Thursday, December 29, 2016

Onyx Webb: The Series Book 3 - Richard Fenton & Andrea Waltz

Sent to me by the Authors in exchange for an honest review

Publisher: Lust For Living Press

Copyright: Richard Fenton, Andrea Waltz 2016

ISBN: 978-0990751830

Format: Paperback, 233pp

Genre: Horror/Paranormal Thriller

Rating: 5/5

Summed up in a few words
Episodic. Diverse. Ominous. Eccentric. Gripping.

First Impressions
I have always got time for Onyx Webb, it is such a unique reading experience and I know I am guaranteed an enjoyable and gripping book every time. The sheer amount of content that Richard and Andrea squeeze into these books is outstanding and each story-line deals with drastically different elements, tones and themes. This is my third Onyx Webb review and Book 3 is by far my favourite, it turned my enjoyment of the series into a full blown addiction.

Book Synopsis
Onyx Webb wants a peaceful and content life to share with her husband and after all they have been through Ulrich wants to to settle too. They find a perfect spot, a lighthouse in Crimson Cove, beautiful, peaceful and honest. Recent events begin to catch up with Ulrich and the only way out he can see is to kill Onyx.

Koda Mulvaney is reeling from the death of his best friend and as a result he is thrown head first into the world of Parapsychology and experiences some paranormal events that put him back on the case of 'the girl in the mirror'.

Tommy and Declan have grown up and grown apart. Tommy is in with the Mob and Declan is plotting to make his vast fortune, though they are still drawn together by a few individuals and their poor decisions.

The Onyx Webb series is an incredibly deep and divergent course of events spanning over a century. From paranormal and supernatural experiences to the horror of human behaviour, Onyx Webb grabs you and won't let go.

My Thoughts
Thank you to Andrea for sending me this instalment for review here on Always Trust In Books, it is appreciated! Episodes 7-8-9 are absolutely brilliant, with events are now beginning to come full circle and all the pieces from the last two books are starting to fit together nicely to produce an epic first act to a 9 book series. Book 3 is definitely the most solid of the series, with three main plot lines and fewer deviations from the core content.

Book 3 elaborates more on Koda, Declan/Tommy and Onyx than anything else. Building up Onyx's lore is brilliant and she is already becoming the ghost story of the century. Koda is stepping further into the paranormal world instead of breaking the surface and returning to reality. Koda and Robyn are still devastated by the loss of Dane and the funeral sets Koda on a course to begin looking into 'girl in the mirror' all over again which I am excited to see developed in the next books!

Do I sound like a fan boy...? Well I am. I am completely honest though and I really don't have that many negative comments on the content. I was interested to see new and important themes being included such as race/racism, how society has changed us over the years and heavier paranormal/supernatural content. There were some hard to digest themes and scenarios in this book, I found myself upset and enraged by some of the characters actions (I know it is fiction but I am thoroughly invested!).

Similar to the other two instalments of this series, Book 3 has all the personal touches and flourishes. These elements make this such a reading experience. From journal entries, dedications and notes to quotes and inspirations. 

I recommend Book 3 to all those that enjoy a bold episodic series, with plenty of paranormal/supernatural and ghostly content. The Onyx Webb series is mainly rooted in horror, but it is the spectrum of horror that makes this book shine, from ghosts to real life human monsters and beyond. This series is consistently awesome and I always look forward to reading the next episode and following Onyx Webb rise to platinum ghost status!

Pick up a copy of Onyx Webb The Series: Book 3 here: Amazon UK/Amazon US/Goodreads 

About the Authors: With a #1 Amazon Sales bestseller to their credit Richard Fenton & Andrea Waltz have a burning desire to write a paranormal ghost series with a wide range of characters, both dead and alive.

Then, one day in the fall of 2012, while walking around Lake Eola - in the heart of downtown Orlando - the right idea struck. "The minute we came up with Onyx Webb - a ghost that would give anything for one more day of life, watching in torment while the living sleepwalk through their lives like ghosts - we knew we had it," Andrea says.

"The story lines for the major characters were created within a matter of days," Richard says. "But getting a collection of complex characters from mind to page in an easy-to-consume format is another matter."

But proof is in the pudding - or, in this case, the reading.

