About Georgie Matthews

I act. I model. I write. I think.

Book Review: “Muse of Nightmares” by Laini Taylor

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Laini Taylor’s style is addictive; she builds her world with finesse and love, and dazzling colour. Her characters are warm, menacing, complex, dangerous, beautiful and capable of wonderful – or terrible – things.

She floated in the air before them, eyes glowing red, flames blooming in her hands, wearing mesarthium armor and wielding lightning like spears, and the godspawn and humans were humbled and appalled.

Muse of Nightmares, Laini Taylor, p336

Hodder & Stoughton (9781444788952)

Muse of Nightmares is the sequel to Strange the Dreamer, which I read last year and neglected to review. Sometimes it’s difficult to think critically about a book you’ve just read, because you feel bereft when it’s suddenly over. That’s how I felt when I finished Strange the Dreamer a year ago, and how I felt last night, when I closed the cover of Muse of Nightmares. Bereft is the word. Hyperbolic, it may be, but we, my friends, are Book People, so I hope, between us, I will not be judged.

In many ways, Strange the Dreamer is a fairytale. A young man, an orphan, with nothing to his name but a dream of greater things. A young woman, made to feel worthless despite her wondrous potential, trapped in a tower, dreaming of escape. Those same young people, against all the odds, unlock each other’s destinies. But this is a fairytale smuggled inside a fantasy, so think big.

Muse of Nightmares, like Strange the Dreamer, is a fluent, acrobatic, magical silk sleigh ride through the world of Zeru. Zeru is the world of Lazlo Strange, and the blue-skinned orphans of the terrible blue-skinned gods, who left a city without a name, and a tragic legacy of murder and mystery.

The characters all have the unmistakable stamp of Laini Taylor. They are in turns warm and funny, desperately in love, in exquisite pain, hopeful and distraught. Taylor has the ability to convey emotion effortlessly and without hyperbole or falsity, no matter how intense. Her characters and her world envelop you in a warm blanket, and leaves you wishing for a duvet day that would never end.

Taylor’s storytelling is so effortless, full of wonderful imagery and dialogue, that you can flick to almost any page and find something worth reading aloud. But she also achieves perfect clarity continuously, and that is the best compliment I could give.

She gave the words back to him, murmuring, and kept them, too. You could do that: Give them back and keep them. “I love you” is generous that way.

ibid, p166

The first book in the series sets up many questions that the second endeavours to answer. Muse of Nightmares seeks to not only conclude the epic story of the first book, but to develop the universe, introduce a new collection of characters and tie up all the loose ends – a daunting task. I am not convinced this undertaking was necessary. Why not expand into another book, when there is so much to be told?

Some character arcs were rushed and some scintillating subplots deserved more attention than they received. My favourite arc in Muse of Nightmares revolves around two sisters, Nova and Kora, and the spectral eagle known as Wraith that features in book one. To avoid spoilers, I will just say that this subplot added a whole new dimension to Taylor’s universe, and I wanted more!

I have not read any of Taylor’s previous titles, but she leaves some tidy Easter eggs within Muse of Nightmares, suggesting that her universe is connected in more ways than is evident in Lazlo’s story alone. We are left with the tantalising notion of “The End. (Or is it?)”, but the way things wrap up at the end of this novel, one could be forgiven for thinking there might not be a next. Nevertheless, I live in hope.


Title: Muse of Nightmares
Author: Laini Taylor
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
ISBN: 9781444789034
Format: Hardback

Paperback to be published April 2019 (9781444789065)


Book Review: “The Watchmaker of Filigree Street” by Natasha Pulley

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street

by Natasha Pulley

 

“The Watchmaker of Filigree Street” is one of those books whose resolution you desperately chase, but whose end you sincerely wish would never come. Discover forever. That’s the possibility that Natasha Pulley gives us. Possibilities that hang luminous and tempting in your foremind. Strands of narrative like the strands of a spider’s web, floating in the imperceptible breeze.

