Rachel Reviews: The Virgin Suicides

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Title: The Virgin Suicides

Author: Jeffrey Eugenides

Genre: Contemporary

Format: Ebook

Date Completed: 28 August 2017

Goodreads Rating: 4 stars

Blurb: 

The five Lisbon sisters are brought up in a strict household, and when the youngest kills herself, the oppression of the remaining sisters intensifies. As Therese, Mary, Bonnie and Lux are pulled deeper into isolation by their domineering mother, a group of neighbourhood boys become obsessed with liberating the sisters. But what the boys don’t know is, the Lisbon girls are beyond saving.

I’ve now read The Virgin Suicides twice. Both times, I read it in one sitting, over the space of around 3 hours. Both times, I’ve finished it feeling as though I’ve just read something incredible, something I can’t quite put my finger on, and yet at the same time feeling slightly detached from the whole experience. I think that feeling of detachment says more about Eugenides and his writing style than anything else could.

The genius of The Virgin Suicides is that it is told entirely from the outside. Not once do we get a glimpse inside the minds of the five Lisbon sisters. We never get to understand their motivations, their wishes, their justifications. The closest we get to them is through the imaginings of the group of males who were infatuated with the Lisbon sisters in life, and remain infatuated with them in death. We, like the boys in the novel, are forced to poke around, to draw our own conclusions, to rely on hearsay and assumptions to form a picture of the sisters in our heads. And I think this is genius. Would the book have been good if it gave the sisters a voice, allowed them to tell their own story? Of course. But it wouldn’t be the same book. And it probably wouldn’t be as atmospheric.

Reading The Virgin Suicides the first time is a very different experience to re-reading it. When you’re first reading, you’re trying to figure out the mystery along with the boys. You’re using their evidence, their accounts of the events, their perceptions, to piece together the Lisbon sisters and try to understand why they came to kill themselves. On the second reading, however, your focus is pulled more towards the boys themselves, their obsession with the girls and their simultaneous detachment from their suffering. The Virgin Suicides isn’t really about the Lisbon sisters. Their tragedy is merely used as a means to explore the attitudes the group of teenage boys held towards them, or towards women in general. It is a masterful exploration of the misunderstandings and assumptions society makes about other people, about their motivations and desires.  In particular, The Virgin Suicides explores the fetishisation of teenage girls by those around them, how easy it is for unique individuals to blend into one being, devoid of any autonomy or power over the direction of their lives.

The Virgin Suicides is best devoured in one sitting. It’s almost cinematic in its delivery, and as a result it feels like something that needs to be consumed all at once, rather than spread out over multiple sittings. Upon finishing The Virgin Suicides, I had a moment of detachment, of feeling as though I was somehow separate from what was happening around me. In essence, I felt the way the novel feels: separate and isolated, desperately trying to put the pieces together to justify my own interpretation. And to me, that’s the sign of a great book.

4.5/5 stars.

 

Rachel Reviews: The Golden Yarn

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Title: The Golden Yarn (Mirrorworld, Book 3)

Author: Cornelia Funke

Genre: Fantasy

Format: Paperback

Date completed: 18 April 2017

Goodreads rating: 5 stars

Blurb: 

Jacob Reckless continues to travel the portal in his father’s abandoned study. His name has continued to be famous on the other side of the mirror, as a finder of enchanted items and buried secrets. His family and friends, from his brother, Will to the shape-shifting vixen, Fox, are on a collision course as the two worlds become connected. Who is driving these two worlds together and why is he always a step ahead?
This new force isn’t limiting its influence to just Jacob s efforts it has broadened the horizon within MirrorWorld. Jacob, Will and Fox travel east and into the Russian folklore, to the land of the Baba Yaga, pursued by a new type of being that knows our world all to well.

I will preface this review by saying two things. Firstly, this review won’t be super in depth or long, because as the third book in a series there’s quite a lot that could be spoilers, and I don’t want to spoil any of this for anyone. Secondly, Cornelia Funke is my favourite author, and as a result I’m somewhat biased in that I love literally everything of hers I read. Because she’s amazing.