When Richard and Andrea are not travelling, they can be found in Orlando, Florida - typing as fast as they can - with their cat, Courage, at their feet.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Anatomy of a Soldier - Harry Parker

Sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Publisher: Faber & Faber

Copyright: Harry Parker, 2016

ISBN: 978-0571325832

Format: Paperback, 314pp

Genre: Drama/Realism

Rating: 4.5/5

Summed up in a few words
Uncensored. Emotional. Important. Unique.

First Impressions
Thank you to Amelia at Faber & Faber for this review copy! As soon as I picked up this book I knew I had to read it immediately. Not only is the topic incredibly important and relevant, but also the unique perspectives had me sufficiently intrigued. I was blown away by this book, it is an eye opening account of a man's struggle to recuperate after being severely injured by an IED whilst serving his country. His account is narrated by 45 different objects that surround him throughout the duration of the story, some that were crucial to his survival and others that are essential to his rehabilitation. (There are a few minor SPOILERS in the full review below)

Book Synopsis
Captain Tom Barnes is leading British troops into a war zone when he is gravely injured by an exploding IED. This devastating moment and the transformative months that follow are narrated here by forty-five objects, telling one unforgettable story. (Official Synopsis)

My Thoughts
Anatomy of a Soldier is unquestionably the most unique book I have read this year. I was concerned that having a story narrated to me by inanimate objects surrounding the main character of the book may not be as interesting as it first seemed. There was chance it could have felt gimmicky and confusing but Harry Parker has done an excellent job with the writing. Based on his own experiences with being hit with an IED on the front-line in Afghanistan, Parker has lived this life and he provides an honest account of his experiences. Keeping an objective perspective worked so well, it allowed the reader to react to the content with their own emotions without having cues from the text.

Following the events surrounding Tom Barnes through the 'eyes' of items/objects was both surreal (especially the oscillating saw chapter) and gave the book a really raw feeling. Not having a filter on Tom's experiences was powerful and at times overwhelming. His pain, sorrow, family, injuries, difficulties and emotions are all on show here and I found myself welling up at the more in-depth content. There is a wide variety of objects, from a kit bag, breathing tube, wheelchair, pistol and prosthetic leg to a boot, detonator, helmet and dog-tags, among many other items.

The plot arc follows three main areas of Tom's life, before the bomb, during the actual incident and his recovery. The story also follows several individuals that are either involved in the bombing or helping him recover. This provides three distinct tones to the text, one of experience, one of horror and another of absolute determination. In my own opinion, the overall theme of Anatomy of a Soldier is that it highlights the individual loses and suffering that is often forgotten when looking back on conflict. It is a powerful subject and with the modern setting, Anatomy of a Soldier is a relevant and eye-opening account of what the people we leave in the back of our minds day-to-day really encounter and endure on the front line of a conflict.

Overall, if you are interested in both realistic and dramatic fiction which is based on experience then this will suit you. If you have a weak stomach or cannot endure the suffering of others then I would avoid this book. I wouldn't say I enjoyed this book (difficult considering the subject), but I was thoroughly satisfied with the writing style and I appreciate the content and author for telling this story. I do recommend this book to everyone, especially if your looking for a new style of writing that makes you think deeper about simple interactions that you have every day.

Buy or Read: Amazon UK/Amazon US/Goodreads

About The Author: Harry Parker grew up in Wiltshire. He was educated at Falmouth College of Art and University College London. He joined the British Army when he was 23 and served in Iraq in 2007 and Afghanistan in 2009 as a captain. He is now a writer and artist and lives in London. (Faber & Faber Bio)

Everything You Need You Have: How to Be at Home in Your Self - Gerad Kite

Sent to me by the Publisher in exchange for an honest review

Publisher: Harmony Books

Copyright: Gerad Kite, 2016

ISBN: 978-0451498175

Format: Hardback, 208pp

Genre: Non-Fiction/Health

Rating: 3/5

Summed up in a few words
Mind. Body. Pendulum. Unity. Home.

First Impressions
I am constantly looking for books on meditation, mindfulness and maintaining inner-peace as I think it is so important to completely switch off and relax from time to time, especially in the high functioning and overwhelming speed of modern life. Everything You Need You Have takes this concept to a new level, actually installing a 'Home' or place of inner peace inside of you that you can retreat to when life becomes difficult. I liked this idea and Gerad Kite has a considerable career behind him spanning several decades and has all the experience that comes with it. It is an easy going, semi-informal piece on several techniques that Kite has learned and implemented over the years to teach people to learn to love their 'self' and be at peace with the world around them.

