Tag Archives: Book Review

Review: Magisterium by Holly Black & Cassandra Clare

The Copper Gauntlet A boy about to turn 13 coming home from a school in which he learns magic sounds a lot like Harry Potter but don’t be fooled like I was. Within the first chapter of Magisterium, the first book – The Iron Trial –  there are twists and turns and a lot of colour which had me surprised and curious.

The writing is readable and the story consistently manages to surprise but not in a an-over-the-top way.

What the publishers say:

In the Iron Trial, the first book, Callum Hunt has no idea what he’ll come up against in the Iron Trial but if he passes the test he’ll become a student of magic at the Magisterium. All his life, however, Call has been warned against magic and even though he tries to stay away, he fails.

Now He must enter the Magisterium and it’s even more sensational and sinister than he could ever have imagined.

What I thought:

The tone is sent by the prologue which ends in a bit of an unexpected twist and makes the book very hard to put down after that. In the story, Call is 12 and a bit cheeky a bit naughty, a lot sarcastic and not exactly your lovely Harry Potter type character. He has the potential for using magic by drawing on the four elements: earth, fire, air and water.

The background is set out amongst the action so it doesn’t slow down the story much. In fact, all the elements of the story aim to progress the action and are never there just for the sake it. The writing is concise but descriptive and the tangents aren’t really tangents.

I liked it and was happy to move on to the second book: The Copper Gauntlet.

What the publishers say:

Call is now about to turn 13 and has returned from Magisterium victorious. He is now a mage in his own right – a Copper Year student. He has friends; he feels at home in the winding tunnels of the mysterious magical school.

But Call hides a terrible secret.

His soul is not his own. His body is a vessel for a powerful evil mage, wielder of chaos magic … murderer.

Salvation could lie in the Alkahest, a mysterious copper gauntlet. But it is a dangerous object, with a violent history. It could destroy everything Call knows and loves … and release the evil in him.

What I thought:

After a few months of reading nominees for the Baileys Women’s Fiction Prize I thought I would find this a little too casual for me but I really enjoyed it. This is a character and plot driven novel which gathers pace and then speeds things up even more. The scenes are short and instead of sticking to the same theme they then change.

I thought it was a bit risky starting with a character who was ‘evil’ as such but things aren’t quite how they seem and a lot of humour about the Evil Overlord goes a long way. I found it entertaining. I even liked the Star Wars hints in there, especially with the latest one coming out soon. In Star Wars, in case you didn’t know, the father and son follow similar paths with both having a similar flaw – wanting to rush things and not waiting until they finished their training.

See if you can spot something similar in Magisterium.

The Copper Gauntlet is the second of five Magisterium books by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare. Holly Black is a prolific author with a few sets of books out there. She has just sold her latest trilogy The Folk of the Air to Hot Key Books and has previously written the Modern Faerie Tale series, as well as co-authoring The Spiderwick Chronicles and Magisterium.

Ask More, Get More by Michael Alden

Michael Alden overcame crime, drugs, and poverty to make millions of dollars in a short period of time. He is an average guy who learned how to “ask more” to “get more” out of life. The strategies and techniques he outlines in this book can help you get just about anything apparently—a better job, a new house, or a great vacation—faster and more consistently if you’re willing to follow his advice.

Alden starts off well. His tone is inspirational, his example motivational and his purpose apparently heartfelt. His work follows similar tales such as those of Tony Robbins who is a world-famous inspirational leader who is both practical in his techniques and electrifying in his words.

Alden doesn’t offer much practical advice until about a quarter of the way into the book and that’s not how to achieve in life, it’s a health and nutrition recipe. He is no Tony Robbins but he is a great example of success. His writing takes a little more perseverance and if I was his editor I would suggest he added the practical exercises much earlier on.

The Secret Keeper, book review

SECRET KEEPER AUSNZAt 16 Laurel witnessed a horrible crime which remained unexplained for years. Now her mother lies dying and it is her last chance to discover what really happened.

The Secret Keeper is Kate Morton’s third book and it is one of the loveliest if not always pleasant stories I have read. The characters are drawn with incredible depth and the lightest touch which makes it hard easy to believe they are real.

