Friday, 22 January 2021

Review: The Charmed Wife by Olga Grushin

Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton
Published: 21st January 2021

Cinderella married the man of her dreams - the perfect ending she deserved after diligently following all the fairy-tale rules. Yet now, two children and thirteen-and-a-half years later, things have gone badly wrong.

One night, she sneaks out of the palace to get help from the Witch who, for a price, offers love potions to disgruntled housewives. But as the old hag flings the last ingredients into the cauldron, Cinderella doesn't ask for a love spell to win back her Prince Charming.

Instead, she wants him dead.

Cinderella married Prince Charming and they lived happily ever after...or did they? In 'The Charmed Wife' Olga Grushin imagines what may have happened to these classic fairy tale characters, 13 years after that well known ending. Now with two children in tow, is Cinderella still living a life of blissful romance with her Prince?

The blurb for this book immediately caught my attention. I love anything to do with classic fairy tales, reworkings and new interpretations, so I knew from the start that this is a title I wanted to read. I was extremely intrigued about the story and excited to delve in. This is most definitely a book for adult readers as it deals with some pretty heavy topics throughout.

The book is split into three distinct sections. I enjoyed the first part immensely which features Cinderella sneaking away to ask a witch for help with her situation. Things haven't quite worked out the way she thought they would and she needs assistance trying to put things right. The second part was quite unusual and I think that's where it lost me a little. I thought it was very clever as it interweaves nods and references to a lot of other fairy tales and while I could appreciate how skilfully this was done, my enjoyment of the story as a whole, definitely dipped. The final part moves the scene to modern day New York which confused me to start with but works to allow the author to link together a lot of the themes and issues touched upon throughout the book.    

On finishing, I have conflicting feelings about this title. On one hand, there were lots of things that I enjoyed about it and it kept me wanting to read on because I literally had no idea what was going to come next. On the other hand, it was extremely dark and subversive and personally, I think I like my fairy tales to be a little more sugar-coated. 

Monday, 18 January 2021

Review: Tales From the Hinterland by Melissa Albert

Publisher: Penguin
Published: 14th January 2021

In this brutal and beautiful world a young woman spends a night with Death, brides are wed to a mysterious house in the trees, and an enchantress is killed twice - and still lives.

But it's not safe inside these pages, and once you enter, you may never want to leave . . .

The highly anticipated collection of stories set in the creepy, haunting fairytale world first introduced in Melissa Albert's internationally bestselling and critically acclaimed Hazel Wood series.

As the January evenings are dark and cold, this was the perfect read for the start of the year. Deliciously dark and fiendish, 'Tales from the Hinterland' by Melissa Albert is a collection of short stories set in the fairy tale world, first introduced in the Hazel Wood series. I haven't read the latter but I don't think it mattered at all, as you don't particularly need to have any prior knowledge to enjoy this book. 

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not always a huge fan of short story collections (although I have read some really good ones lately) so I was a little bit apprehensive when I started reading this. I need not have worried though as the stories are so inventive, original and mesmerising that I was drawn in by the varied range of tales told. There were some that I definitely enjoyed more than others but I think that's always the way with short stories. My favourites were 'Hansa the Traveller', 'Alice -Three-Times' and 'The Skinned Maiden'. These were the ones that really gripped me and which I found especially creepy and devious. 

This is a fairy tale world where happy ever after does not exist and where the characters' fates hang in the balance. Melissa Albert's imagination is allowed to run wild in this spine-chilling collection which I advise not reading when you're in the house alone! 

Tuesday, 12 January 2021

Blog Tour: Review: I Give It a Year by Helen Whitaker

Today I'm hosting a stop on the blog tour for 'I Give It A Year' by Helen Whitaker. Thanks to Alex at Orion for asking me to take part. 

Publisher: Orion 
Published: 7th January 2021

Her husband's moved out - and her dad's moved in...

It's New Year's Eve, and Iris has just found out that her husband, Adam, is cheating on her. Furious, she kicks him out, and enlists her Dad to move in and help with the children whilst she tries to mend her broken heart.

But her Dad soon starts to display signs of Alzheimer's, and Iris realises that if she loses her partner, she'll be managing an awful lot on her own. Soon, she realises that Adam wasn't the only one taking their marriage for granted, and for the sake of the children she decides to give him one more chance.

But is it braver to stay than to run? And can anyone fall in love with the same person twice?

This is the first book I've read by Helen Whitaker so I was looking forward to trying a title by an author who is new to me. 'I Give It A Year' begins with Iris discovering that her husband has been having an affair. The story chronicles the year that follows as Iris and her husband Adam explore what went wrong and whether they can save their marriage after his infidelity. 

