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Hilarious Horror: Audition

Audition by Ryu Murakami

Documentary-maker Aoyama hasn’t dated anyone in the seven years since the death of his beloved wife. When his best friend comes up with a plan to hold fake film auditions to help choose a new bride, he decides to go along with the idea. Of the thousands who apply, Aoyama only has eyes for Yamasaki Asami, a delicate ballerina with a turbulent past. There is more to her than Aoyama can see and by the time he discovers the terrifying truth it may be too late.

First impressions: As with many modern Japanese authors I read, I really enjoyed Murakami’s writing style and the way the characters and story is introduced. It could also be due to  a great translator!

Highlights: Your apprehension is there right from the first page. You know something terrible is going to happen and it keeps niggling at you. Why is Aoyama so naive? The foreshadowing of doom is so ridiculously obvious it is hilarious. I think this is a feature of contemporary Japanese fiction and I love it.

If I was an editor: I would say there is a little too much gore for me at the end but I still had a smirk on my face when reading it.

Overall: The ‘other’ Murakami wins my vote! More please!

Audition: 5 stars

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Claustrophobic: The Anchoress

The Anchoress by Robyn Cadwallader

1255: Running from her grief, seventeen year old Sarah chooses to become an anchoress, a holy woman shut away in a small cell at the side of the village church. During her internment she begins to realise she cannot keep the outside world away and maybe her soul is still in danger.

First impressions: The title of this review says it all – I could feel the claustrophobia as Emma entered her cell in the opening pages. Great writing and a marvellous reading experience!

Highlights: Not only did I feel like I was in the cell with Emma throughout the novel, the author perfectly captures all the nuances of medieval village life. Much to my surprise there is much more to the story than just an secluded life in a cell. The life of an anchoress is quite era-specific and I became really interested in the story and finding out about this practice. Finally, I loved the ending. Perfectly fitting and not what I was expecting.

If I was an editor: I have to admit that as much as I loved the story, I did find it a bit slow in places, particularly the religious discussions.

Overall: A peculiar medieval tradition brought to life.

The Anchoress: 3 stars

 

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Six Degrees of Separation: June 2015

 

 

Six Degrees of Separation: Saturday 6th June 2015

I haven’t read The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling but it seems to show a realistic slice of life in a typical English town – a quaint cobbled town centre that borders a grim housing estate.

Darkmans by Nicola Barker is set in the very modern and ordinary English town of Ashford.

One other book that is also includes a glimpse of the typical English suburbs is The Engagement by Chloe Hooper.
(Read my review here)
I read The Engagement for the Australian Women Writers Challenge.

I am currently reading (and loving) The Anchoress by Robyn Cadwallader for this challenge.

Another challenge I have signed up for again this year is the Japanese Literature Challenge. Last year in this challenge I discovered Keigo Higashino and his wonderful crime novel The Devotion of Suspect X.
(Read my review here)
I really thought that this author had probably been overlooked due to the international trend for Scandi Noir crime.

If we’re talking about northern European crime novels I’d really like to read The Hummingbird by Kati Hiekkapelto. So few Finnish novels are translated into English and I always have a personal interest in them being half Finnish myself. The Hummingbird is set in a small northern Finnish town…

and Snowblind by Ragnar Jonasson (another crime novel I’d like to read) is set in a northern Icelandic fishing town.

Find out more about the Six Degrees of Separation meme here.

#6Degrees Rules

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Life in Old Photographs: Nine Days

Nine DaysNine Days by Toni Jordan

It is 1939. Deep in the working-class Melbourne suburb of Richmond Kip Westaway, failed scholar and stablehand, is about to live through the most important day in his young life as Australia hovers unknowingly on the brink of war. Eight more days follow, giving a snapshot of the Westaway family across the generations.

First Impressions: I adored the way Toni Jordan conjured up life in Australia in the 1930s. It leapt out at me from page one.

Highlights: I was amazed at how masterfully the settings were brought to life, particularly the earlier decades of the 20th century. I honestly felt like I was walking around in one of my grandparents’ old black and white photos. The more modern decades were also well done but eclipsed by the perfect essence of wartime Australia. I usually find some fault with novels that move forward and backwards in time, favouring one era more than another and wondering if the novel would work just as well if the author picked one story. However, the forwards and backwards in time worked magnificently in this novel and I wouldn’t want it any other way. I was affected in one of the post war chapters when old school and neighbourhood friends were catching up and discussing who made it back and who didn’t in a somewhat offhand way, but I guess those conversations started to feel normal after a while.

If I was an editor: My least favourite of the nine chapters were actually the last two. There was nothing wrong with them but I didn’t find them so compelling. However, they were definitely needed in order to make the novel complete and it’s the sort of novel where the hard punches come throughout, not just towards the end. Also, I didn’t necessarily realise that Kip’s first story is the catalyst for the other eight stories but I’d now like to go back and take a closer look at this!

Overall: Magnificent snapshots.

Nine Days: 5 Stars

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Kushiel’s Dart Read Along Week 3

Kushiel’s Dart Read Along Week 3
Chapters 19-26

Kushiel's Dart

OK, I am a week late with this post but I did have the chapters read in time… promise!

