The master of storytelling – Carlos Ruiz Zafon: A review of The Labyrinth of the Spirits

Blog book review The Labyrinth of the Spirits

The Shadow of the Wind left a lasting impression on me when I read it on publication 17 years ago (and on subsequent re-reads). The next novels in the sequence, The Angel’s Game and The Prisoner of Heaven, had the same effect. And now I can add The Labyrinth of the Spirits to that list. For those of you who have been holding out for this, the final novel in Zafon’s The Cemetery of Forgotten Books quartet, you’re in for a treat. And for those of you who haven’t been fortunate to read his novels yet, I strongly recommend you start. Right now.

Described as, “…an intricate and intensely imagined homage to books, the art of storytelling and that magical bridge between literature and our lives”, The Labyrinth of the Spirits combines the genres of fairy tale, thriller, romance and detective stories to provide an extraordinary reading experience.

It was a genuine treat to welcome my old friends, Daniel Sempere and Fermin Romero de Torres, back into my life, and have the opportunity to revisit the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, still one of my most favourite fictional places of all time. Even more delightful was meeting Zafon’s latest creation, Alicia Gris, one of the most extraordinary anti-heroes ever to be captured in the pages of a book. Seductive, tortured, sensitive and  cruel, Alicia is a tour de force.

In Labyrinth, Daniel is now a young man, running the Sempere & Sons bookshop in 1950s Barcelona, sharing this life with his loving wife and son. Yet he still frets over his mother’s death and feels the shadows from his past, and hers, threatening his happiness. When Alicia enters his life, and re-enters Fermin’s, the stage is set for the final chapter in Daniel’s search for the truth about Isabella Sempere.

Dazzled, obsessed, haunted… this could describe many of the characters in The Labyrinth of the Spirits, but  definitely describes me while reading it; I could not put this book down! 

 

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The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas

blog book review of The Psychology of Time Travel

A thought-provoking, page-turning, complexly plotted, fabulous read!

Imagine that time travel was actually possible – what would that be like?  Who would own the ‘rights’? What would the ramifications to history be? What would the constant changes in time do to a time traveller’s circadian rhythm? And what would you do if you knew a crime had been committed in another time?

All of these questions, and more, are answered imaginatively and creatively by Kate Mascarenhas; she even includes a time travel glossary at the back of the book to help the reader understand the time travellers’ jargon as they flash backwards and forwards in time, intersecting with their ‘green’ selves and their ‘silver’ selves, as well as their fathers, granddaughters and friends.

Focusing on four female time travel pioneers, The Psychology of Time Travel is a dazzling debut novel from Kate Mascarenhas. For anyone who loved The Time Traveller’s Wife or Arcadia, this is for you.

The Last, Hanna Jameson

blog book review of The Last

Dystopian present/future? Check.
Modern take on the ‘country house murder mystery’ genre? Check.
Conflicted narrator? Check.

The Last by Hanna Jameson is a fast-moving, yet thought-provoking, exploration of what happens when a set of strangers thrown together by chance have to cope with a catastrophic world event. Far from family and friends, with no access to the internet or any form of news, limited supplies, and the constant threat of looters and raiders, the guests at L’Hotel Sixieme support each other, turn on each other, prey on each other but ultimately come to rely on each other in their new post-nuclear world.

The restricted setting of the hotel and grounds for the majority of the novel creates a suffocating, sometimes threatening environment, and cranks up the tension as Jon Keller, the main protagonist, insists on investigating the murder of the dead child found on the premises in the days after the nuclear bombs hit the US and Europe. Any more detail will entail spoilers so I won’t say any more except that I really enjoyed this novel and would definitely recommend.

Book review: Sophie and the Sibyl

sophie and the sibylA wonderfully engaging, erudite and quite frankly, fun, novel about George Eliot. Written in the style of a Victorian romance, this is a literary romp through the later years of George Eliot’s career and her relationship with her German publishers, the Duncker brothers, It skillfully blends fact and fiction to create a meditation on creativity, intellectualism and love.

The chapter headings are marvellous, for example ‘Chapter Seven: spins the Wheel of Fortune in unexpected ways. The Reader is invited to place her Bets’ or ‘Chapter Three: steps out for a stroll in the autumn sunshine. Sophie von Hahn bewitches the Assembled Company.’

I should say that I do love Victorian novels, and any novel based during the Victorian period, written in the Victorian style, so I may be a little biased in this review. So all I will say is that if you like Victorian novels then you will enjoy this!

Book review: Wake by Elizabeth Knox

wake elizabeth knoxAnd swiftly on the back of reading Wake by Anna Hope, I decided to confuse the issue by reading another book called Wake, this time by Elizabeth Knox.

I read Knox’s The Vintner’s Luck years ago and loved it so was pretty confident going in to Wake. However, now I have finished it that confidence has been shaken. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it but rather it wrong footed me. The opening chapter is horrifically graphic, and it really unsettled me to the extent that I don’t think I really relaxed for the rest of the novel in case another violent episode was described.

The plot is part closed-room mystery, part dystopia (but set in modern day New Zealand), and has a whiff of Lord of the Flies. A community suddenly goes mad and starts killing each other and themselves. A handful of survivors gather together, trying to understand what has happened and why it didn’t affect them but are unable to contact the outside world to find out how far the madness has spread. The survivors are (mainly) appealing and well-drawn, not cookie cutters, their dilemmas well expressed and prompted me to think about how I would react to such a situation. The only jarring element was the Samantha/Samara sub plot which felt unnecessarily complicated.

In summary, I appreciated the cleverness of the this novel but I can’t say I enjoyed it.

Book review: Wake by Anna Hope

Wake Anna HopeSet in post-WWI England, many people want to forget what has gone before and yet, for many, this is not possible. Parents have lost their sons, wives their husbands, siblings their brothers. For those who have come back, even if they are lucky enough to be ‘whole’ physically, mentally they are suffering; survivors’ guilt, nervous shock from the horrors they have seen, nightmares, the list is endless.

However, Wake doesn’t focus on these lost or broken men but rather on their women – a sister, a mother and a lover. Each of them are struggling to adjust to the loss they have suffered, and the change in their circumstances that the end of war has brought, such as a loss of freedom, a change in job, a change in social status. Their three stories represent the three definitions of the word ‘wake’: 1) emerge or cause to emerge form sleep; 2) ritual for the dead; 3) consequence or aftermath. As the novel progresses their stories skirt each other, then intertwine as each of the women search for answers. While describing the women’s lives over five days in November 1920, Hope movingly describes the country’s preparations for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier which underpins this story. Day five is the day the soldier is interred in his final resting place and the day all three women find an answer to the questions that have been haunting them.

This is probably one of the most accomplished debut novels I have ever read and I can’t wait to read The Ballroom.

 

 

Book review: The long way to a small angry planet

the long way to a small angry planetAlthough I enjoy science fiction, I am more of a dystopia girl than space opera. But I had read a couple of good reviews of the long way to a small angry planet and thought I would give it a go. And I have to say I LOVED it!

Not only has Becky Chambers created a brilliantly realised world with engaging characters and an interesting storyline, she has also managed to tackle the ‘big questions’ head on including racism, gender stererotyping and the ethics of bio-engineering, without being heavy-handed. It really made me think and I felt quite bereft when I finished the novel – I missed the characters!

I hope there’s a sequel…