I read the first book of the Mirrorworld series a long time ago, when it was called Reckless, and it’s sequel was Fearless. Now, for some unknown reason, these books have been rebranded as Reckless: The Petrified Flesh and Reckless: Living Shadows. This annoys me slightly, because I thought that Reckless and Fearless were cooler names. I’m also a bit annoyed that the English edition covers aren’t quite as beautiful as the German covers (this seems to be a theme). Seriously, look how beautiful they are!

Anyway, onto The Golden Yarn. I actually picked up my edition as part of the Dymocks free book boxes they sometimes have in store, where you can pick up books that have been damaged/lost the dust jacket/are ARCs for free if you have a student card or dymocks card. As a result, my copy of The Golden Yarn is actually an uncorrected proof copy. This doesn’t bother me in the slightest, particularly as (because of the various cover/branding changes that have occurred), I’m going to need to repurchase book 1 anyway, and I only have book 2 on audiobook. I brought it back to Edinburgh with me from Adelaide to read on the train up from London, which is exactly what I did.

The Mirrorworld series is set, unsurprisingly, in a world called the Mirrorworld. The Mirrorworld is quite similar to our world, however a few centuries behind. By this point in the series, the Mirrorworld has entered the industrial revolution, and horses, carriages, and candles mingle with trains, automobiles, and the beginnings of electricity. The Mirrorworld is also filled with magic and magical creatures: witches, nymphs, faeries, and elves. The Mirrorworld is actually one of my favourite fantasy worlds I’ve ever encountered in literature. I like that it’s not your bulk standard medieval alternative world that often appears in fantasy. I like that it’s a bit gritty and dark. And I actually really enjoy that its geography mirrors that of our world, just with slightly different names. I enjoy that I don’t need to constantly flick back and forth to a map in the front to know where my characters are.

All three of the Mirrorworld novels so far as essentially quest stories that follow our main character, Jacob Reckless. Jacob Reckless is from our world, but has been able to travel to the Mirrorworld through a mirror in his house since he was a teenager. Like all of the characters in this series, Jacob is wonderfully developed. He isn’t the typical loveable flawless hero, but he also isn’t the classic anti-hero. He’s a mix of both, and as a result he comes across as an actual person, someone you could imagine meeting. Because the Mirrorworld series is not strictly YA, the characters are given much more scope to be developed and behave in realistic, complicated, conflicting ways, rather than being bound by classic YA tropes. Jacob isn’t always likeable, in fact sometimes he’s downright infuriating, but that just adds to his charm and developed-ness.

In The Golden Yarn, we get to explore a bit more of the Mirrorworld, and its various magical creatures (often based in the myths of the European countries they’re set in). We also got to experience the story from multiple points of view. I’m a huge fan of utilising MPVs, but only if it’s done well. Funke manages to make sure all the characters have a distinct voice and personality, and this comes through into their chapters.

In general, Funke is such an incredible author, and her translator Oliver Latsch does an amazing job of carrying this through into English. The writing flows so well, and it makes the books really easy to read without feeling undeveloped. The Golden Yarn is no different. The beautiful writing style, which is quite simple, just adds to the experience of reading such a wonderful work of fantasy.

If you’ve never read any of Funke’s work, I would almost recommend starting here, rather than her more popular Inkworld series. Don’t get me wrong, I adore the Inkworld series, but I just feel that the Mirrorworld is a bit different and a really wonderful place for adult readers to begin their Cornelia Funke experience.

It’s always a good sign for me when I don’t want to finish a book because I’m enjoying it so much, and that’s what I had with The Golden Yarn. I didn’t want to leave the Mirrorworld, its wonderful characters, its beautiful worldbuilding, and its stunning story. If I had the first book here with me in Edinburgh, I would have picked it up and started reading it again straight away. And I can’t really give a book series a higher praise than that.

5/5 stars.