Mori the Watchmaker can see all the possibilities.

Thaniel is a clerk at the home office. That’s probably all he ever would have been. If Mori hadn’t seen the possibilities.

watchmaker of filigree street

Magical realism is in vogue. How modern it is to indulge in a bit of magic. Natasha Pulley’s story floats effortlessly on this veil of literary mystery, this effervescent, illusive (perhaps empty) phrase, magical realism. What does it mean? Superficially, it means a story that is grounded in what is known and human and understood, but with something extra thrown in, something mystical, something unexplained – magic. Something that illuminates the story in a way that straightforward realism cannot. That is, in my opinion, the noble and elusive hope of magical realism.

Magical realism is not science fiction or fantasy. In the traditional sense at least. Although many an avid SF fan will insist that fiction is stealing the good stuff under its umbrella, while rejecting SF as an intelligent and complex genre in its own right. Personally, I find SF/Fantasy to be, most definitely, a genre worthy of more respect across the realm of literature. In the not too distant future, children will study J.K. Rowling and Patrick Rothfuss at school in place of dusty Dickens and tiresome T.S. Eliot.

But this is all beside the point.

“The Watchmaker of Filigree Street” is magical realism. A solid foundation of Victorian London. With political strife and everyday life. But woven through every chapter, paragraph and sentence, are the glittering threads of something far more extraordinary.

Now out in paperback, The Bedlam Stacks, Pulley’s second novel.

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Title: The Watchmaker of Filigree Street
Author: Natasha Pulley
Published: 14/07/2016
Publisher: Bloomsbury
ISBN: 9781408854310

 

Review: “Northanger Abbey” by Jane Austen

Northanger Abbey
by Jane Austen

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It was about time I had another classic in the bag and Northanger Abbey has been sat on my shelf since university – part of an extensive reading list that was never completed. I’ve read several of Austen’s novels before and I’m sure we are all familiar with the formula: husbandless female meets handsome rich male; complications ensue; yada yada yada; bish, bash, bosh; wedding bells.

I hope I won’t be revealing any big spoilers for anyone when I say this (look away now if you’d prefer not to know): they end up happily ever after. And yet…

I got genuinely riled up when the douchebag characters screwed things up for the heroine.

Having had a considerable break from Austen, I am now able to read her with fresh appreciation. She is truly a master of narrative prowess and impeccable characterisation. Yes, her works are filled with stereotypes and archetypes. But what is so enjoyable about her characters, is that they are as true to life now as then. I know people like the characters of Northanger Abbey in my life. I was particularly amused by the conversations shared by our heroine and her new best friend – a girl she’d barely known a day. Their chats bare all the marks of quickly made teenage friendships. The idioms of intimate conversation, the subtleties of social interaction are the same as they ever were.

“The progress of the friendship between Catherine and Isabella was as quick as its beginning had been warm, and they passed so rapidly through every gradation of increasing tenderness that there was shortly no fresh proof of it to be given to their friends or themselves.” – 26

But besides her characters, I quickly warmed to this novel because it is very aware of its own formula (i.e. girl meets boy and so on). Northanger Abbey was released posthumously, as was Persuasion, and as such, have a degree of maturity to them that I personally do not find in her earlier publications. By the time she was writing Northanger Abbey, she had established herself well enough to be able to play with her form. And while all her works feature a degree of social satire, it is twice heightened in Northanger Abbey by taking on another genre: gothic romance.