Book Synopsis
The secret to feeling at home in yourself isn't therapy, meditation, silencing your phone, throwing out you possessions, or travelling the world. The answer is already inside you.

Gerad Kite was a therapist for years before realising talk and analysis weren't making a lasting difference in the lives of his patients. So he quit his practice and looked for a new way to help people feel better. What he discovered is a different approach to finding a secret, peaceful and permanent place inside yourself that you can access at all times, a path to getting out of your head, to surrender to what is. You'll see that you already have what you need to be happy and well.

Kite draws on the principals of ancient Chinese philosophy and his extensive experience helping people from all walks of life as a relaxation and acupuncture expert. His ten steps will show you how to tune in to your natural rhythms, view your emotions from a different perspective, and finally experience a state of bliss that you can return again and again.

My Thoughts
Gerad Kite has set out to try and answer a few key and relevant questions we ask ourselves, what is a successful life? what is life supposed to be? How often do you relish the joy of now? Kite doesn't have all the answers, but he has been working on a solution to these sorts of questions for his entire working career. Using many different ideas and techniques that are available to us in modern life, Kite has created a 10 step program to finding your way to inner-calm or 'Home' as he refers to it over the course of the book.

Incorporating Chinese philosophy, spiritual teachings, psychotherapy, the law of the five elements and a pendulum technique to set emotional boundaries to guide you back to a calm state, Kite wants to lead the reader 'home'. Creating a place of security and stability will help us deal with the ups and downs of life with a clearer head and a calmer heart. Gerad Kite sets out 10 steps to creating a map to 'Home' and these steps guide us and help us navigate the treacherous terrains of our minds, bodies and outside influences. Kite shows us how to be aware of our true 'self', how to turn off auto-pilot, enjoy relationships and forget about organising our lives into various successes and failures.

Gerad Kite's writing style is brief, semi-informal and well formatted. The text is broken up into 3 acts, Mind, Body and Home, and each act deals several of the 10 steps. Drawing from personal experience, career experience in the fields of psychology and acupuncture and various case studies, Kite paints a clear picture of how we need to let get of certain practices and brace smaller elements of our life. I thought Kite was informative, emotionally invested and he genuinely wants people to adapt their outlook on life and live easier lives. 

I have given this book 3/5 stars as though I personally enjoyed it, I do not think this will suit everyone's tastes. Those who enjoy mindfulness and meditation may appreciate where Kite is coming from but he is really trying to bypass all the other practices and get people to focus on their 'self' and obtain a sense of inner-calm. The writing evolves throughout the duration of the book, going from professional and objective and changes as the steps progress. 

As we get closer to 'home', Kite seems to change his writing to meet the tone of the subject matter, becoming calmer and more informal. I appreciated Kite including the law of the five elements and some information on Taoism which allowed me to learn some new perspectives when it came to calmness and tuning in to the present. Overall I would recommend this book to those who face constant existential problems daily and want to figure out a way of getting out of their heads. Finding a calm place in yourself may give you the rest you need to figure out where you are and how you could progress day to day to achieve what is important to you.

Pick up Everything You Need You Have here: Amazon UK/Amazon US/Goodreads 

About the Author: Gerad Kite is an Acupuncture Master (AcM) with more than twenty-five years of clinical experience. He is a recognised leader in the field of infertility and an internationally respected practitioner and teacher of Worsley Five-Element Acupuncture. In 1993 he started the first-ever NHS acupuncture service at Kings College Hospital in the UK while building his private practice in central London. In 2006 he opened the Kite Clinic, where he led a large team of practitioners performing over 10,000 treatments a year, and in 2007 he founded the London Institute of Five-Element Acupuncture (LIFEA), where he personally trained his current team of practitioners. He's worked with celebrities, including John Cleese, Kate Winslet and James Corden

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Cove - Cyan Jones

Sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Publisher: Granta Books

Copyright: Cynan Jones, 2016

ISBN: 978-1847088819

Format: Paperback, 99pp

Genre:  General Fiction

Rating: 4/5

Summed up in a few words
Memory. Survival. Ocean. Misfortune.

First Impressions
I had heard such great things about this book and I was eager to read it when it arrived. Thank you to Natalie at Granta Books for sending me a review copy. Cove is such a small piece, but it makes such an impact. Cynan Jones has a personal and unique writing style that uses emotion, nature and humanity to craft a distinct and intriguing story of a man who is injured and lost at sea.

