Thursday, 12 July 2018

Review: ‘Watch the Girls’ by Jennifer Wolfe

A missing sister? A former teen star? A series of disappearances? A town made famous by horror movies? How has this genius combination of thrills not been combined in a book before now?! I was fascinated by Watch the Girls’ blurb straightaway, which of course led to the concern that the actual book wouldn’t live up to my expectations. But thankfully that concern was unfounded because Wolfe delivered exactly what I wanted. Thanks to Grand Central Publishing and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 10/07/2018
Publisher:  Grand Central Publishing
Fame and obsession collide in this darkly twisted novel from an incredible new voice in suspense. 
I've been watched all my life. I'm used to being stared at. Observed. Followed.SOMEONE IS WATCHING 
Washed up teen star Liv Hendricks quit acting after her beloved younger sister inexplicably disappeared following a Hollywood party gone wrong. Liv barely escaped with her life, and her sister was never heard from again. But all this time, someone's been waiting patiently to finish what was started...
FOUR MISSING GIRLSNow fifteen years later, broke and desperate, Liv is forced to return to the spotlight. She crowdfunds a webseries in which she'll pose as a real-life private detective--a nod to the show she starred on as a teen. When a mysterious donor challenges her to investigate a series of disappearances outside a town made famous by the horror movies filmed there, Liv has no choice but to accept.
FOLLOW THE WHITE WOLFLiv is given a cryptic first clue: Follow the white wolf. And now a darker game is about to begin. Through social media, someone is leaving breadcrumbs to follow. As Liv makes increasingly disturbing discoveries, her show explodes in popularity. A rapt internet audience is eager to watch it all--perhaps even at the cost of Liv's own life...
Filled with provocative twists and turns as the line between plot and reality blurs in this inventive tour-de-force from breakout writer Jennifer Wolfe. 
Where to begin? A lot goes on in Watch the Girls and it took me until around halfway through the book before I saw what it was that connected the different elements: family. I have said this before, but the idea of family is incredibly potent in literature. Whether it’s Anna Karenina or Coraline, authors have always found inspiration in family relationships. Our family is, in a large part, what shapes us but it is also something we have to depart from at some point to consider ourselves independent adults. You can never quite let it go, of course, and the smallest tensions can lead to major fallouts. But it can also be a fountain of endless love and support, inspiring books likeLittle Women and A Little Princess. In Watch the Girls, Wolfe shows the darker sides of family life: jealousy and fear, the desire to protect and the desire to destroy. In the end it made sense that this potent network of connections is what motivates much of the twists and turns in Watch the Girls.

Watch the Girls follows Liv (Olivia) Hendricks, once a teen star and now a struggling C-lister at best. She wants nothing to do with all the glitz and glam, but she needs money so after being fired from her latest set she crowdfunds a new enterprise: Liv solving mysteries! But her first mystery takes her straight back to her own past. AsWatch the Girls moves between Liv trying to solve the disappearance of young women, young Olivia relives her own trauma of losing her youngest sister and remembering nothing of the night. Wolfe plays interestingly with (social) media, letting the reader see the Tweets Liv gets while also looking at the influence of too much exposure at a young age. And then there are the horror movies that made the locale of the disappearances famous. Wolfe indirectly examines why we are obsessed with what horrifies us, if there is something we can learn from facing our worst fears, and where those fears come from. I loved how Wolfe used the image of the wolf in Watch the Girls. The wolf has always been a fascinating figure, a pack animal with strong loyalties yet also a hunter at night.

I had never read anything by Jennifer Wolfe before, but Watch the Girls has definitely made me a fan. Although there are a number of tropes in the book she manages to avoid it becoming cliché. Her writing feels honest, while also giving you exactly the thrills and scares that you want. There is some truly horrifying stuff in this book, but Wolfe avoids sensationalism. ‘Dead girls’ is a popular topic in modern fiction and it can at times be problematic (click here for a very interesting article on this topic), but Wolfe manages to move around this relatively well. In a sense the world’s obsession with dead or disappeared girls is central to this novel as well, asking us why we think it so important to watch girls suffer on camera or in fiction. What is it supposed to teach us? Who is it really for? In a sense this question is also posed to the reader. Why are we so fascinated with this story of girls and women suffering? Watch the Girls doesn’t give an answer to those questions, but I was glad that aside from being a fascinating thriller that had me on the edge of my seat it also gave me food for thought.