From the outset, Austen is doing her best to unseat the conventions of her genre. The opening pages are strongly advising us not to think of Catherine Morland as your classic heroine: “No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be an heroine.” (1)

And besides an unfortunate appearance, “not less unpropitious for heroism seemed her mind. She was fond of all boys’ plays, and greatly preferred cricket not merely to dolls, but to the more heroic enjoyments of infancy, nursing a dormouse, feeding a canary-bird, or watering a rose-bush.” (1-2)

Of her mother: “She had three sons before Catherine was born; and instead of dying in bringing the latter into the world, as anybody might expect, she still lived on.” (1)

Making fun of the epistolary trope:

“Not keep a journal! How are your absent cousins to understand the tenor of your life in Bath without one? … My dear madam, I am not so ignorant of young ladies’ ways as you wish to believe me; it is this delightful habit of journalizing which largely contributes to form the easy style of writing for which ladies are so generally celebrated. Everybody allows that the talent of writing agreeable letters is peculiarly female.” – (17)

And Austen herself has some things to say to her readers:

“I will not adopt that ungenerous and impolitic custom so common with novel-writers, of degrading by their contemptuous censure the very performances, to the number of which they are themselves adding – joining with their greatest enemies in bestowing the harshest epithets on such works, and scarcely ever permitting them to be read by their own heroine, who, if she accidentally take up a novel, is sure to turn over its insipid pages with disgust. Alas! If the heroine of one novel be not patronized by the heroine of another, for whom she can expect protection and regard? I cannot approve of it. Let us leave it to the reviewers to abuse such effusions of fancy at their leisure, and over every new novel to talk with threadbare strains of the trash with which the press now groans. Let us not desert one another; we are an injured body” (26-7)

I think my dear Jane has said all that need be said on the matter. I shall simply add that I found Northanger Abbey a delightful read. Intelligent, self-critical and highly amusing.

 

Title: Northanger Abbey
Author: Jane Austen
Publisher: Harper Press (Harper Collins Publishers Ltd)
ISBN: 9780007368600

Book Review: “Autumn” by Ali Smith

Autumn

by Ali Smith

I’ve been waiting a year to read a book like this. I only wish I’d read it three months ago, when the falling leaves outside could’ve matched those of this book. Or better still, a year ago, when this country made a historic decision that clearly weighed heavily on Ali Smith’s mind. Brexit prominently features in this novel. No matter what side of the vote you fell on, it cannot be denied that much social and political unrest persists in the wake of the UK’s decision to leave the EU.

This novel is, predominantly about an unlikely friendship. Elisabeth is nine-years-old when they move house, and Daniel, an ageing bachelor, becomes their next-door neighbour. Both lonely, for their part, it doesn’t take long for a connection to be made and one that will continue for decades to come.

“The lifelong friends, he said. We sometimes wait a lifetime for them.” (52)

The characters are inherently imperfect and complex – as you would hope and expect from contemporary literature. We only see Elisabeth and Daniel in part, never whole. We know that Elisabeth’s father is out of the picture, but never why. We know that Daniel lost the people he loved, but never how. This, added to the fragmentary nature of the work, imbues the novel with authentic emotional experience. – While we hope that others feel as we do, you can never truly know. It is fearful hope that leads us to love, friendship and trust. It is through this fragility that Smith calls on us to be brave.

The style is distinctly contemporary – like its subject matter. It is lyrical, rhythmic and littered with truncated poetry. Perspectives shift with grace and empathy. There is a wonderful cohesion to this piece. Embracing everything in its withering foliage, autumnal metaphors and similes trace and echo effortlessly throughout the narrative. It is natural, melancholic and vibrant.

“The leaves are stuck to the ground with the wet. The ones on the paving are yellow and rotting, wanwood, leafmeal. One is so stuck that when it eventually peels away, its leafshape left behind, shadow of a leaf, will last on the pavement till next spring.” (259)

Autumn has always been my favourite time of year. The colours and the sounds of leaves upon the ground. So, naturally (pun intended), I loved the imagery used throughout Autumn.

The dialogue reads like a script, and I could imagine the scenes playing out on a stage or screen. Humour makes a bold appearance too and I found myself smiling broadly on several occasions. The book, on the whole, moves at a fast pace, but comes to a dead stop, from time to time. The contrast is beautiful, matching the ebb and flow of the seasons, which is doubly echoed by the lives of the characters.

