Tuesday, 20 October 2020

Fancy a cuppa? Tea with Rasputin by Rolf Richardson

As a kid, I was obsessed with the movie Anastasia. I saw it god-knows how many times at the cinema, had all the toys I could possibly get my hands on, and even sported an Anastasia lunch box at one point. I also think that my love of the film is what spurned my all-consuming adoration of the iconic Angela Lansbury, who played the Dowager Empress Marie in the film. 

Aside from this, I have very little experience with anything even remotely Russian, unless you count the reading One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in 7th grade, which I don't because I remember nothing about it. That is until I was sent Tea with Rasputin by Rolf Richardson to read last month. 

The book begins with Terry, a low-ranking member of a flight crew, being sent to locate missing pilot Gregory who disappeared along the Alaska-Russia border. Travelling to the US state, he investigates the pilots unexpected vanishing, meeting his future wife Coral along the way, and eventually discovers the pilot was killed and buried in Russia. 

Unconvinced by this explanation, Terry continues to investigate the pilot's disappearance only to find that he had faked his own death in order to start a new life in his native Russia, leaving behind his wife in the UK to whom he left a large life insurance policy. 

From then on, the novel recounts Terry's relationship with the former pilot, both personal and professional, and he and his family's own time spent living in Russia. With details about corruption in the country, Grigori as becomes known is killed by a suspected poison dart whilst attempting to flee the country for England with his children and Terry's family. 

What I liked most about the book was that I had very little experience with reading literature focused on Russian heritage. Whilst the story of Terry's life and how it became intertwined with Grigori's was the main focus of the plotline, there were also pieces of information regarding the development of Russia during the 1990s that I did not expect. Turning against the traditional form of fictional text, elements of interesting non-fiction were included to both entertain and educate the reader. It was also unlike anything I had ever read before, which is always a bonus when being sent texts to review. 

However, my understanding of such events was not always what it could have been, and a little extra information about the influencing Russian politics may have been useful as a means of expanding my understanding of the text. Plus the title had absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the book unless you count the two of so pages towards the end where Grigori is found dead at an installation depicting Rasputin's meeting with the Tsar at a popular museum. I know you shouldn't judge a book by its title, but it felt very much as if the connection had been tacked on unnecessarily because the author liked the title. 

Overall, this is definitely a novel I'd recommend. Both interesting and unusual, it was unlike anything I'd ever read before and I'd happily read someone of the author's other texts. 8/10


Tuesday, 6 October 2020

Hell hath no fury, Dead Woman Scorned by Michael Clark

Let's talk sequels, shall we? 

When I got sent this book, I was told the first one was absolutely amazing and found it attached to the accompanying email. Normally I would have read the first novel before diving into the second, but time limitations prevented me from being able to do so and, for the most part, it was pretty easy to club together an idea of what the first text had been about. 

Dead Woman Scorned by Michael Clark could very easily be a standalone text. Slipping between time periods, it talks of a man renovating a house haunted by a murderous ghost who murdered her son, the story of how the murderous ghost came to be, and the actions of a man obsessed with the aforementioned ghost and how her appearances have affected his family. Interwoven with other days of her actions and the occult, it's one of the few texts I have encountered recently where the time-hopping was not only beneficial to my understanding and enjoyment of the text but also incredibly clear. 

The only problem I have surrounding the idea of the book being a sequel is how it prepares for what the third text in the series, that I have not and, if I'm honest, have no desire to read. The text could have ended perfectly without the inclusion of a shorter storyline involving the death of the owners of a funeral home in a drunk driving accident, and the subsequent journey her children take towards carrying on working for the company. Eventually leading to the death of their daughter, their fuck-up son has to take over the business and is inexplicably visited by the ghost of his parents when he continues to run his family's business into the ground. 

Ground, funeral home, get it? God, I'm a hoot. 

Anyway, this part of the text is included incredibly late in the narrative and leads to the novel ending rather abruptly, an attempt to encourage the reader to pick up the next book. Thing is, there was so much going on otherwise that this part felt almost pointless to me, and served no purpose other than to slightly spoil something I'd really enjoyed. The author didn't need to add this part in, it would have fitted perfectly in a book all on its own, and it seemed to me to be an almost underhand way of baiting readers into buying his future work. 

The reason this annoyed me was that the text itself is absolutely great, and unlike anything I would normally pick up. I've had mixed feelings towards some of the works I've been sent to review lately. Some of them have been great but others have either been over-the-top, miserable, or just had far too much going on. The main characters are well created and I connected with the protagonist living in the 1970s, who's dealing with the repercussions of a divorce that is leading to his ex-wife preventing him from seeing his children and altogether being a dick about visitation. 

I'm a child of separated parents, I get it

In addition to this, it was very easy to tell which time period I was reading about due to the clearly titled chapters and changes in narrative voice and tone. They also linked and flowed together well in a way that I have no seen many texts of a similar style do. If you are into books about the occult, or even if you aren't, I would definitely recommend this text. 


