BOOK REVIEW: ‘Hush Hush’ by Michelle Quigley

51iHrSVY9sLAnother book review, I’m afraid! I’ll try and review some more films soon!

 

Blurb: ‘Why do I have to stand here and pretend that everything is alright, when the truth is I want to curl myself up into a ball and die somewhere?’

Molly is a normal sixteen-year-old working as a factory girl in Derry, Northern Ireland, until one night her world is turned upside down. After experiencing a brutal attack, she is left mentally and physically broken, slowly withdrawing from her family and community, suffering in silence. She tries in vain to keep her increasing despair to herself, but life has more surprises and heartache in store. As her family battle to conceal a dreadful secret and expected allies shun her, Hitler steps up his invasion of Europe. With the outbreak of war an even greater strain is placed upon her family when her brother enlists in the army. Will she ever manage to make amends with him again? And with gossip rife among the community, will her secret remain hidden forever?

Hush Hush will draw you into Molly’s struggles and desires and leave you hoping that maybe, just maybe, there is someone out there who can help turn her life around.

 

This was a gripping read that I should have put down more often than I did. Molly is a sympathetic heroine and the characters and scenarios were, for the most part, very credibly drawn. There was also a really lovely love interest (I want one!), and for me the romance was a very satisfying part of the plot.

To begin with I found some of the writing a little awkward, but I suspect it was mostly due to the differences in Northern Irish dialect and phrasing since I got used to it and stopped noticing it quite quickly.  The Northern Irish and Irish settings were vividly drawn and made me want to go and explore them! The historical angle was also fascinating, especially the glimpse at the culture of the period.

In many ways this book could be described as a fable about lying, and the consequences of lying. All the way through runs this huge ‘if only’. If only she had told the truth… But this pent up frustration makes the climax of the novel all the more poignant.

The only thing that really annoyed me was what some reviewers have called the plot ‘twist’ at the end. Quigley carefully leaves the identity of the attacker up in the air for the majority of the book, making it a mystery. Is it one of two possible candidates – or someone else entirely? It’s an effective technique, only I suspected that while we were supposed to assume it was one suspect, it might turn out to be someone else.

My issue was that if it was this other person, some of the scenes in the novel were implausible, because it was not credible to me that the first person narrator could think about certain things without thinking related thoughts that would give away the identity of the rapist. Essentially, by including such scenes, Quigley should have been ‘proving’ that a particular person wasn’t the rapist – but I had a feeling this might prove not to be the case and I was irritated when my suspicions proved correct.

As a Catholic I was also a little frustrated by the fact that at one point, in a time of need, Molly decides to pray the rosary every day. When she plunges further into despair and darkness, we are never told whether or not she is doing it. In fact, the whole subject is never mentioned again. I would have liked to known more.

However, these two small niggles don’t change the fact that overall HUSH HUSH was a gripping, satisfying read, with a strong, life-affirming message, and I would recommend it, especially to Catholics and all those committed to the cause of life.

 

Please note, the rape is fairly discreetly described, but I would strongly caution anyone who has suffered a sexual assault.

I received a free copy of this book in return for an honest review.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Angelhood’ – A. J. Cattapan

24553425This was a thought-provoking and moving read that deals sensitively with a very serious subject. The first couple of pages are quite shocking, though if you’ve read the synopsis what happens won’t be a surprise, and the rest of the book pulls one along with the need to know what happens, whether it can all turn out alright.

Some reviewers have noted that this is not a theologically accurate presentation of the afterlife, and indeed it is not, however, there is a cast iron reason for this within the book. I can’t say more without giving spoilers. Just enjoy it as fantasy, and all will become clear. The novel has the Seal of Approval from the Catholic Writers Guild, incidentally, which should assuage any doubts about theological issues!

This book is perfectly okay for teens to read, despite the suicide theme. In fact, the more of them read it the better, since it allows the consequences of selfishness to play out very clearly before the reader’s eyes, much more effective than simply lecturing on the subject!

Highly recommended.

[I received a free copy of the book whilst acting as a reviewer for the Catholic Writer’s Guild Seal of Approval.]

BOOK REVIEW: Crusader King by Susan Peek

51oNMQBgpiLI thoroughly enjoyed Crusader King and I’m sure I will read it again, which always says a lot about a book. Peek draws her characters very well, making them memorable and distinct whilst still credibly historical. It’s the main character who really steals the show, though: Baldwin IV of Jerusalem. I knew almost nothing about him before reading the book, but he’s such a lovely character, and so holy – in such an appealing way – that I spent much of the book wondering why he was never canonised.

