THIS MONTH'S BOOK REVIEWS...THIS MONTH'S BOOK REVIEWS
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James Gault reviews Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood
What would happen if you asked probably the most accomplished living writer what she could do with the story of Shakespeare’s The Tempest? You’d get Hag-Seed from Margaret Atwood.
This is a rare phenomenon: a novel where the hype doesn’t live up to the book. Even the subtitle, The Tempest Retold, is an understatement. The play is not only retold; it is transformed, it is analysed, it is explained, it is dissected and reconstructed. You get both a novel and a literary textbook for your money here. Yet both aspects are so intrinsically integrated that neither detracts from the other.
The basic idea is simple. A performance of the play is created by a prison theatre group under the direction of a failed director. I might even have thought of that idea myself, but the way the author works all the elements into this framework requires a creative imagination and a technical expertise the journeyman writer can only marvel at.
Felix, the director, is a man with attitude, a chip on his shoulder and a burning determination for his revenge. He isn’t quite sane but he is quite rational. Right from the start, although we don’t know what he’s plotting, we’re totally convinced he will succeed. The suspense is kept up until the brilliant denouement.
The Tempest is not one of Shakespeare’s most loved plays, as Ms Atwood, through the voice of Felix, points out. OK, it’s because we misunderstand it, but the fact is that it’s not a plot most of us are intimately familiar with. It’s not normally on school reading lists, ousted by Hamlet, Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet.
Our lack of knowledge of the play is both a challenge and an opportunity for the author. As the theatre group create their interpretation, create their characters and build their performance, Felix teaches us as he teaches them the deep themes of the plot and characters. And here is the touch of genius. As the story unfolds, we feel the sense of familiarity as we sense the parallels between the play and Felix’s ‘real life’. It is all so cleverly intertwined by a master story-teller.
After reading this novel, I have two recommendations for English speaking educationalists all over the world. Put The Tempest into the curriculum and make Hag-seed the required textbook. I can’t remember ever learning so much and having so much fun at the same time.
Darlene Ramirez reviews Southern Tears of Karma by Otiti-Uwagbai-Wright
The writer's ability truly played a role in my attachment for Melissa as she pens her tale of the character’s spurned childhood. Creating the youngest character of three, Otiti-Uwagbai-Wright welcomes you into her efficacious perception ensnaring you with Melissa’s ready-made reasons to justify her actions. As the story unfolds I was compelled to keep reading. Melissa’s life mirrored my own during young adulthood consequently creating an emotional attachment to her personal decisions and emotional outcomes. Perhaps that is why I read this book in less than two days which is not the norm for me. I found myself so desperate to side with Melissa that I was biased to her shortcomings. My willingness to overlook her flaws kept me blind to her true life circumstances. Eventually, my moral compass had seen the light of reality but not before she had me so hooked to her drama that I was sad the book ended. This book does not disappoint when it comes to a fast and easy read. I appreciated the twists and turns and every chance encounters with karma. Although I hear there may be a sequel, I can only hope the next assignation with Melissa doesn’t leave me wanting for something only she can have?
Ted Bun reviews Natural Witch and the Fire and Ice Trilogy By KF Breene
Natural Witch (Magical Mayhem Book 1)
This is the one that might have been out of sequence, but it appears to have a sequel in preparation.
We meet Penny Bristol, a young woman with known but suppressed magical talent, standing outside a church in New Orleans. She is supposed to be attending a magical retreat. Somehow the dates have gotten confused. Preparations for a battle between good and evil are underway. The question is who’s side should she be on?
After having accidentally helped to turn a coven of witches into zombies she ends up hiding in a cupboard while a pitch battle rages around her. Being found by a self declared ‘good guy’ another young woman dressed in leather armed with a gun and sword she survives and is taken into the care of an older couple of ‘mages’ (magicians).
From then on we follow her tale as she tries to return to her old life, correcting the grammar on public notices with her friend Veronica, for example. However, her magic won’t let her and soon the corrupt Magicians Guild of Seattle have her in their sights.
Pace, humour and a strong internal logic hold this well written story together. A very entertaining read I’ll give it ‘A Good Read’
I then followed back to the parent series,.
The lead character in this series is a certain leather clad, sword wielding, female Super Natural Bounty Hunter, Reagan. As you may have surmised this is the same self-proclaimed ‘good guy’ who appears in Natural Witch.
There is far more to Reagan, as we learn across the rest of the series and that is a problem with trying to do a review of a series like this. The books are pretty well continuous and to review Fused in Fire without giving spoilers on the earlier stories is rather tricky. So I won’t go there other than to say that the journey to the Cracks of Doom in Fused in Fire is very derivative of the Lord of the Rings, not that that is a bad thing in its self!
If you enjoy magic, dragons, vampires and unicorns with a bit of violence and a twist of humour …. You should find the whole trilogy worth the read! Three Good Reads!
James Gault reviews The Pacifist by Mehreen Ahmed
On one level, the Pacifist is a historical novel set in late 19th and early 20th century Australia. It’s rag-to-riches story of the climb from poverty and oppression to wealth and power. It illuminates aspects of troubling themes like institutional child abuse, racism, corruption, mental health, relevant then and still relevant today. All of this is in the novel, but it is not the novel.
This is above all a book about people: the story of two generations of a family and how the sins of the father are visited on the son. In the beginning we are introduced to Malcolm, a successful businessman about whom we would say, euphemistically, that he is not a nice person. But how can a person become so ‘not nice’? Is he just a rich spoiled brat, or is there more to it than that? Is there a dark family secret somewhere?
Well, of course there is. Several of them. They’re hidden in a mysterious red folder. We are taken back to revisit the life story of Malcolm’s mother Rose and his father Peter and to discover how and why the red folder came to be created. As the story unfolds, we begin at least to understand Malcolm, even if we can’t quite bring ourselves to forgive him. Peter is the victim of the hard circumstances of the times and Malcolm is in some sense a victim of Peter, and therefore a victim too of the misfortunate and injustices his parents faced. It reminds us that effects of oppression extend down the generations.
This is a really well written story, especially in the way the characters are brought to life. The one thing I didn’t like was that, while the story centred on the father Peter, the author had built a much more powerful picture of the son. I was left hungering for more about Malcolm.
That aside, the book is a fascinating read. It’s an Australian novel with what seems to me an authentic Australian feel, but the story and themes are universal.
Ted Bun reviews Mirror Earth Network By PZ Walker
The third Mirror Earth series from the prolific pen of Paul Z Walker.
This tale of travel between largely benign friendly worlds, all called Earth takes a twist and arrives at the beginning.
Meanwhile the wicked Prof Holgar, the principle of the Laboratory where we started (on ‘our’ Earth) is still in pursuit of his dinosaurs that live on the first Mirror Earth.
Add in strange ‘going ons’ at Ayers Rock, flowers with power and data, a few Aliens and we are dashing across curved, distorted time and Space with out rockets or pockets!
Another great yarn from PZ! A Good Read