I give this novel..
 
4 Universes!

While reading Watch the Girls it chased everything else from my mind. When I wasn’t reading it I was thinking about it. I loved trying to figure out what was happening, moving with the twists and turns and rooting for Liv to overcome everything that was thrown at her.

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Books in the News: Odysseus Found

I thought I'd try something new and that is not only keep up with news about literature, poetry and drama but actually share my favourite news with you as well. Whether favourite will always mean happy and positive news remains to be seen, but for now, let's get the news on the road.


The first news story I want to share with you relates to one of my favourite Classical texts: The Odyssey. After fighting in the Trojan War for 10 long years, Odysseus manages to make an enemy of the god Poseidon, delaying his return home for another 10 years. As he travels across the sea and loses his companions he encounters a menagerie of supernatural beings, whether it's the Siren, Circe and a cyclops, before finally being able to return home. The poem is believed to have been composed during the 8th century BC and to have been transmitted orally. The earliest known fragments of The Odyssey, until today, stemmed from the Christian era and were found in Egypt , where they were transcribed onto parchment. 

Yesterday, in a press release, the Greek Culture Ministery revealed 'a particularly important discoveryFor the last three years Greek and German archaeologists have been tirelessly working on the Olympia site, but I doubt any of them were expecting to find the oldest fragment of The Odyssey ever uncovered and the first to be found in Greece itself. The clay slab discovered in Olympia contains 13 verses from the 14th book of The Odyssey. This book finally sees Odysseus returning to Ithaca and conversing with his friend Eumaeus, before reuniting with his wife Penelope and son Telemachus.


The dating of the slabs is still underway, but it was found amid Roman remains and is, for now, assumed to be from roughly 300 AD. I personally think this discovery will also be of major cultural importance to Greece. Many of the most stunning architecture and sculptures are to be found in museums outside of Greece and this has, rightly, been a sore point for a long time. To find a fragment such as this, of a text so integral to the literary and cultural importance of Greece to the rest of the world, and not have it whisked away, will be very meaningful.

From a literary standpoint this is indeed a singular and important discovery as well. I have always been fascinated by the oral transmission of such classic works, how stories changed with every time they were told, slightly altered by each person who told it. It is still debated whether Homer was a single person or if he is himself as much of a myth of Ulysses is. Are the tales he told all fiction or is there a kernel of truth to them? Although the answer to that question may never be found, I am hoping we'll continue to find little pieces of literary history such as the above clay slab, allowing us to trace how out stories have moved through time.

Are you a fan of the Odyssey?



Review: 'Metamorphica' by Zachary Mason

My first introduction to myths and legends was during a holiday in Greece when I borrowed (read: stole) a book of Greek myths from my parents. Surrounded by the Greek landscape the gods and goddesses of Olympus felt as real as anything. I have been devoted to them ever since. Studying Greek and Latin in school didn't manage to defeat my love for them and here I am, still chasing down books about them. The latest is Zachary Mason's fascinating Metamorphica, based on Ovid's Metamorphoses. Thanks to Farrar, Straus and Giroux and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 10/07/2018
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

A brilliant and daring novel that reimagines Ovid’s Metamorphoses 
In the tradition of his bestselling debut novel The Lost Books of the Odyssey, Zachary Mason’s Metamorphica transforms Ovid’s epic poem of endless transformation. It reimagines the stories of Narcissus, Pygmalion and Galatea, Midas and Atalanta, and strings them together like the stars in constellations—even Ovid becomes a story. It’s as though the ancient mythologies had been rewritten by Borges or Calvino; Metamorphica is an archipelago in which to linger for a while; it reflects a little light from the morning of the world.
Ovid's epic Metamorphoses is a classic. In 250 myths, the long poem tracks the history of the world from creation to Julius Caesar. Ovid's masterpiece has had a major influence on Western literature, from Dante to Shakespeare. His metamorphosis myths diver at times significantly from his Greek sources, yet they have become classic in their own rights. At the heart of many of his reworked myths is the idea of love, while humans come across better than the gods. The transformations in the Metamorphoses are often painful and violent, but then, isn't change always? I loved the Metamorphoses when I first read them, and still loved them when I was made to translate parts of it in school. A collection and reworking of past myths itself, it is no surprise that Ovid himself has given rise to reworkings. Up to now, I was never too bowled over by any of them, but Zachary Mason's Metamorphica is a stunner.