The “problem” of immigration is constantly referred to both directly and indirectly. Sexuality also goes uncategorised for all the main characters. In this way, Smith is representing minority voices, while eschewing the notion of labelling that often creates hostility and mistrust. In this respect too, Smith’s is a distinct and proud modern voice.

“Autumn” promises to be the first in a quartet of novels that speak directly to the now of UK society. The second novel, “Winter”, is now out in hardback, and I will most certainly be picking it up. It is both fascinating and delightful to read something that feels so impressively contemporary. And with “Autumn” shortlisted for the Man Booker 2017, we can only hope great things are in store for the rest of this collection.

Title: Autumn
Author: Ali Smith
ISBN: 9780241973318
Publisher: Penguin

Quicky Review: “The Wise Man’s Fear” by Patrick Rothfuss

The Wise Man’s Fear

By Patrick Rothfuss

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The Wise Man’s Fear is the second instalment of the Kingkiller Chronicles, following The Name of the Wind. I absolutely devoured The Name of the Wind last year and with the third novel still without a publication date, I wanted to savour what was available to me in the second novel. It is a sizeable tome and thanks to my Pudding/Vegetable reading pattern, I used a few vegetables to break up my reading and extend the pleasure of Rothfuss’ delicious storytelling.

As expected, the story does not disappoint. Full to the brim with exciting events and a fantasy world rich in detail. However, I must confess to not enjoying this book as much as the first. I found a fair amount of the sexual content – of which there is a lot – both jarring and ill-fitting. It felt heavily exaggerated and Kvothe’s use of superlatives became exhausting.

The character of Kvothe continues to be drawn out, his life experience so varied and eventful and insane … but … really? He wooed a wild sex fairy? There are times when I fell into scepticism, because even with the suspension of disbelief … come on, really? But, we are often reminded that Kvothe is a storyteller – prone to exaggerate and even wilfully misrepresent. After all, “You have to be a bit of a liar to tell a story the right way.”

In spite of some misgivings, I still love the series. The intricacies of all the civilizations that Kvothe encounters, with their language systems and customs are brilliantly thought out and intruiging. Every new group we meet and learn about seems to be adding to a much, much bigger picture and I can’t help but feel that everything that happens is part of an arc whose landing point is unkown and terribly exciting.

We Rothfuss fans now await the third instalment – Doors of Stone – with waning patience. Hear’s hoping it won’t be long now!

Click here for my review of The Name of the Wind.

 

Book Review: “The Music Shop” by Rachel Joyce

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The Music Shop

By Rachel Joyce

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I’m a big fan of Rachel Joyce, since reading The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, so as soon as I heard about The Music Shop, I had to read it immediately and it didn’t disappoint.

The Music Shop is about a man called Frank, who owns a record shop in the late 80s. Music is Frank’s way of interpreting and existing in the world and he has the extraordinary ability to listen. He understands the melody, the meaning, the emotion that a piece of music can contain – how it can elate, enrage or embrace you. And now, whenever a customer walks into the ordered chaos of his record shop, he will listen and he will find the song they need. It’s probably not what they came in asking for, but it’s what they need nevertheless. Frank will listen to you and hear the secret song inside you and make it real.

Then one day, a woman in a pea-green coat with eyes like vinyl faints outside Frank’s shop and changes everything.

Joyce has an extraordinary touch. She observes people minutely and exactly. But she does not pin down her characters with exactness. She is rather like a lepidopterist, who can gently cradle a passing butterfly in her hand. She examines carefully and with dedication. But only for a few seconds before releasing it once again. Hers is a gentle and respectful fascination with the human experience. She does not care for melodrama or action sequences. Joyce pays attention to the quiet existence of life that we can all relate to. Loneliness, grief, tender love and fierce friendship. And through it all, her words are warm and funny and generous.