The writing is addictive. Morton entices with her plot, settings and style so much that it is impossible to stop reading. From the present to war time and beyond, the back and forth of the storyline never loses its pace.

I found this story as utterly gripping as the characters Morton writes. It’s wonderful and I want to say as little as possible because I don’t want to give away any part of the plot.

I don’t normally rate books but this gets 5/5.

The Mystery of Mercy Close by Marian Keyes

From Goodreads

Helen Walsh doesn’t believe in fear – it’s just a thing invented by men to get all the money and good job – and yet she’s sinking. Her work as a Private Investigator has dried up, her flat has been repossessed and now some old demons have resurfaced.

Not least in the form of her charming but dodgy ex-boyfriend Jay Parker, who shows up with a missing persons case. Money is tight – so tight Helen’s had to move back in with her elderly parents – and Jay is awash with cash. The missing person is Wayne Diffney, the ‘Wacky One’ from boyband Laddz. He’s vanished from his house in Mercy Close and it’s vital that he’s found – Laddz have a sell-out comeback gig in five days’ time.

—-

What I thought:

I am a huge fan of Marian Keyes’ writing. She writes strong women and brilliant dialogue which is funny, witty, serious and sexy when it needs to be. And she always addresses real issues which aren’t usually found in the chick lit genre.

In the Mystery of Mercy Close she writes about depression in the context of a detective mystery. There is also exploration of romance and family relationships.

I enjoyed reading this but sometimes it felt a little too flippant on depression although I know that Keyes herself has struggled with the debilitating condition and has been at times unable to write because of it.

I found it hard to suspend disbelief occasionally and some of the characters just didn’t have the depth which I’ve grown used to with Keyes. I found Is Anybody Out There? much better when it came to showing the characters dealing with depression and grief.

Keyes always provides a good read in her fiction however so I would certainly recommend it. I particularly like her idea of a shovel list. A list of people or things or phrases the main character would like to hit in the face with a shovel.

This is one more of the family Walsh series and the fabulous parents, especially the mother, once again play a brilliant supporting role.

Wang, Tova – The politics of voter suppression

I reviewed the Politics of Voter Suppression and you can find the article on New Europe.

Barack Obama’s reelection to the presidency of the United States was fraught not only with worry about whether he would be chosen by the people or get enough votes in the electoral college but also whether fraud would somehow alter the legitimate results.

An electronic voting machine in Perry County, Pennsylvania, selected Romney when the voter chose Obama, automated telephone messages called robo-calls in their thousands told people that the election was on Wednesday rather than Tuesday; people queued for most of the day because manipulation of voting hours meant they were likely to miss out and many states falsely advertised for the requirement of a photo id where none was needed.

Many, if not all of the above, were intentional acts of voter suppression. From state to state and from legislation to personal acts of intimidation there have been myriad ways that political parties have suppressed votes throughout the US’ election history.

Read more on New Europe .

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

I didn’t tell a soul I was reading Never Let Me Go because I couldn’t risk anyone spoiling it for me. There was something so precious about these recollections of a former student at one of what seem to be specialised schools around England. Kathy H spends her time driving around the country caring for others and telling her story.

The stories involve a time of gentle and developing friendships between children in what seems like an orphanage. They spent their time navigating the rules of friendship and social relations in a manner so familiar to anyone having navigated school and other people.

The stories go back in forth in time in a story full of foreshadowing and intrigue and of the utter gentleness of these little characters. I fell so in love with them and felt their anticipation and fear at growing up and having to transition into a strange and scary life outside of a known home.

This was a beautiful story, written so lovingly and carefully. I highly recommend it.

Before I go to sleep, S.J. Watson

How do you say ‘this was utterly dreadful’ in 300 words or less because one iota of a sentence more than that would be giving this book space it doesn’t deserve?

The premise of Before I go to Sleep is utterly intriguing but the execution fails to deliver so badly that I worried about even reviewing it. A woman wakes up every day with no real recollection of the past at all. The only information she has is from photos in the bathroom and what her husband tells her. If this is not emotionally difficult enough she then finds her own diary which suggests she shouldn’t trust anything and nothing is as it seems.

