frames that have been broken up and secured in the ground outside to lead to a well. Painting the windscreen black and trying to work out your stride length and calculating the number of steps to the street you need were all things that I never would have thought of but that Josh Malerman made sure to cover in his world-building.

My main issue was that I never really cared for Malorie. I recognise that she’s living through something that’s completely and utterly new, and that she’s a new mother surviving on her own with two children, but I couldn’t rid myself of the feeling that there had to be other  ways of training your children to survive than slapping them around and dehumanising them by only ever calling them “Girl” and “Boy”. I never really warmed to any other characters either.

I also found large portions of the book a bit boring. Most of the scenes on the lake weren’t really that exciting. I was expecting a lot more tension than I found. Everything that threatened them on their journey then just left… even the Creature, if indeed it was a Creature toying with Malorie’s blindfold. I think this was what made the book wholly unsatisfying, that the questions that did pop up were never really answered and every time something to be building up, it never ultimately came to anything.


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Book Review: “The Devil’s Prayer” by Luke Gracias

Title: The Devil’s Prayer
Author: Luke Gracias
Genre: Thriller/horror
Date Read: 11/05/2016 – 13/05/2017
Rating: ★★★

Review:

I was instantly grabbed when I started this book, though unfortunately, the pacing and structure resulted in a story I was much less engaged with than I had hoped.

When a nun commits suicide in Spain and is identified as the missing mother of Australian Siobhan Russo, Siobhan travels to Europe to try to find out what happened to her mother. As she reads the confession written by her mother in the last months of her life, she is pursued by monks in red robes, who are after vital information that Siobhan’s mother was determined to take to her grave.

This book really tells four stories: Siobhan’s, her mother Denise’s, the story of a priest in the 1970s, and the story of a medieval priest. I felt that the scenes from Siobhan’s POV were the strongest; however, these scenes were actually in the minority.

The majority of the book is in the form of Siobhan’s mother’s confessional, in which she details the deal she made with the Devil and its aftermath. Perhaps this is due to it being in diary format, but I felt that there was far more telling than showing, which affected how easily I connected to the characters. The two stories set in the 1970s and further back in medieval times are only introduced in the last 20% of the story, and for the most part, consisted of rather a lot of historical info-dumping that slowed the story right down at the point where it was supposed to reaching the climax.

Having said that, even though I didn’t find the story engaging all the time, the writing style was easy to read and I got through it much faster than I expected.

To finish, I just want to give a content warning for some rather gruesome murder scenes. They certainly aren’t for the faint of heart.


(Thank you to the author and NetGalley for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for a review. I apologise for taking so long about it!)

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“Isn’t the ‘human factor’ what connects us so deeply to our past?” // Review of World War Z by Max Brooks

Title: World War Z: an Oral History of the Zombie War
Author: Max Brooks
Audio book narrator: Max Brooks, various others
Genre: Horror/Dystopia
Date Read: 11/05/2016 – 18/05/2016
Rating: ★★★☆

Review:

worldwarzcoverI’m not usually a fan of zombies. They just don’t really do it for me. But being a librarian/archivist, and knowing that this book was written in oral history format made me interested. I’ve seen reviews recently for Sleeping Giants, which compared it to this book, and that gave me the prompt to finally look this book up. When I saw the audio book was available, I jumped on it, since it seemed like a perfect on to listen to.

After the Zombie War, Max Brooks sets out to tell the stories of the survivors. He had already conducted many of these interviews for use in the report to the United Nations, but these were removed for being too personal, for containing too much of the “human factor”. While the UN wants facts and figures, Max feels that these stories are the best way to preserve the stories of the human race’s resilience for future generations.

Unlike many zombie stories that simply focus on the USA, this one examines the effects of a zombie outbreak across the whole world. It deals with issues that could easily affect a global emergency of any kind, such as lack of government response, public panic, and large companies taking advantage of the situation. It is quite easy to imagine things like phony vaccines being pushed through the FTA, a small nuclear war breaking out between Middle-Eastern states desperate to stop refugees crossing their borders.

I do agree with the reviewers who said that the format of the book means the stakes aren’t very high. The premise is that Max Brooks travelled around after the war, interviewing survivors. There is no need to wonder if these characters survived the situations they were facing; we know they did because they are here telling the story. The fact that we only ever got to hear from each character for one chapter also limited the connection that the reader can form with any of them. However, I do think the format was very clever for the examination of global society that Brooks was clearly aiming for. Even though we only visit these characters once, the story of the war, from outbreak to victory, unfolds in a well-structured way.

The audio book was done very well; Max Brooks played himself/the interviewer and each interviewee had a different narrator, which gave them real character. I did have one qualm with the way the way it was recorded though. Often in audio books, when the text says a character laughs, the narrator actually does just that. Instead of making this recording sound like a real oral history by adding those little things in, it sounded more like the various narrators were reading an oral history transcript, with Max Brooks interjecting with footnotes, or describing the person’s actions. I imagined things were probably inside square brackets in the text, like [laughs] or [is silent for a while]. While it was still good to listen to, I felt it was a bit of a missed opportunity, given how well the format could have translated to audio.

Book Review: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Title: The Haunting of Hill House
Author: Shirley Jackson
Genre: Horror
Date Read: 25/10/2015 – 27/10/2015
Rating: ★★★

Review:

hillhousecoverSince my partner and I decided to get into Halloween this year (despite the fact that Halloween is nowhere near as big in Australia as it is in America, and it does feel a bit weird having it in spring), I decided I would read some scary books in the lead-up. I had seen Shirley Jackson’s books a lot on GoodReads, so I decided these would be a good place to start.

Except. Well. I get scared really easily. And I don’t especially enjoy being scared. So I decided I would read the Wikipedia synopsis of this book first, just so I knew what I was getting into. And I think this probably spoiled me a bit too much, as I ended up finding the book very quaint, and not so atmospheric.

The book is from the point-of-view of Eleanor Vance, who is one of a few people chosen by Doctor Montague to spend a month in Hill House, a eighty-year-old house that no one can spend more than a few days in. Strange things happen to them, and Eleanor begins to be unsure of what is really happening and what is in her head.

For most of the book, I thought that I would only give it two stars, but then the last chapter really brought out that atmospheric eeriness that everyone else had been talking about in their reviews, and that was what upped it to three stars. As I said, I think I knew too much coming into it, so most of the scenes that might have been chilling or eerie had more of a “Oh, yeah, it’s this bit now” effect.

Eleanor is an unreliable narrator, and as such I never quite knew how to take to her. Sometimes what she was thinking and what she was saying were at odds with one another, and at other times she seemed quite at ease. Luke was quite charming, Theodora was my favourite, Doctor Montague was really there as a means to an end. There were a couple of other characters who provided comic relief but after a while they became a bit overbearing.

Having said all of that, this book was probably at just the level of scary that I can manage. I wasn’t 100% sure I would be able to finish it, so the dated-ness actually helped in that respect.