Rachel Reviews: On The Other Side

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Title: On The Other Side

Author: Carrie Hope Fletcher

Genre: Magical realism

Format: Audiobook

Date Finished: 2 April 2017

Goodreads Rating: 2 stars

Blurb: 

Your soul is too heavy to pass through this door, Leave the weight of the world in the world from before,

Evie Snow is eighty-two when she quietly passes away in her sleep, surrounded by her children and grandchildren. It’s the way most people wish to leave the world but when Evie reaches the door of her own private heaven, she finds that she’s become her twenty-seven-year-old self and the door won’t open.Evie’s soul must be light enough to pass through so she needs to get rid of whatever is making her soul heavy. For Evie, this means unburdening herself of the three secrets that have weighed her down for over fifty years, so she must find a way to reveal them before it’s too late. As Evie begins the journey of a lifetime, she learns more about life and love than she ever thought possible, and somehow, some way, she may also find her way back to her long lost love…

I really wanted to like this book. I stumbled across Carrie’s YouTube channel about 18 months ago, and really enjoyed her videos. I read her first book, All I Know Nowwhich I quite enjoyed. I was impressed that someone breaking into the YouTube book market had managed to create a book that was worth the read, meaningful, and to be frank, not rubbish.

I had such high hopes for On The Other Side. It’s Carrie’s first novel, which honestly is probably why I didn’t give it a lower rating. First books aren’t always the best. Not everyone bursts onto the writing scene with an incredible best seller that catapults them to cult status (at least in the book blogging/tubing community). Although On The Other Side is a best seller. More on that later.

The premise of On The Other Side sounded lovely – after you die, if you have led a good life, you can go to your own personal heaven, the place you were at your happiest. But in order to get there, you have to leave behind the burdens from your previous life, and make right the wrongs that are weighing down your soul. For our main character, Evie Snow (again, more on that later), her burden is the loss of her one true love, Vincent Winters (see above brackets). It had the potential to be magical, and beautiful, and poignant, and great.

It wasn’t.

When Suicide Squad came out, one of the (many) criticisms was that Cara Delevingne just didn’t have the acting experience required to pull off the complex role of the Enchantress. I feel as though the same could be said of Fletcher and On The Other Side. The execution of what sounded like such a unique and lovely idea just wasn’t there. This review will probably be spoilery, because I have a lot to say, so bear with me.

The plot. I said before the overall idea was lovely, and had so much potential. It did, but the plot itself really let the idea down. Basically, to provide a short, spoiler-filled summary, Evie has moved out of her super wealthy family’s home to live in a flat her mother pays for to work as a cartoonist. She has one year to get a promotion or she has to return home and marry whoever her mother picks for her to marry. She falls in love with dark, artistic Vincent. She loses her job. She and Vincent plan on running away together to escape her mother. Her brother comes to her and tells her he’s gay, but can’t tell their parents or he’ll lose his inheritance and will have nothing. Evie decides to leave Vincent and do what her mother wants, because that way she’ll be able to financially support her brother. She does just that, and marries her best friend who is in love with her but who she doesn’t love. This is all the backstory for why Evie can’t get into her heaven.

I don’t even know where to begin. If On The Other Side had been set in the seventeenth century, or perhaps even as late as the VERY early twentieth century, I could have believed the premise of the plot. But it’s not. Vincent wears skinny jeans. They go to a prom (despite being 27 and 28). And as a result, the whole plot just becomes ridiculous. Arranged marriages are deeply frowned upon in Britain. If Evie was so deeply in love with Vincent that she couldn’t get into her heaven without making amends with him, then she (and her brother) probably could have just gotten jobs like every other adult in the world. I just couldn’t suspend my disbelief for the non-magical realism elements of the plot. I found the whole concept so utterly absurd (and not to mention unrealistic) that it really detracted from my enjoyment of everything else in the novel.