Book Synopsis
Out at sea, in a sudden storm, a man is struck by lightening. When he wakes, injured and adrift on a kayak, his memory of who he is and how he came to be there is all but shattered. Now he must pit himself against the pain and rely on his instincts to get back to shore, and to the woman he dimly senses waiting for his return.

With its taut narrative and its visceral portrait of a man locked in an uneven struggle with the forces of nature, this is a powerful new work from one of the most distinctive voices in British fiction.

My Thoughts
In Cove we follow the experience of a fisherman who is struck by lightening whilst out on the sea in his kayak. It was a great decision by Jones to use a blend of the second/third person perspectives to narrate his journey through this hell, it gave the reader a chilling and raw reading experience. The fisherman is injured badly, with loss of an arm and severe burns imprisoning him inside the kayak. The struggle for survival and reaching the shore is the core plot in Cove and CJ documents the experience with the man's thoughts, emotions and physical pain.

The other main aspect of the story is the fact that the fisherman is haunted by fractured and distant memories of his life and his pregnant love. Both the present and the past bleeding into each other and urging him to stay alive and reach land. Cove is a mesmerising and deeply moving story and I thought Jones did a superb job making it emotional, rigorous and primal. The writing style was unique to me, I have not had the chance to check out Cynan Jones' work before and I would happily return to his work in the future.

My only fault with this book was the ending, I cannot go into too much detail here but let's just say I wanted the story to continue much further than it did. Cove is very brief, under 100 pages, so you can easily read it in one sitting, what I really liked about this book was that you can re-read it plenty of times and it will still have a different feel and impact on you as you work out more and more of what Jones is really saying.

The stripped down nature of this book highlights how much injury the human body can take and how your life can really change in a flash. The main themes were simplistic but also powerful including survival, family and nature. The atmosphere was generally pain, confusion and desperation, but also of wanting to live and see his wife and child. The fisherman's struggle was deep and I found myself invested in him and the intensely difficult journey to the shore.

Overall, I was blown away by the fact that a book so small could contain such a deeply moving story. I thought Jones used great language and concepts to bring the story of the injured fisherman to us and I encourage everyone to pick up Cove and see what you think to the reading experience. I mention again that I didn't really feel satisfied with the ending, I wanted more to go on, but that is a personal opinion and one that won't affect your enjoyment of the same book. 

Pick up a copy of Cove here: Amazon UK/Amazon US/Goodreads 

About the Author: Cynan Jones is the author of the novels The Long Dry (winner of a Betty Trask Award); Everything I found on the Beach; Bird, Blood, Snow; and The Dig, which was shortlisted for the Sunday Times/EFG Short Story Award, longlisted for the Warwick Prize, and won the Wales Book of the Year Fiction Prize, and the Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize. He lives in Wales. (Official Bio)

Author Interview - Heena Rathore P.

Welcome to another Always Trust In Books Author Interview! I recently did a cover reveal for Heena Rathore P. for her upcoming new book, Deceived via Citrus Publishing. I have also been given the awesome opportunity to ask Heena some questions about her work, her writing habits and so much more. I am excited to read Deceived when a copy becomes available for review, but lets get to the Q&A for now!! Thank you for checking out this post and I hope to see some comments about what you thought about the questions!

About the Author: Heena Rathore Pardeshi is a novelist, novel critic, as well as a book reviewer. She is also an ace social media strategist and an acclaimed YouTube Podcaster. An award-winning writer, she has won several NaNoWriMos and JuNoWriMos since 2014.
Heena also manages her own book club, RMFAO on
A fan of crime-thrillers, apocalyptic fiction and slasher movies and series, she draws inspiration from the works of legendary writers such as Stephen King, Dean Koontz and Sidney Sheldon. An introvert and free-thinker, Heena prefers neatness over chaos - in her fictional themes as well as in her real life. She has a special place for German Shephards and books in her heart.
Heena is twenty-five years old and lives in Pune, India with her beloved husband, Vishal – a successful entrepreneur, in a house full of books, music, and love. Heena passionately creates vivid fictional worlds; some to read and cherish, and some to live in.


Book Synopsis
How well do you know your loved ones?

A young girl struggling to cope with the murders of her mother and five-year-old brother.
A journalist chasing the ghost of a potential serial killer.
A thirteen-year-old girl who slaughtered her parents.
And a revenge-driven psychopath who is about to destroy everyone’s life.