“Jazz was about the spaces between notes. It was about what happened when you listened to the thing inside you. The gaps and the cracks. Because that was where life really happened; when you were brave enough to free fall.”
(p97)

Click here to see my review of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce.

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Also see The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald.

Author Interview: B.B. Kindred

Author Interview: B.B. Kindred

A couple of months ago I reviewed The Cairo Pulse by B.B. Kindred I was lucky enough to receive an ebook via NetGalley. It is Kindred’s self-published debut novel and one I was thoroughly intrigued by. The ideas explored in the novel are mind-bending and paradigm shifting (see full review here).

I decided to contact Kindred and ask if she would consent to a brief interview. She was kind enough to oblige:


1. If you were to classify your novel, what genre would you place it in? If you were to walk into a bookshop, for example, where would you expect to find it?

Speculative fiction, but I’m fully aware that I’m somewhat genre defying, which is not recommended, but nevertheless true.  I could probably also be squeezed into hard science fiction, visionary and metaphysical and psychological.

2. How much research was involved in writing your novel?

It’s an interesting question because in a sense, my life and work is my research. (see professional background) A lot of genuine circumstances were utilised in The Cairo Pulse, for instance, I live in the Pennine hills above Manchester.  I have a substantial bank of knowledge and experience to draw upon, brushing up on specific areas if I feel it’s needed.

3. What is your professional background?

In one word – complicated.  After leaving school at sixteen, between then and the age of twenty-seven, I did jobs that ranged from being a Butlins Redcoat to managing a welfare advice service.  After getting a place on a degree course reading Social Science, I graduated at the age of thirty.  Subsequently I worked in community development, adult education and counselling.  In my late forties, I became a copywriter and began to take creative writing more seriously.  I consider myself to be an eternal student and am constantly expanding my knowledge of the subjects I love such as sociology, psychology, anthropology and the metaphysical.  I’ve moved in most spheres of society, whether professionally or personally, which gives me a great foundation for writing.

4.Why did you decide to self-publish?

Because I felt my novel would be too risky a proposition for an agent or publisher and because I wanted to be in control of the process.

5.Why too risky for a publisher? There are plenty of totally wacky novels out there in bookshops. 

Your question is piercing and pertinent and I want to respect that.  I generally only do honesty or silence.

As someone with an interest in publishing, I’m sure you’re aware it’s not just the novel that gets a writer to market.  And it’s not just the novel that ensures a high profile.  As a social scientist, I’m used to gathering statistics to form a conclusion.  After weighing numerous factors (including the ‘wackiness’ as you call it), I’ve concluded that this is the best route for me at this stage.  Time will tell if I’m right.  I think it’s wonderful that I can publish without having to get someone’s permission!

6. Are there any plans for another book?

Yes.  It’s about something called The Rapture.  I think intensively about a story for months before I write, but I’m ready to begin.


If you’d like to read more about The Cairo Pulse, then take a look at my full review here or you can go to this link to buy yourself the ebook.

Review: “My Body vs Me” by Amy-Louise Taylor

My Body vs Me: Living with Chronic Illness

By Amy-Louise Taylor

my body vs me

It is difficult to be entirely honest. With loved ones, with strangers, with yourself. You must face up to the ugly parts of yourself before you can show them to others. Amy-Louise Taylor has taken the decision to be as honest as she can be in this little book, My Body Vs Me: Living with Chronic Illness.

Frank, honest, self-effacing, funny and brave – Amy is quite phenomenal, really. She has a host of not-so-nice conditions she must battle every day, with varying degrees of success. But she is doing an excellent job at getting on with life, with a smile on her face. She’s got a job she loves, she’s just published a book and she’s planning her wedding. In fact, it’s wrong to say she’s just getting on with life: she’s living it.

It is difficult to describe this book, not least because it discusses difficult things. It is a very personal book. It is very funny. But it is also sad.