Thursday, 1 October 2020

Hmm, how about no?

Hands up any woman who's had sex with a guy to shut them up. To stop them complaining or to keep them happy when you had absolutely no desire to. Sadly, I can guarantee that there are a few arms being raised. 

Last month I briefly dated a guy who I thought was a decent human being, only for him to ghost me. Which, of course, I blamed myself for. Pretty average in bed, he asked if I was up for sex one night and when I said no, he told me that I "wouldn't have to do anything". 

Ah yes, because there really is nothing sexier than being treated like a hand. 

To give him the smallest amount of credit, I really think that he thought what he was saying was appealing. In his head, he would be pleasuring me as well as himself which, given my lack of interest in sex at that point, would definitely not have happened. Thankfully, he didn't push it, but I really don't think I should have to be thankful for someone not pushing to have sex with me when I say I don't want to. 

Sadly, this wasn't the first time this has happened, and on many occasions, I have given in, done something I really wasn't up for just to appease them. Lying on my back in pain, because being used as a fleshlight can be incredibly painful when I really didn't want to be. I'm not blaming myself entirely, I did say yes after all, but the people in question should have taken no as my first answer. As I said in my post To the guy that drove me home, no doesn't mean try harder, it quite simply means, no. 


Wednesday, 30 September 2020

So much more

Don't you just love it when you think you've met a genuinely nice guy and then he ghosts you out of no-where?

I know, it really gets me going too. 

A few weeks ago I met a guy. He was sweet, kind and we had a series of amazing dates. We'd planned another date today which seemed to be all systems go, until Monday when he randomly started ignoring me for no reason. I've texted him checking in, asked if he is okay, and been left on read both times. It seems he really was too good to be true, and I'm not going to lie I'm kinda bummed. 

Part of me has been blaming myself, blaming my condition because I ran out of my meds and wasn't able to get them until yesterday because the chemist I collect them from is closed at weekends (if you're looking for the line of people blaming me for this it starts around the corner btw). Without my meds, I'm not myself, but I feel this is a given. I have an incredibly serious and rare condition and my medication keeps me alive, without it I'm simply who I really am. 

As a result of my unusual behavior over the past few days, I assumed that he did not feel comfortable around my BPD and therefore didn't want to see or speak to me anymore. Leading my brain to lay the blame on myself once again. But now I have my medication I'm changing my thinking. Or trying to anyway. 

The fact is that, although I may have BPD, I'm so so much more than my diagnosis. I'm kind, hardworking, brave and a good person, no matter what I may tell myself. Or what other people may tell me for that matter. It's not simply a case of his loss, that's a given, but more a case of that it's sad that people don't see that, that I don't see that. 

One of the things I'm refocusing on working on is building my self-esteem. I say building not re-building because in order to re-build something it has to have existed in the first place. Yesterday I stood crying by the pastry display at work because of how much I hate myself, and I've blamed myself for every break-up I've ever had. I'm ready to date again, want to date again, but am tired of being with people who ghost or break up with me. I am so much more than my BPD, and it would just be nice if people could see that. 


Thursday, 27 August 2020

Witches of Vegas


I have a confession to make, I'm a shitty British person. This may come as a shock to everyone I've encountered whilst living in Canada, but I Jessica Howard, a fully-fledged member of the Queen's England, have never seen, or read, Harry Potter. 

I have spent a lot of time in the Harry Potter shop in Kings Cross Station, but that's because I spend half my life there and it's a good place to browse while I'm waiting for the queue to the loo to go down. 

This lack of knowledge reared its head when I began reviewing the latest novel sent to me, The Witches of Vegas by Mark Rosendorf. The novel centers around a family of witches that use their power to perform a magic show in Las Vegas. Struggling to compete with the supernatural, the owner of a neighboring show agrees to spy them for a woman that turns out to have ties with the family. 

The woman who hires them turns out to be a witch herself, as well a vampire. Having been turned by the family's token blood-sucking relative, she seemingly went rogue and was banished by her former lover. 

Quite a straight forward plot you would say, Straddling the line between reality and the supernatural, but pretty easy to follow. 

Oh, how wrong you would be. 

You see, whilst a good book, there is a lot going on within this text. We have reality, we have witches, we have vampires. We have time travel, exorcism, abuse, death, portals, illusions, channeling the earth's energy, and the use of crystals. Quite simply there is far too much going on within the novel. For me, at least, there was little chance of escapism and relaxation given that every 3 pages seemed to lead into a new trope that could have been the focus of a novel in its own right. 

Don't get me wrong, it's a well-written book. The characters are well developed, the description was great and it was fun to read about a topic that I'd never really explored before. Maybe that was the issue, maybe it was owing to the fact that I have little experience reading about the topic that I found it hard to enjoy. Regardless, whilst it may be a good choice for people who enjoy books about magic and the language itself was easy to read, I don't think it's something I will be picking up again. 