I wasn’t particularly impressed by the magic either. I am fussy about magic in books, but if it’s done well I feel like it adds amazing depth to a story. The Night Circus, for example, is a stunning tale of magical realism. In On The Other Side the magic felt disjointed, as though it was just thrown in to give the novel a genre. The parts set after Evie’s death worked mostly, it was a quirky exploration of the afterlife. The magic should have stopped there, not continued into the living world. It was so random and illogical that I often thought I was just reading a unique and rather elaborate metaphor, only to realise that no, her paintings actually did turn to glass, she did in fact take her heart out of her chest and bury it, and it did then grow into a weird tree. The magical elements, like a lot of the plot, just didn’t work, and they really let the book down.
My next big issue was with the characters. Not only did they all have ridiculous names that were rather unimaginative and repetitive (Evie Snow, Vincent Winters, Sonny Shine), but they were absurdly two-dimensional. The two main characters were just Carrie and her boyfriend, Pete. The only difference (and I mean the only) was that Evie couldn’t sing, whereas Carrie is a professional musical theatre actress. Whilst I understand drawing on what you know in writing, the obvious plucking of their relationship into a fiction world was a bit dull. Although many (ok, three) of the characters were LGBT, it just felt like that was slapped on to make the book match her YouTube brand (which is very open, and directed mainly towards younger viewers). It was nice that the characters’ sexuality wasn’t their only feature, but the lack of integration into the rest of the plot made it feel clunky and deliberately inclusive, rather than a natural evolution. I despised the characters I was supposed to dislike (such as Evie’s mother, who was quite possibly just every archetype for “evil mother” rolled into one), but I didn’t particularly like any of the characters I was meant to like either. They just fell flat, and weren’t able to hold up the slightly shady plot.

The one positive was that the writing itself was lovely, but it wasn’t enough to save this book.

Maybe, one day, I’ll give Carrie’s next novel, All That She Can See (another book with a lovely premise) a chance, but for now, I feel as though I’d once again be disappointed by a poorly executed example of a wonderful idea, that was only put up on a pedestal because of her existing audience. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate all YouTuber books just because they were written by YouTubers. But On The Other Side isn’t best-seller quality, and it doesn’t deserve that title. It’s not brilliant. It’s barely even mediocre.

2.5/5 stars.

Rachel Reviews: The Princess Diarist

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Title: The Princess Diarist

Author: Carrie Fisher

Genre: Memoir

Format: Audiobook

Date Completed: 31 March 2017.

Goodreads Rating: 4 stars

Blurb: 

When Carrie Fisher recently discovered the journals she kept during the filming of the first Star Wars movie, she was astonished to see what they had preserved—plaintive love poems, unbridled musings with youthful naiveté, and a vulnerability that she barely recognized. Today, her fame as an author, actress, and pop-culture icon is indisputable, but in 1977, Carrie Fisher was just a teenager with an all-consuming crush on her costar, Harrison Ford.

With these excerpts from her handwritten notebooks, The Princess Diarist is Fisher’s intimate and revealing recollection of what happened on one of the most famous film sets of all time—and what developed behind the scenes.  Fisher also ponders the joys and insanity of celebrity, and the absurdity of a life spawned by Hollywood royalty, only to be surpassed by her own outer-space royalty. Laugh-out-loud hilarious and endlessly quotable, The Princess Diarist brims with the candor and introspection of a diary while offering shrewd insight into the type of stardom that few will ever experience.

I am a HUGE fan of Star Wars. I grew up watching the movies, I have very strong opinions about which of the films is best, and I struggle to sit through any of the newest ones without crying because they get me right in the nostalgia-feels. I saw Rouge One the same week that Carrie Fisher died, and I think I felt the way people felt when Alan Rickman died. Someone who had been such a substantial part of my childhood, who had portrayed a character I had looked up to and loved (I once went to primary school with my hair like Princess Leia, only to take it out in tears when one of the kids made fun of me). I had never read any of her writing before she died, and honestly I didn’t know much about her life outside of Star Wars, but after she passed away I knew I wanted to read The Princess Diarist. 