Rather than one connected narrative, Mason's Metamorphica casts each god and goddess as a star and tells the constellations of stories around them. I adored the star charts which started each new section dedicated to a new god or goddess, as well as the mini summaries at the beginning of each story. Rather than give anything away, these mini summaries tie the different stories together, show how each myth is somehow connected to the others. The stories vary in length, some no more than two paragraphs while others span for pages. Yet each brings a surprising new twist to what we know of the stories. Taking an almost psychoanalytical take to these stories, Mason brings out a new side to what we know. While Ovid's Metamorphoses was written entirely from a male view point, Mason frequently switches between male and female narrators, letting Clytemnaestra tell her own rage and allowing the reader to feel Narcissus' emptiness through his own words. Despite having read these stories over and over again, Metamorphica brought me something new and I absolutely devoured this collection of stories. I felt saddened when it was over, but also enriched.

Zachary Mason's writing is poetical and beautiful, both honest and fantastical. There is real grief and pain in his pages, but also beauty and joy, however fleeting. No Greek myth can be accused of having a happy ending and Mason doesn't gloss over that. There is a lot of tragedy in Metamorphica but it is of a kind of beautiful tragedy, the kind which is fated and therefore inevitable. Mason's writing matches this, laying everything on the table while maintaining the mystery of his tales. His takes on these Greek and Latin myths are sharp and to the point, not covering up the ugly truths contained in these myths but almost revelling in them. I adored how he dissected some of the stories, giving me a way to accept Circe's sudden obeisance to Odysseus, for example. Considering how much I have read about these myths I myself was almost surprised by how immediately I fell in love with Metamorphica. I am actually already in the middle of rereading it. Thank you Zachary Mason!

I give this collection...

5 Universes!

Metamorphica completely blew me away. Beautifully written and heartbreaking, Mason rewrites Ovid's Metamorphses in a way that felt both modern and ancient. I'd recommend this to anyone who has an interest in Greek and Latin myths.

Monday, 9 July 2018

Short Review: 'The Brontë Family: Passionate Literary Geniuses' by Karen Kenyon

Aah, the Brontë sisters! What geniuses they were and how miserably short their lives. And yet their few years continue to fascinate their readers. Sadly I am still far away from visiting Haworth, but it has been on my list ever since I first read Jane Eyre. As a devout Brontë fan I try to get my hands on every book written about them and the latest instalment is The Brontë Family by Karen Kenyon. Thanks to Endeavour Media and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review of this book.

Pub. Date: Endeavour Media
Publisher: 01/07/2018

The authors of such literary classics as Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and Agnes Grey, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë were extraordinary not only because they were successful female writers in Victorian England, but also because they were sisters. 
Growing up, all three sisters’ writings were significantly influenced by each other, but perhaps most importantly by their troubled brother, Branwell. 
This fascinating account of each sister’s unconventional life, astounding talent, and tragic death draws readers into the minds of the gifted authors whose passionate tales have enthralled readers for more than a century and whose voices still resonate with modern readers.
I love the Brontë sisters. Once I discovered English literature through the brilliant Jane Austen I swiftly fell for Charlotte, Emily and Anne as well. I must admit, however, that Emily is my undoubted favourite. There is something so visceral and wild about Wuthering Heights that has, in my opinion, never been topped. But this is true of all the Brontë sisters. They were true in a way that was rare, honest almost to the point of painful and undoubtedly gifted. What fascinates me is how they penned three fascinating novels simultaneously by candle light, huddled over the kitchen table after a long day of work. The creative spirit that must have surrounded them is something I'm amazed and inspired by and it is no surprise they have continued to inspire people for years.

In The Brontë Family Karen Kenyon captures the lives of Charlotte, Emily and Anne in short chapters dedicated to some of the most powerful and some of the most tragic moments in their lives. Whether it is the first sparks of their literary genius, their hardships at school, the brilliancy of their talent, the tragedy of their ends, \Kenyon covers it all in short yet insightful chapters. Although there is not much that would be new to Brontë fans, Kenyon's The Brontë Family covers them very well. I liked how every chapter began with a quote, whether from the Brontë sisters directly or from someone close to them. Kenyon also covers Branwell's life, how he brought both pride and shame to his family before his untimely end.