After 9 years, a young writer is still coping with the brutal murders of her mother and five-year-old brother, as she moves into a house of horrors, to start a new life with her lover. Will friends and family be able to redeem Ally out of the impending doom in time? Will her infallible love become the key to the destruction of her already fragile world? Will madness prevail over love; true love over revenge?

Deceived is a gripping psychological thriller that mazes through the deepest, darkest emotions of human mind through the story of a vulnerable girl who treads in the mist of deception bred from a long unforgiven betrayal. 


Now to the Q&A!! Thank you to Heena for taking the time to answer my questions and thank you to everyone who has taken time out of their day to check out her work in this post!

Could you tell me a little bit about your first two books, Sinister Town and Deceived?

Hi, Stuart. Thanks a lot for having me on your blog.

My debut novel, Deceived, is a psychological thriller written in multiple POVs along with a sprinkling of Journal Entries by the main antagonist who is a psychopath. The story follows two different timelines.
In this book, I’ve tried to give a glimpse inside the mind of a psychopath as I really feel that it is the one element that a lot of thrillers are missing on.
The second novel (the one I’m currently working on), Sinister Town, is a crime thriller with elements of horror. It is based on the concept of ritual and cult killings.

What attracted you to the psychological thriller/horror genres?

This is one question I never seem to understand myself. I guess I am just fascinated by strong unpredictable stories that leave me wondering what I would do if I’d end up in a similar situation.

I find the concept of survival quite interesting and, I think, that is what makes me so drawn towards psychological thrillers and horror genres and even apocalyptic zombie stories.

You seem so busy with all your current projects, how do you find time to write?

I’m terrible at time management. Thankfully, I have OCD and so I maintain a lot of journals and diaries to keep track of what I have to do every day. I write everything down, as I tend to forget important things and, more often than not, dates.

Most of the times it gets overwhelming, but no matter what or how hard it gets, I have one thing very straight in my mind, and it is that I have to write every single day. So when I have a lot of things to do and I can’t seem to be able to make time for writing, at that point I drop everything and write. It calms me, makes me feel a whole lot better and reduces the stress. And once I’m done writing for an hour or so, I carry on with other things.

Was it tough to build up a significant blogging presence?

Now that I look back, I do see that I’ve managed to have a significant presence in the blogging world, but to be completely honest, I never intended it or at least never worked on my blogs keeping that in mind.

My intention of setting up my blogs was to have an outlet for my creativity. I am, in general, a very unconventional person and my emotions always get the better of me. I know that I am a bit of a difficult person too. My complex personality makes it hard for me to have a lot of people around me. (Thankfully, my husband understands me completely and loves me in spite of all these things.)

I needed to have an outlet for my energy and I knew book reviewing was perfect for me as I read a lot of books. I started from there, and then eventually when I started thinking of writing a book, I created a separate blog to start writing and posting my pieces there. Initially, having no followers on the new blog gave me comfort because I felt like “I am posting it, but at least no one will be judging it.” But as the time passed, I started receiving followers and, after a time, compliments on my writing. That built up my confidence to go ahead with each and every step.

So I guess the main reason for being successful as a blogger, is that I did it for myself and because I loved it.

Who do you look up to in the writing world and what are your influences?

There are a lot of authors I admire, but I especially look up to Stephen King, Sidney Sheldon, Dean Koontz and Jeffrey Archer.

These authors have the unique and out-of-the-world ability to transport you into their world, making you forget everything else. They make you live and experience the story. Their stories are so intricate and real that you can’t help yourself losing yourself completely into them and their characters are so full of life that you can’t even imagine them to be anything short of real.

Have you read a book this year that you would like to recommend to us?
The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey. It is a beautiful, beautiful book. Also, The Grownup by Gillian Flynn was really good. It kept me thinking for a long time even after putting it down, and to be honest, it really creeped me out.

I see you have a fantasy series planned, could you give us some details about that project?

First of all, I must say that you have a sharp eye! Oddly enough I’ve not yet been asked anything about it. And I’m really glad that you asked this question.

I am a huge fan of High Fantasy genre. ASOIAF is one series I can die for. As much as I love the idea of my fantasy series, I am, on some level, eager as well as terrified of writing in it. The fantasy series I have in my mind is about a warrior princess, Princess Nymeria. She is a fierce warrior who lives in a world that is complex and cruel. I haven’t worked out the details yet, but there is going to be a huge central conflict, which is the central part of the story, and the various books in this series will be about the different phases, for a lack of a better word, of that conflict.