A lot of people have criticised the book because it doesn’t really give all that much of an insight into the filming of the first (IV) Star Wars movie. I couldn’t have cared less. Fisher wrote with such humour, honesty, and openness, about what was clearly an incredibly formative time in her life. I found myself smiling time and time again as she reflected back onto what life was like at nineteen – the anxiety, the insecurity, the crushes, the feeling of immortality. Although I wasn’t on the set of what was the become one of the greatest movies of all time at nineteen, and I definitely wasn’t having an affair with my married co-star, it felt so relatable. She managed to tap in exactly to how it feels to be a teenager, and look back on it with fondness, embarrassment, and honesty.

Part of the book is made up of excerpts from the diaries Carrie Fisher kept whilst she was filming the first Star Wars movie. In the audiobook, these sections were read by her daughter, which worked brilliantly. Again, people have said that these sections were too vague, they didn’t mention Star Wars enough, they weren’t what they were expecting, but to me those criticisms are ridiculous. The diary sections weren’t pages of a manuscript, written in hindsight, with the intention of giving an audience information. They were pages from a very private diary, kept by a young woman who was feeling incredibly smitten and incredibly out of her depth. As a young woman who as felt (as to some extent continues to feel) both of those things, the diary entries, their raw-ness, the way they reflected a stream of consciousness without editing or overthinking, really resonated with me.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading The Princess Diarist, and I think it was even more enjoyable because it wasn’t Star Wars heavy. Don’t get me wrong, I would have loved a blow by blow account of what it was like filming Star Wars, but the fact it was more of a snapshot of Fisher’s life at nineteen made it even more relatable, enjoyable, and touching.

4 stars.

Rachel Reviews: The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds

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Title: The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds (An Isabel Dalhousie Novel)

Author: Alexander McCall Smith

Genre: Fiction

Format: Hardback

Date completed: 24 March 2017

Goodreads rating: 2 stars

Blurb:

As a mother, wife, employer and editor of the Review of Applied Ethics – not to mention resident of Edinburgh, the birthplace of moral philosophy – Isabel Dalhousie is all too aware that to be human is to be responsible. So when a neighbour brings her a new and potentially dangerous puzzle to solve, once again Isabel feels she has no option but to shoulder the burden of other people’s difficulties.

An exquisite masterpiece painting has been stolen from the collection of Duncan Munrowe, old-fashioned philanthropist, father to two discontented children, and a very wealthy man. As Isabel enters into negotiations with the shadowy figures who have come in search of a ransom, a case where heroes and villains should be clearly defined turns murky: the list of those who desire the painting – or the money – lengthens, and hasty judgement must be avoided at all cost. Morals, it turns out, are like Scottish clouds: complex, changeable and tricky to get a firm grip on; they require a sharp observational eye, a philosophical mindset, and the habit of kindness, and fortunately for those around her Isabel Dalhousie is in possession of all three.

I promised myself that this year I would force myself to read from genres I don’t normally engage with. The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds was my first foray in years into the chick-lit, easy-read genre, and honestly, it was quite disappointing.

My mum sent me this book. In theory, it’s perfect for me: set in Edinburgh, intelligent female lead. It just unfortunately wasn’t my cup of tea. I’m sure it would be perfect for plenty of other people, but I just found it a bit…meh.

Isabel Dalhousie is the editor of a philosophical academic journal, living in Edinburgh with her  handsome-and-muscular-but-never-works-out musician husband, and her “three and three-quarter year old” son Charlie, who is apparently a child-prodigy in the making. In her spare time, she reluctantly gets involved in other people’s problems as a sort of moral-sleuth, which is the premise of this series of novels. In this case, she’s roped in by her acquaintance Martha to help the very wealth Duncan Munrowe find his stolen, £3 million painting. It could have been a very interesting plot, filled with intrigue and mystery, but honestly I just found it irritating.

More specifically, I found Isabel irritating. She waxes lyrical about moral philosophy, and doing the right thing, and being a good person, but she’s awfully inconsistent, and quite childish. She happily gets involved digging about in Munrowe’s stolen painting/family dramas, and yet she won’t act as a character reference for her so-called friend, Eddie. She picks a rather odd fight with the nanny, Grace, over her decision to teach Charlie mathematics, but she never bothers to investigate the method Grace is using. If she had been a consistent character, I probably could have put up with her constant moral philosophising, but honestly I just found it irritating. I felt the same way about all the other characters. It was as though they were all just 2D stereotypes: the perfect husband, the perfect son, the headstrong nanny, the traumatised young man, the rich kid who hates the class system, the reserved, conservative wealthy land-owner. They didn’t really feel like characters, they didn’t have personalities that stood out to me. They were just, well, there.