I am lucky. Lucky because I get to live a normal life. I get to make mistakes and complain about things like a “normal” person. Amy is less lucky. She has a number of chronic illnesses that affect her everyday life. She can’t know each morning whether she’ll be able to leave the house. There are also days when she doesn’t want to leave the house. But Amy doesn’t complain, like a normal person would. Like I would. Of course, I’m sure, she has her moments when things get too much and who could blame her? But another person might allow themselves to be held down by the weight she bears. Amy finds joy and holds onto it, and you can only admire a person like that.

This book is a letter to family and friends; a thank you for their continued patience and compassion. But more than that, it is a message in a bottle for those who might be struggling.  Whether you are coping with a difficult condition or are close to someone who is, this little book just might be what you need.

From Amy, I pass on this message: “You can do this.”


Title: My Body vs Me
Author: Amy-Louise Taylor
ISBN: 9781521359686 (paperback)

Buy ebook here.

Book Review: “A Horse Walks into a Bar” by David Grossman (MAN BOOKER INTERNATIONAL PRIZE 2018)

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A Horse Walks into a Bar

By David Grossman (Translated from the Hebrew by Jessica Cohen)

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This book slaps you in the face with every page – sometimes quite literally – with its palpable tension and heartbreak. Powerful storytelling and jokes that make you snigger in spite of yourself, David Grossman is an artist of black humour and a well deserving winner of the Man Booker International Prize 2018.

In the city of Netanya, Israel, Dovaleh G is doing a stand-up routine. He’s been doing this a long time, but tonight is different. Dovaleh is going to tell some jokes, yes, but mostly, he will tell a story. And reveal a dark and painful truth. As the night wears on and the audience thins, his strange story intensifies and you can’t help but feel that you are part of his audience. I watched this man bare his soul on a lonely stage and I now know what it feels like to watch a man relive the most horrific moments of his life. In this theatre of (comic) cruelty, explosive self-abuse sees punchlines become punches to the face. This book, this performance, is cracked, fragmentary and broken – just like the man on stage.

Grossman takes the power of performance art and instils it in this novel. One man, a stage, a spotlight and a powerful story. The darkness, the loneliness, the commitment and the power. This performance, this one-man/stand-up/freak show, is painfully awkward but deeply engrossing. It speaks to that dark part of us that seeks out, will pay to watch, someone fall apart at the seams.

“The temptation to look into another man’s hell.”  (82)

Theatre, art, books, have the power to unite people. Whether that be in a moment of joy or despair, it is a comfort and a thrill to feel connected to those around us. Grossman whips the rug from under our feet repeatedly, in A Horse Walks into a Bar, by using his comedian to show us all the fetid nature of this desire we all feel. Dovaleh will make you laugh, but it’ll come with a price.

“It starts with an awkward hum, with sidelong glances, then something makes their necks swell, and within a second they’re up in the air, balloons of idiocy and liberty, released from gravity, rushing to join the one and only camp that can never be defeated: Hands together for death!” (69)

Continue reading

“Nutshell” by Ian McEwan (Or “The New Hamlet”)

“Nutshell” by Ian McEwan recently emerged in paperback, so here’s my review from last year.

Alphabetty Spaghetty

Nutshell

Ian McEwan

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What a refreshing change from his usual bittersweet format; Ian McEwan’s “Nutshell” is like no book I’ve ever read. Told entirely from the perspective of an unborn baby, the intellectual life of this foetus is a fascinating retelling of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” The bliss and boredom of existing afforded to the unborn promotes the excess of existential thought exhibited by the eponymous Hamlet, who battles vehemently with the notions of life, love and death.

There are moments of fantastic introspective clarity as well as hilarious observation throughout the book, as he makes use of what he hears and feels of the outside world. His observations and sensations are filtered through his mother – her hormonal/emotional/digestive responses are also his. Don’t think that means he has no emotions or opinions of his own, being in fact very frustrated by having to share in everything she feels and eats. But…

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