But this project might take me a couple of years (maybe even ages) to complete because I want to dedicate as many years as required in building the world for this series. In high-fantasy, world building is one of the most important aspects and I really want to get it right.

For now, I can just say that it is going to be a 6 book series and will have lots of gritty action and out of the world adventures full of dangerous elements and creatures.

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions!

And thank you for taking the time to read this Q&A. Deceived is out via Citrus Publishers in February 2017!

Sociology: A Graphic Guide - John Nagle & Piero

Sent to me by the Publisher in exchange for an honest review

Publisher: Icon Books

Copyright: Icon Books, 2016

ISBN: 978-1785780738

Format: Paperback, 176pp

Genre: Graphic Non-Fiction

Rating: 4/5

Summed up in a few words
Informative. Brief. Animated. Casual. 

First Impressions
I love Non-Fiction with a twist. Introducing Sociology: A Graphic Guide is as exactly as advertised, it is a clear, concise and illustrated trip through the history and development of sociology and the modern day implications and applications. Thank you to Claire at Icon Books for my review copy.

Book Synopsis
What is society? How does it work, and what does it mean to be a part of society?

Sociology is interested in the ways people shape the society they live in, and the ways society shapes them. Simply, it is the study of what modern society is and how it functions. 

In the series' inimitable comic-book style, Introducing Sociology traces the origins of sociology from industrialisation, revolution and the Enlightenment through to globalisation, neoliberalism and the fear of nationalism - introducing you to key thinkers, movements and concepts along the way.

You will develop insight into the world around you, as you engage your 'sociological imagination' and explore studies of the city, theories of power and knowledge, concepts of national. racial and sexual identity, and much more.

My Thoughts
I think that Icon Books have done a great job with their illustrated introduction series. Having a pocket and/or coffee table sized book that has a convenient format and bite-sized chunks of information was personally really helpful for someone like me who is constantly jumping between books everyday. 

Although it is compact and has a simplistic layout, it is filled to the brim with relevant and helpful information. Gathering together key pioneers in sociology like Marx, Mills, Bauman, Berger, Hegel, Durkheim and Foucault (to name a few...) and outlining their work, ideas and influences in concise text and eye-catching art. 

After an overview of those involved in the creation and nurturing of sociology, we get a straightforward and fluid insight into the theories and practices within sociology and the overall development over the course of its existence. Finally we get the modern day applications and results of sociology and a look to the future and the aims/predictions/outcomes that scientists expect to see.

The content is fine, it is a perfectly decent introduction into the field of sociology. I consider the artwork/graphic content to be the standout feature of this book. The imagery adds depth and emphasises to what the author is trying to convey to the reader. Having illustrations to accompany the text definitely increases the quality of both comprehension and memory.

Overall, you won't come away knowing everything you need to know from Introducing Sociology: A Graphic Guide. It is definitely a great place to start though, a platform to build your knowledge from and it is reasonable in price and easy to carry around with you if you ever need a quick reference. I recommend this book to those who want to open their mind to those around them, or those at the entry level stage of any sociology class/qualification.

If you want to pick it up then here are the links: Amazon UK/Amazon US/Goodreads 

About the Author: John Nagle is a lecturer at the University of Aberdeen, where he researches conflict and peace processes, multiculturalism and social movements. His work is widely published in the academic and popular press, and he has provided research consultancy for both the media and the international public policy bodies.

Piero is an illustrator, artist and graphic designer whose work has been included in the Royal College of Art in London. He has illustrated many Introducing titles. (Official Bios)

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Orphans of the Carnival - Carol Birch

Sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Publisher: Canongate Books

Copyright: Carol Birch, 2016

ISBN: 978-1782116547

Format: Hardback, 380pp

Genre: Historical Fiction/Memoir

Rating: 4.5/5

Summed up in a few words
Honest. Adventurous. Magnificent. Tragic.

First Impressions
Orphans of the Carnival immediately caught my eye with the gorgeous cover art and captivating plot. Carol Birch treated this story with all the wonder and respect that it deserved and I thoroughly enjoyed my time with this book. Julia Pastrana was such a rare and wonderful person and her story is one that needs to be read. Based on the true events of her life, with some amazingly creative input from Carol Birch, Orphans of the Carnival is a dedicated and wondrous narrative about Julia's struggle and success within the performing arts and owning her identity.