An utterly brilliant premise (similar to Memento) but done and delivered quite poorly. The narrator isn’t very likeable, the story doesn’t deliver and the writing is annoying as hell.

Would I recommend it? Hell, no.

2/5

Update: voracious bibliophile Leeswammes commented to say that she loved the book and gave it 5 stars. This surprised me even though I had read her post at the time and then ironically, or rather, aptly, had forgotten all about it. Her comment has got me thinking about being more specific as to what makes me dislike Watson’s writing so much.

Part of it is the technique Watson uses of leading the reader and why. Our protagonist is a woman who has no memory and does not know who to trust. In attempting to decipher some meaning from the sparse clues around her she finds something, interprets it and then proceeds as if that is the truth. Here is an early example:

“He put his arm around my shoulder. I began to recoil, then remembered he is not a stranger but the man I married.”

There are two things about this sentence which exemplify the entire style of simplistic-but-not-in-a-clever-way type of writing:

1. That snippet “he is not a stranger but the man I married” is an obvious use of foreshadowing which reads as if it is normal but really is just a cheap narrative tool. Watson could have written it in the non-manipulative way of “then remembered he is my husband”. Some may protest, “but it is not obvious! We are reading to find out what has happened to her.” Then they roll their eyes at my daftness. I roll my eyes right back at you false-made-up-examples-which-I-have-dredged up-to-justify-my-reasoning.

I don’t know what has happened to this woman but as soon as I see a sentence such as this, which can only be part of a story as a cheap tool of foreshadowing although disguised as an ordinary fluttering thought through someone’s mind, because it is a rubbish line, I know exactly what has happened to her. Or if not exactly, then I can guess in a round-about way what we are about to find out and this is on the first day that we meet her!

The words “he is not a stranger” are blatantly untrue because at that moment when he puts his arm around her knowing she does not remember him, he is a stranger. Whether she knew him before or not, she does not know him now. And if he was her husband and there was nothing wrong, there would be no need for us to be reading this book.

The author leads the reader in a way the character wouldn’t. Take for example the following:

The protagonist is on a hill top overlooking London and discussing her past life of which she remembers practically nothing with the man who says he is her husband.

“We had a fire,” he said. “In the last place we were living.”
“A fire?”
“Yes,” he said. “Our house pretty much burned down. We lost a lot of things.”

I sighed. It did not seem fair, to have lost both my memories and my souvenirs of the past.

On first reading it may seem innocuous. Why yes, I guess it would be unfair (of what, life? but anyway, that is an aside) to lose all physical and non-physical things but hang on, isn’t that rather obvious? Does it not sound artificial to anyone else? The (implicit) assumption of such an obvious restatement of a conclusion which the reader will hopefully have reached on their own is that the reader is either too dumb or lazy to put together the sentiment on their own. I could understand this type of writing for children in primary school but this is not for that age group.

And then my second point;

2. There is a real lack of congruence between our character’s situation and her actions. I am not talking about times she fears for herself but doesn’t leave because she has nowhere to go. This would be akin to blaming domestic abuse victims. See the section in the book when her purported husband is having sex with her. No, I am talking about times she clearly feels that things aren’t right but uses language and justifications like above to convince herself that things are the way they appear to be.

I am not saying that this isn’t a normal life skill, it is. If we didn’t convince ourselves that things aren’t how they appear then we wouldn’t be in loveless relationships, hanging on to unrequited dreams, settling for a job which just isn’t working etc.

These are all part of normal life. No, I am referring to Watson’s attempt to let the reader know that things are strange but to also show that the character believes them to be something else. It is that old narrative trick where suddenly we, the readers, know more than the characters themselves do.

It is sneaky in a fun and exciting way if done right. It is that moment when the audience is let in to the secret that Niles and Daphne, after five years of unrequited love, are meant to be together after all and we go “Ooh!” but the characters walk off stage, one of them about to give up on the love of his life and the other saying yes to a wedding proposal from another man (see Frasier).

Watson does it badly. I could find a handful more things to criticise if I browsed through the book some more but I will spare you, and me, the angst and the anger. Instead I would recommend reading a brilliant author who does not need cheap narrative tricks to create something amazing. See Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk which was his debut novel just as this is Watson’s.