Usually when I don’t like a book, I wish it had been shorter, but in this case I think the novel could have been improved by being a hundred pages longer. Without spoiling things, the main plot just sort of ends without really being resolved, which felt like a bit of a cop-out. More than that, all of the sub-plots (and there are quite a few) just finish mid-conflict without any real resolution or explanation. The entire time I was reading I felt like I was chasing different threads, only to find that they all stopped dead, mostly in frayed, unsatisfying trickle. At only 246 pages, McCall-Smith could definitely have added in some actual resolutions without stretching the length too dramatically.

If you’re in the mood for some easy-reading, the book equivalent to watching some trashy chick-flick that you can just switch your brain off for, you could read The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds quite easily in one sitting. Think a lazy Sunday curled up on the couch with a glass of wine, some snacks, and a crackling fire. I read it in three sittings, because I didn’t really enjoy it and therefore didn’t feel compelled to push myself to finish it. Then again, there are a lot of people who love these books, so maybe it just wasn’t my cup of tea. Maybe follow the advice of others on the Goodreads page and start somewhere else – one of the other Isabel Dalhousie novels or one of his other series, but not here. Unfortunately, I don’t know if I feel particularly driven to read any of his other work.

2.5/5 stars.

Rachel Reviews: The Amber Shadows

I literally just finished reading this book. I’m not even kidding, I finished it about 15 minutes ago. I figured now is probably the best time to write my review, as everything is still fresh in my mind (and I’m short a blog post for this week). It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, so forgive me if it’s a bit rusty.


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Title: The Amber Shadows

Author: Lucy Ribchester

Genre: Historical Fiction

Format: Paperback

Date completed: 17 March 2017 (just)

Goodreads rating: 4 stars

Blurb: 

On a delayed train, deep in the English countryside, two strangers meet. It is 1942 and they are both men of fighting age, though neither is in uniform. As strangers do in these days of war, they pass the time by sharing their stories. But walls have ears and careless talk costs lives…
At Bletchley Park, Honey Deschamps spends her days at a type-x machine in Hut 6, transcribing decrypted signals from the German Army. One winter’s night, as she walks home in the blackout, she meets a stranger in the shadows. He tells her his name is Felix, and he has a package for her.
The parcel, containing a small piece of amber, postmarked from Russia and branded with two censor’s stamps, is just the first of several. Someone is trying to get a message to her, but who? As a dangerous web weaves ever tighter around her, can Honey uncover who is sending these mysterious packages and why before it’s too late…?

This time last year (ok, last February but shhh) I read Lucy Ribchester’s debut novel, The Hourglass Factory, and really enjoyed it. You can read my review of that here. I’d been meaning to pick up her next novel, The Amber Shadows, for about a year, but I hadn’t been able to find it anywhere in Adelaide and then the honours monster came and ate all my reading mojo. When I stumbled across it in Waterstones in January, I bought it without a second thought.

Going into The Amber Shadows, I already knew a few things. 1) I really enjoy Lucy Ribchester’s writing, and 2) I especially enjoyed the way she uses history as a backdrop for fictional stories (aka historical fiction but shh).

All in all, I wasn’t disappointed. It’s so obvious when reading Ribchester’s novels that she REALLY does her research. Bletchley Park is a place still so shrouded in mystery, so it would have been easy to just gloss over the historical details, but The Amber Shadows is impecibly researched. This probably isn’t a bit deal to normal people, but as a history student it’s refreshing to come across historical fiction actually written by someone interested in history.