I give this novel...

3 Universes!

Short and to the point, I enjoyed reading The Brontë Family. In a few chapters, Kenyon highlights some of the high and low points in the lives of the Brontës, her love for the three sisters clearly shining through. I'd recommend this to anyone interested in finding out some more about the Brontës.

Sunday, 8 July 2018

Review: 'Thirteen' by Steve Cavanagh

I adore crime thrillers! Give me all the mystery, the twisted minds, the detectives or private investigators putting it all on the line to get their bad guy. It's a predictable story line, usually, which is part of why the genre is so comfortable. You go in expecting to be shocked, to be horrified but to know, in the end, that evil has been locked away and everything is once again safe. So naturally I jump at every chance to read a new thriller come my way and Thirteen was the latest. Thanks to Orion Publishing Group and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 14/06/2018
Publisher: Orion Publishing Group

They were Hollywood's hottest power couple. They had the world at their feet. Now one of them is dead and Hollywood star Robert Solomon is charged with the brutal murder of his beautiful wife. 
This is the celebrity murder trial of the century and the defence want one man on their team: con artist turned lawyer Eddie Flynn. 
All the evidence points to Robert's guilt, but as the trial begins a series of sinister incidents in the court room start to raise doubts in Eddie's mind. 
What if there's more than one actor in the courtroom? 
What if the killer isn't on trial? What if the killer is on the jury?

Part of my love for psychological or crime thrillers comes from how they let us face the dark without forcing us to actually encounter it. Everyone has a bit of darkness inside them and always suppressing it can lead to bad things (watch The Babadook and you'll see why!). We also love to be horrified, it is why horror is such a potent genre. It goes back to Julia Kristeva's theory of the abject. It is what disturbs our normal order, it is how we define what is 'of us' and what isn't, it is how we place boundaries between our society and everything outside of it. We define ourselves by saying what isn't us or shouldn't be us. I think the same comes into play with these kinds of novels (and films). We read about what horrifies us, fear it, and overcome it, making these novels a kind of catharsis. Some of them are more on the pure entertainment side, while others dig more deeply into our psyche, but I enjoy almost all of them. And yet, as I said above, some of them can be a bit repetitive, the story lines of various novels blending into one another

Thirteen is a great twist on the usual psychological thrillers, as the blurb tells. Initially I was worried that too much had been given away. From the beginning we know of a killer trying to get on the jury for the trial of a murder most likely committed by him. From the very beginning we follow both Eddie Flynn, a lawyer standing up for the little folk, averse to corrupt police officers and overcoming his own personal demons, as well as Joshua Kane, the murderer, the mysterious jury member. My worry was how Cavanagh would maintain the novel's pace and suspense if both sides were plain to see for the reader, and the middle of the novel did flag here or there. Going through the trial, seeing it from both Flynn and Kane's points of view, was interesting but there is a sense of just waiting for the big reveal, for the moment when our hero and villain clash. Some of the twists were straightforward and expected, but then towards the end there was a twist that literally made me gasp out loud. And that is when I realized that Cavanagh had been playing with the reader and the genre. Just like both of the protagonists, we have certain expectations of where the plot will go, what the characters will do, who is good and who is bad. I majorly enjoyed the twist, but I still wish the cover and blurb didn't give quite so much away.

Steve Cavanagh knows what the readers want. His narrative is driven and moves at a good pace, not lingering too long on things that don't need it but providing enough background for his characters and their actions. Thirteen is less focused on the crime than on the legal side of things and Cavanagh really knows how to ramp up the tension of the courtroom. I had never read a Steve Cavanagh book before and only guessed around halfway through the book that it was part of a series. This is indeed the 4th book in Cavanagh's Eddie Flynn series, but thankfully there was no sense of having missed out on something. Everything I presume had come before was nicely fed into the narrative in a way that didn't feel forced. I didn't feel as attached to the characters as has happened before but I enjoyed spending a few hours in their company. I would definitely check out another Steve Cavanagh book, although I'm not necessarily out to hunt down the other Eddie Flynn books.

I give this novel...

3 Universes!

I really enjoyed Thirteen and its surprises. Cavanagh moved through his plot at a great pace and I always found myself curious as to where he would take us next. I'd definitely recommend this to any fans of legal and crime thrillers!