Book Synopsis
Julia Pastrana is the singing and dancing marvel from Mexico, heralded on tours across nineteenth-century Europe as much for her talent as for her rather unusual appearance. Yet few can see past the thick hair that covers her: she is both the fascinating toast of a Governor's ball and the shunned, revolting, unnatural beast, to be hidden from children and pregnant women.

But what is her wonderful and terrible link to Rose, a collector of lost treasures in an attic room in present-day South London? In this haunting tale of identity, love and independence, these two lives connect in unforgettable ways.

My Thoughts
Julia Pastrana has an exceptional story. A Mexican orphan who was taken in by a family who raised her, taught her to sing, dance and play instruments. When the elderly lady she was tasked with looking after passes away, Julia decides to go on the road, using her talents and irregular appearance to make money and see the world. Meeting others like herself, misfits and the wonderfully different, she travels America, doing shows, appearing in carnivals and participating in high profile events.

The story is filled with uncertainty and insecurity, Julia has no idea how the world will react to her appearance, the hair, the beard, her facial structure her talents and her personality. Being called ape-woman, bear-woman, inhuman and a creature causes her to doubt her place in the world, but those around her who care about her (or the money she can make) encourage her to carry on and fulfil her dreams. It may sound a bit harsh, but I was a little surprised about how upbeat and positive Orphans of the Carnival was! And I loved it! There are some horrific, unpleasant and hurtful themes and scenarios, but overall I would say it was about 70% adventure and fortitude and about 30% sadness and pain.

The events told in the book were based on her life and Carol Birch had creative freedom to narrate her life, through a third person perspective, and I think she did a great job. The story was emotional, positive, adventurous, respectful and honest. While I thought the Julia Pastrana element was outstanding and readable, I wasn't too sure about the Rose sections of this book. They served well to break up the Julia sections, but in my opinion, they didn't really add much my enjoyment or appreciation of the story. 

Rose's story is brief, focusing on her life in the present day. Surrounding herself with all the lost/unwanted items that she comes across in her life. One day, she finds a doll and takes it home and over the course of the book, her life seems to dissolve away and everything becomes about the doll. I understand why it was included, it acts to answer some questions and add another dimension to the story, but I could have read and enjoyed the book without it.

There are several elements in this book that made it both easy to read and difficult to digest. The characters Julia comes across in her travels were a stand out element to the book, Cato, Ezra, Myrtle and Delia among others are individuals who teach Julia the ways of the world and how to survive in it. I also appreciated Julia's narrative, her rise from tents and abuse to almost royalty. For those who know the story or have read this already, you may agree with me that Theo Lent is probably the most detestable part to this book, though he did make Julia happy in her life so that accounts for something.

Julia's life was difficult but she made the best of a rough situation. The themes and tone in this book reflect this idea really well. The tone and atmosphere was one of both nervous anxiety but also adventure, wonder and delight. I felt the Carol Birch was aiming for themes like, anything is possible and it is heart and personality that truly matter, if that is true then she nailed it and I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Julia's company.

Overall, I have given this book 4/5 stars because it was a well written and respectful narrative, but even though the Rose element added another dimension to the story, it still felt unnecessary. I do recommend this book to you all, it is a perfect piece of historical fiction with true elements threaded throughout that focuses on a wonderful and brave woman who beat the odds to become famous and fall in love. Thank you for reading this review and check out Always Trust In Books for more reviews, posts and other bookish fun. 

Pick up the book here: Amazon UK/Amazon US/Goodreads 

About the Author: Carol Birch is the author of eleven previous novels, including Scapegallows, Turn Again Home, which was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize, and Jamrach's Menagerie, which was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize and long-listed for the Orange Prize for Fiction and the London Book Award. She has also won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize and the David Higham Award for Best First Novel. (Official Bio)

Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Terranauts - T. C. Boyle

Sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing

Copyright: T. Coraghessan Boyle, 2016

ISBN: 978-1408881750

Format: Hardback, 508pp

Genre: Science/Historical Fiction

Rating: 4/5

Summed up in a few words
Human. Relationships. Enclosure. Hostility.

First Impressions
The Terranauts immediately stood out to me, the remarkable cover-art drew me in and the bold and compelling plot idea kept me interested, Thank you to Philippa at Bloomsbury for my review copy. I highly enjoy both SF and historical fiction, I also love books that are inspired by true events/people. The Terranauts contains these elements and so much more. This book is all about the preservation and advancement of humanity and what it actually takes to achieve them. If you are interested in the human condition, human interactions and relationships with a scientific plot basis then this will definitely suit you.