1)  We get a lot of political intrigue to wade through this week, plus a couple of pretty big dramatic revelations, not least of which was the twist of fate for Prince Baudoin and his mother. What did you make of the trial, and what became of these two?
The trial was probably more substantial than I initially thought it would be and it was definitely setting the tone for the future of the story. I was surprised by the outcome of the trial, particularly for Prince Baudoin but then I guess you can’t assume anyone is safe in fantasy! I was hoping he’d stick around.
2)  On a rather different, much more personal note for the House of Delaunay was the drama that unfolded surrounding Alcuin (poor Guy!). What do you think might become of Alcuin now that he appears to be out of the game?
I don’t underestimate Alcuin at all – I think his sombre and sad persona just hides his true intentions. He keeps his cards close to his chest! I think he will strike out alone in some way and become rather powerful…
3)  As we’d suspected last week, Phedre’s refusal to use her signale gets her into some trouble with d’Essoms – but it also gets her the result that Anafiel had hoped for… Do you think she’ll be more careful from here or will this only make that addictive slope more slippery for her?
No, slippery slope.
4)  Speaking of Phedre and trouble, what do you make of the ‘relationship’ building between her and Melisande?
I am curious to see where this leads. The two of them combined would be powerful.
It’s all about power, isn’t it? 
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Contemporary Gothic: The Engagement

The EngagementThe Engagement by Chloe Hooper

Liese has been working at her uncle’s estate agency in Melbourne. The luxury apartments Liese shows handsome farmer Alexander Colquhoun become sets for a relationship that satisfies their fantasies – and helps pay her debts. It’s a game. Both players understand the rules. Or so she thinks.
When Alexander pays Liese to spend a weekend with him on his remote property, she senses a change in him. A new game has begun in this psychological thriller for the modern age.

First Impressions: From the first few pages I could tell I would really enjoy this novel. I also felt some relief as when The Engagement was published I (unfortunately) read many middling reviews which didn’t inspire me to read it at the time.

Highlights: I loved Hooper’s contemporary Australian twists on both gothic writing and Dutch still life paintings. It was all subtle rather than overdone and highly entertaining. Liese is an unreliable yet reliable narrator and for some reason I enjoyed her background life in architecture. I enjoyed and appreciated Hooper’s description of the nondescript Norwich suburbs; it felt accurate and could be AnyUnremarkableTown, UK. In a nutshell, Hooper’s writing style and plot had me hooked. I read it in one day which is rare for me at the moment. I also love this cover.

If I was an editor: I would be aghast at the middling reviews I mentioned earlier. Sure, it is more literary than a lot of thrillers so perhaps the reviewers missed the point.

Overall: A few days on and I wonder if it is all just meant to be hilarious rather than alarming!

The Engagement: 5 Stars

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Kushiel’s Dart Read Along Week 2

Kushiel’s Dart Read Along Week 2
Chapters 9-18

Kushiel's Dart

1) In these chapters, Phèdre finally gets to have her own dedication ceremony.  Were you surprised by what they did with the dove? Also, do you think it is fair to ask people to make a life decision about serving Naamah at such a young age?
I had to go back and check what they did with the dove as I couldn’t remember… I think releasing the dove didn’t necessarily register much with me but I have since read that others were expecting some sort of dramatic sacrifice. I guess this is an obvious sign that I am only an occasional fantasy reader! Upon reflection, perhaps releasing the dove was a bit predictable and dull. That’s what we do now at ceremonies, don’t we?
I think it’s tough to ask people to make life decisions at such a young age, particularly when they don’t really know what they are getting themselves in to – Naamah’s servants make this decision before even seeing The Showing. However, in the world of the book serving Naamah is so desirable and engrained in society that given time and other options they probably would still make the same decision. Same as what happens in cults I guess!

2) Sex ed is definitely different in Terre d’Ange.  Do you think the Showing was useful for the teenagers? Do you think, at their age, you would have appreciated something like the book-learning they received in the art?
I think it would be useful to have The Showing as learning the facts doesn’t really enlighten you as to what happens or how to be creative. Teens these days have the internet so I guess they have their own private showings! I think the book learning is a good idea but it could be embarrassing depending on who the teacher was.

3) Hyacinthe has some neat theories about Delauney’s past.  What is your favorite theory?
I don’t have a favourite theory but it all adds to the intrigue about the man himself, like with the different name he is called by his former teacher.

4) Phèdre seems to be making a name for herself as an anguissette, known for never giving the signale. Do you think she would ever actually choose to use the signale, even if she were in real danger? Do you think her inability to do so might get her into trouble?
I don’t think she’d ever use the signale… she is marked with Kushiel’s Dart, after all. I don’t think it will get her into trouble. Rather, it will probably help her advance…

5) Do you think Alcuin is enjoying his career as much as Phèdre, or do you think he has a different focus? Do you think their differing appeals and tastes will drive them apart?
No, I don’t think he is enjoying it that much but you never know, he may just be coy. I suspect he is being strategic for himself in his career. As Alcuin and Phèdre have different motives they won’t clash so therefore won’t fall out.

Tidbits
I like how serving Naamah is very gender-fluid. There should be more of this in fiction.
In response to Dab of Darkness: I am an Australian based in the glorious land of Alba, specifically London. I don’t know where Australia would be in the grand scheme of things. Probably far beyond the Tsingano lands…