Tuesday, 25 August 2020

Dead after Midnight

As I'm sure a lot of people did, I read a lot of books during the monstrosity that was quarantine 2020. As I prefer to find books to read by browsing bookstores so I can flick through pages and read blurbs, an activity I was obviously prohibited from doing during lockdown, I chose to read a lot of books for review posts. Mostly because having someone else choose what I should read next is significantly easier than trying to decide myself and, let's face it, I did not really have the mental capacity to make choices other than what episode of Miss Marple to watch each day between the months of April and June. 

One of the books that I read was called Dead after Midnight, by C. P. Daly. Admittedly a bit of a downer, the text had a potentially interesting storyline as it centered around the actions of a woman who was working as a prostitute in a prison after finding her "co-worker" dead. 

As I said, a bit of a downer and quite a dark subject matter. Definitely not one for those looking to pass their time during the remaining days of summer mulling over a relaxing beach read. 

The text itself is really good, and it follows the protagonist as she attempts to flee her old life and create a new identity in another state. However, as with so many stories of this kind, the people and situations she was trying to run away from end up finding her, and she must do whatever she can to keep herself safe. 

There are a couple of twists in the text that I did not quite expect, the true identity of her murdered co-worker being one of them. However, as with so many of the books I read and review for these types of posts, there just wasn't enough substance for me to truly unpack and enjoy these surprises. The book is very short, and a lot more could have been said about this and many other aspects of the novel that would have allowed me to engage with it further. 

Whilst it would have been nice to know more about the protagonist for instance, why she became a prostitute in the first place, it was nice to read a text where a female character working in the profession was able to leave it behind and find something new. So many novels featuring these types of tropes depict women as being stuck in situations such as these with no chance of ever escaping. 

In short, I really enjoyed the text. Whilst I believe that some parts of it served no purpose and therefore could have been removed, her sleeping with her boss's engaged son, for instance, it was very enjoyable and had the potential to be an even better text. All I wish was that it had been a bit longer to allow me to find out more about the characters. 


Friday, 3 July 2020

The Memories We Bury by H.A. Leuschel

I don't tend to read a lot of thriller books. I have nothing against them, they're just not something I gravitate towards. However, after making some terrible mistakes in regards to personal reading, now when I look for new books to review I simply ask for a surprise. The Memories We Bury by H.A. Leuschel was one such book. 

When I first started it, I didn't think much of it and was tempted not to finish it. There seems to be a style for authors writing pieces that vary from one narrator's perspective to another and back with each chapter, and it's not something I'm overly fond of. Although it can be helpful, I sometimes find myself getting lost in the narration and not quite knowing who's perspective I'm reading from. Regardless, I carried on and finished the book in one sitting. 

Unlike the book I previously reviewed, the plot line for this book is relatively simple. A young woman, Lizzie, and her husband Markus move in next door to an elderly woman named Morag, who carves a place for herself in their lives as a means of satisfying her need for grandchildren. What starts off as a friendly relationship becomes toxic and manipulative as Morag attempts to convince Lizzie's husband and friends that she is suffering from post-natal depression and is incapable of caring for her young child Jamie. 

As I said, I don't normally like books that write different chapters from different narrator's perspectives, but in this instance, I feel it really benefitted the text. From Lizzie's perspective, you can see how she is initially grateful for, and then comes to depend on, Morag's help, especially as her husband becomes more and more absent as the text progresses. Her sections of the text also draw on her relationship with her own cold and withdrawn mother and show us how Lizzie comes to see Morag as the mother she never had, as is her intention. Reading her narrative also allows us to see how Morag's behaviour becomes progressively more manipulative and shows us how she becomes a danger to Lizzie and her newborn son Jamie. 

Reading from Morag's perspective, however, allows us to understand why Morag is acting the way she is, at least to a degree. From the beginning, we know that she craves grandchildren and that she is a widow living alone who's children seldom come to visit. By seeing how she portrays herself as the kind and considerate neighbour, we see how her actions are entirely based upon her desire for grandchildren, and how she sees becoming a part of Lizzie and Jamie's life as a way of giving her the relatives she craves so badly. Whilst her actions start off as well-meaning, we soon see her actions becoming more and more dangerous and manipulative. 

It is as the book progresses that the divide between the two narrators becomes more and more effective in aiding the progression of the plotline. We not only see Morag's behaviour intensify and Lizzie's doubt begin to grow, but we are also given an explanation for why she acts the way that she does. 

As I said, at first I didn't have high hopes for the book and I do not think I will read it again. However, I did finish the book in one sitting and am sat here writing this review immediately afterwards with what can only be described as a severe case of the heebie-jeebies, and I think that makes it a very good thriller indeed.