What I found really interesting about the book is the way in which the author shows that there is more than one side to the story. It is not as clear cut as it might first seem and my sympathies were definitely divided between the two main characters. Iris decides that they will have a year to try to work things out and so they start couples counselling. This isn't something that I've come across very often in stories that I've read so I thought it was a fascinating way of digging beneath the surface of a marriage, to explore some of the reasons why it may have begun to break down. Whitaker writes with honesty and sensitivity and this section of the book was very well handled. 

As well as the focus on the marriage, the author also explores the difficulties and struggles of dealing with a parent with ongoing signs of Alzheimer's. This has an impact on the whole family and at times, I found this quite hard to read about but it's something that affects a huge number of people so I like the fact that the author was brave enough to tackle the topic. 

'I Give It A Year' was an original and honest novel which I very much enjoyed. The characters were brilliantly portrayed and I the story was truthful and emotional. I will definitely be looking out for more books by Helen Whitaker in the future. 

Don't forget to check out all of the other stops on the 'I Give It a Year' blog tour. 

Wednesday, 6 January 2021

Review: Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton

Publisher: Weidenfeld and Nicolson
Published: 12th September 2017

Augustine, a brilliant, aging astronomer, is consumed by the stars. For years he has lived in remote outposts, studying the sky for evidence of how the universe began. At his latest posting, in a research center in the Arctic, news of a catastrophic event arrives. The scientists are forced to evacuate, but Augustine stubbornly refuses to abandon his work. Shortly after the others have gone, Augustine discovers a mysterious child, Iris, and realizes the airwaves have gone silent. They are alone.

At the same time, Mission Specialist Sullivan is aboard the Aether on its return flight from Jupiter. The astronauts are the first human beings to delve this deep into space, and Sully has made peace with the sacrifices required of her: a daughter left behind, a marriage ended. So far the journey has been a success, but when Mission Control falls inexplicably silent, Sully and her crew mates are forced to wonder if they will ever get home.

As Augustine and Sully each face an uncertain future against forbidding yet beautiful landscapes, their stories gradually intertwine in a profound and unexpected conclusion. In crystalline prose, Good Morning, Midnight poses the most important questions: What endures at the end of the world? How do we make sense of our lives?

'Good Morning, Midnight' is one of those special books that cross your path and which you have no prior knowledge of. You start reading and often the story might be a little slow in the beginning and you wonder if you're going to enjoy it, but then bit by bit, it starts to creep up on you and the characters begin to get under your skin and soon you can't put it down and find yourself thinking about it constantly. This is exactly what happened to me with Lily Brooks-Dalton's captivating debut. Originally published in 2017, it has recently been made into a Netflix film starring and directed by George Clooney. As I'm one of the few people that don't seem to have Netflix, I hadn't heard anything at all about it and so there was a definite sense of intrigue when I started reading. 

The story is set in both the Arctic Circle and the wide expanse of space. The chapters alternate between Augustine, an astronomer who is the last man standing on an Arctic research base and whose only company is a young girl called Iris and Sully, an astronaut on a return space flight from Jupiter. Both characters are cut off from civilisation and facing circumstances that are often beyond their control. After reading the first few chapters, I really wasn't sure how both storylines were going to connect but when they eventually did, it was extremely clever and very poignant. 

The story unravels gradually, giving plenty of opportunity to enjoy and appreciate Brooks-Dalton's exquisitely beautiful writing. I loved the descriptiveness of her prose. Also while reading the chapters set in the Arctic, I could almost imagine that I was feeling the same sense of isolation as Augustine. He is at the end of his life and spends a lot of time reflecting on the life choices he has made along the way. Sully, although seemingly living a life that many may envy, hasn't truly started living yet. Separated from her family after always putting her career first, she begins to reflect on how she may want her life to look in the future, in a world that may no longer be recognisable. The story considers what happens at the end of the world and explores how people come to understand their true selves and what really matters to them.     

If you're not a fan of open-ended novels then you may not like the fact that there is no neat end to the story. Answers are not necessarily given and some things are left open to interpretation. Although this isn't something that I normally like, I actually think it worked well here and suited the novel perfectly. Just as the characters don't know what is coming next, we don't know as readers either. 

'Good Morning, Midnight' is a book that I have kept thinking about, long after having finished reading it. Presenting questions about loneliness, life and death, it conjures up emotions in the reader that are at our very core. I would recommend this novel without hesitation and hope that the Netflix adaptation may deliver the book to a much wider audience than it has already had. 

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