Once again, I really enjoyed Ribchester’s female characters. Honey was everything she needed to be, simultaneously timid and plucky, and even when she was doing my head in, I still had a soft spot for her. The supporting cast of female characters are wonderfully developed, and it was lovely to read a novel where the female friendships are really at the heart of most of the plot. The male characters were slightly less obviously well-developed (does that even make sense) than the female characters, but this worked into the whole mystery of working at the park, so really added to the plot.

Now, even though I knew The Amber Shadows was a mystery/thriller/murder type story, I wasn’t expecting it to be quite so thriller-esque. This is not at all a criticism, it was a wonderful surprise. About 1/3 of the way through the novel, I found myself feeling a bit confused and disjointed, until I realised I’d been reading it wrong. It wasn’t a clear-cut, Midsomer Murders-style who-dun-it, the novel is a proper thriller, where you’re not sure what is real, what is fiction, and what is caused by Honey’s constant stress and lack of sleep (because of the war and working at Bletchley, you know).

The middle did feel as though it dragged slightly, but I didn’t mind and it didn’t really impact the pace I was reading (I read 2/3 of it today, after all). The sub-plots might not all have been necessary, but they were bloody good to read! Other reviewers have critiqued the timelines, or the realism of the plot, but that stuff just doesn’t really bother me. I think The Amber Shadows handles its weaknesses well enough that it doesn’t detract from the reading experience, and there was nothing so glaringly obvious that it threw me out of the story. I sometimes think some people need to chill out a little bit, and remember that they’re reading a story.

I won’t give too much away, but I loved the ended, which I didn’t spot until mere pages before it happened. If I had to criticise, I’d only say that I wish more time had been devoted to really playing out the conclusion, and slightly less time on the sub-plots in the middle.

If you’re looking for some refreshing historical fiction with strong female leads and really inspired (and unique) storylines, look no further than Lucy Ribchester’s books. I can’t wait for the next one.

4/5 stars.

Rachel Reviews: Across the Nightingale Floor

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Title: Across the Nightingale Floor

Author: Lian Hearn

Genre: Fantasy

Format: Paperback

Date completed: March 16 2016

Goodreads rating: 4 stars

Blurb:

In his black-walled fortress at Inuyama, the warlord Iida Sadamu surveys his famous nightingale floor. Constructed with exquisite skill, it sings at the tread of each human foot. No assassin can cross it unheard.

The youth Takeo has been brought up in a remote mountain village among the Hidden, a reclusive and spiritual people who have taught him only the ways of peace. But unbeknownst to him, his father was a celebrated assassin and a member of the Tribe, an ancient network of families with extraordinary, preternatural skills. When Takeo’s village is pillaged, he is rescued and adopted by the mysterious Lord Otori Shigeru. Under the tutelage of Shigeru, he learns that he too possesses the skills of the Tribe. And, with this knowledge, he embarks on a journey that will lead him across the famed nightingale floor—and to his own unimaginable destiny…

I can’t remember how long A and my mum/brother have been recommending that I read the Tales of the Otori series, but we’re talking years.  They were completely right, I did love it, and I can’t believe it took me so long to pick up the first book!

This book has a few not so great reviews on Goodreads from people who think Hearn just wrote a really inaccurate historical fiction novel, but she does state pretty clearly at the beginning (at least in my edition) that whilst she was inspired by Japan, the world is a fantasy world, and the book is a fantasy book.

I thought Across the Nightingale Floor was fantastic.  The world building was thorough but wasn’t so overwhelming that you were constantly flicking back to the map to work out where exactly you were at that particular moment of the plot.  The characters were really well developed and there was enough intrigue to keep me interested without making me frustrated that I just didn’t know what was going on!  The ending (no spoilers) gave me just the right amount of satisfaction, sadness, and intrigue to fulfil me but also keep me interested in the series!

I also really loved how easy this book was to read! I read it in three sittings: two 100 page session and the final 200(ish) page session.  If you had a day (or probably less) to spare you could definitely read it in one sitting, which can sometimes be nice when you’re just really in the mood for reading.

Overall, I really enjoyed Across the Nightingale Floor and I’ve already picked up book 2 to start reading today!

4.5/5 stars