Book Synopsis
Eight people take part in an ecological experiment in 1990s Arizona. Inspired by the true events of the Biosphere 2 project, The Terranauts places human behaviour under the microscope to spell binding effect.

Linda is desperate to be one of the lucky eight chosen to take part in the world's most ambitious ecological experiment. Gazing longingly at Ecosphere II, which rises like a spaceship from the Arizona desert, Linda knows she can survive under its glass dome. Competition is fierce between the hopefuls, among them smooth-talking PR man Ramsay, and Dawn, a naive beauty. All are certain that they would never, ever, break closure before two years are up - unlike their discredited predecessors.

Inside this humid microcosm, the terranauts' labour over crops and livestock, their battles with creepy crawlies, their hostilities and sexual dalliances are all observed by the tourists who come by to gawp, Mission Control's cameras and the watchful eye of the media. As the crew struggles to control nature, and hunger sets in, the snake in this Eden starts to look unmistakably human.

Inspired by real-life events, The Terranauts is a darkly comic, acutely insightful story of human behaviour, animal instincts, idealism and ambition. Placing utopian visions and individual motives under the microscope, this is T. C. Boyle at his acerbic, pitch-perfect best. (Official Synopsis)

My Thoughts
After navigating an intense and difficult training process as well as several critical interviews, eight individuals gained a place on Mission 2 taking place within Ecosphere II,  a 3 acre glass building that contains a whole new world. Ecosphere II has its own rain forest, ocean, desert, savanna, marsh, laboratory, flora, fauna, food chain, air/water filtration and living areas. I was fascinated with the setting, based on the real life E2 project (there are plenty of videos/content about it online). It is the way that each member of the team has to work in together to keep the natural flow of life within the walls of E2, and the possibility that anything can go wrong at any time that kept me invested in The Terranauts. 

The core of the book is of course, the Terranauts themselves. The story is narrated by 3 individuals, Dawn and Ramsay who made it onto the team and into E2, and Linda who misses out on Mission 2 but hangs around for a potential spot on Mission 3 in two years time. The events are shared from all three perspective and I think it worked really well. Having a female and male perspective inside and also having an outside perspective of the developments within made for a gripping and thought provoking read. Dawn is dedicated to the mission at all costs. Ramsay is a PR man who seeks out intimacy in all its forms and Linda is a pissed off, frustrated and conniving character who wants into E2 in any way, shape or form.

T. C. Boyle achieves so many different variations of personality, dialogue, interaction and relationship throughout the entirety of this novel. Juggling each character while also making each incident, fiasco, event or problem seem relevant and using them to change the course of the plot. From arguments, the press, systemic failures, personal failures, unexpected problems, miscommunication, hunger, lack of oxygen and so much more, T. C. Boyle is a craftsman with his writing. The Terranauts is a substantial book, it is 500+ pages of solid story development, a book you can sink into and just exist with the terranauts while they work, research, argue and make decisions that effect the safety of the mission.

The character development is erratic, constantly changing over the course of the 2 years, with the claustrophobic feel, the varying levels of food and oxygen and outside pressure from Mission Control, the press and other team mates. Human interaction is key here, with tough decisions and each individual's feelings, needs and emotions affecting progress and relationships. I liked Dawn, I enjoyed the way she stood up for herself and kept her head on a swivel. Ramsay was the wild card, unpredictable and it was a lot of fun to watch him try and get out of whatever trouble he found himself in daily. I was not a fan of Linda... I appreciated her perspective in terms of plot narration, but her personality was strenuous most of the time with a lot of bitterness, anger and frustration.

With a scientific setting that was both stimulating and engaging, realistic characters confined to a residence that has life threatening circumstances if the wrong decisions are made and T. C. Boyle's thorough and digestible writing, I have given this book 4/5 stars. I think The Terranauts suits a dramatic/science fiction audience, though if you are interested in human interaction then you will easily enjoy the book too. 

Pick up The Terranauts here: Amazon UK/Amazon US/Goodreads

About the Author: T. C. Boyle is the New York Times bestselling author of fifteen novels including The Tortilla Curtain, Drop City, The Harder They Come and San Miguel, and ten collections of story, most recently T. C. Boyle Stories II. His work has been translated into twenty-five languages and has won a PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. He is a member of the Academy of Arts and Letters and lives in California. (Official Bio)