Having finished the book, I remained fixated on this question for some time, coming to two possible explanations:

Explanation 1) Since Peek is writing for young people, she may justifiably have down-played any negative aspects of Baldwin’s character and emphasised all the positive ones. As a friend of mine once put it – historical fiction remains fiction, if you want pure history, go read a textbook.

Explanation 2) Baldwin really was that holy and good, but since the people with power and money (the nobles) spent his life waiting for him to die so they could seize his throne, they probably weren’t going to feel like spending money trying to get him canonised; whilst the people who loved him (the common people) had no power or money. And both nobles and common people were all too soon after his death conquered by the Saracens, after which they had no freedom to pursue anyone’s canonisation and probably did well to remain Christians themselves.

I certainly hope the reason Baldwin IV isn’t a canonised saint is the second reason, not the first. But either way, the book is a fantastic read. Though I did keep wishing a certain fictional friend had actually existed in real life, and had actually done the thing Baldwin asks him to do. How different the history of the Middle East might have been! If you want to make sense of that spoiler-free comment, you’ll have to read the book!

My one major niggle was that as an adult reader, I would have liked more detail at times. The book passes very quickly over great swathes of events in Baldwin’s life, especially in the later part, and I would have been perfectly happy with a much longer and more detailed book. However, Peek is writing for young people, not for adults, so whilst I hope she might one day write a full, detailed, adult version, this cannot really stand as an actual criticism since she does what she sets out to do well.

Off to look for more books about Baldwin IV, though I doubt I will find anything more satisfying than this one!

Edit: To add information received from the author (below):

Susan Peek says: “To answer your question, Baldwin’s cause for canonization was indeed introduced, and he is considered Blessed in France, but not universally. The French version of his name is Beaudoin, and many boys are named after him. I am not exactly sure why his cause was halted. He truly was very holy; even non-Christians acknowledge his great sanctity.”

Lovely to know!

I received a free copy of the book whilst acting as a reviewer for the Catholic Writer’s Guild. ‘Crusader King’ subsequently received the Seal of Approval.

BOOK REVIEW: The Mermaid and the Unicorn

31377411Author: Elizabeth Amy Hayek

Publisher: Geek Haus Press

Publication Date: 7th August, 2016

Oh dear, I can’t believe how long it’s been since I’ve posted a film review! Sorry about that, I must try to write one soon.

Today, though, it’s another book review. This book is written by someone I know, but I bought a copy myself and wouldn’t be bothering to review it if I didn’t think it was good! So here goes:

This is a lovely, gentle read, in the best sense. But exciting too! It starts off at a steady pace and builds up to a thrilling climax with some very precious things at stake, through which another problem is very satisfyingly resolved.

The existence of the magical beings is smoothly reconciled with Christianity in a credible and inoffensive way and I liked the role played by the rich Christian symbolism of the Middle Ages.

I was particularly impressed by the subtle skill with which certain characters were depicted (with the exception of one small wobble). Also, although there were reasonably large groups of similar characters – a group of college girls, a group of nuns, etc.—by and large I was able to keep track of who was who, so this was handled well (I’m terrible at keeping track of large numbers of characters, so most readers probably won’t have the slightest problem at all).

The ending for the main character was, on a personal level, extremely satisfying, although unusual. The author mentions in the afterword that she considered changing this, but I’m very glad she stuck with it, seeing the whole book was working up to it, especially in terms of the MC’s character growth.

Fans of Regina Doman’s ‘Fairytale Novels’ will love this, or indeed, anyone wanting something gentler to read after my ‘I Am Margaret’ series! And the good news: there is not one, but two more books in this series already in the pipeline! Enjoy!

BOOK REVIEW: Jennifer the Damned

Jennifer the DamnedAuthor: Karen Ullo

Publisher: Wiseblood Books

Publication Date: 31st October

This is a really difficult review to write. I finished the book several days ago and I’m still not quite sure what to say about it. It was a book I really wanted to like, for two reasons. Firstly, the author gave me the ebook in return for an honest review, and she seems nice so obviously I wanted to be able to be positive about it. Secondly, I have several sets of notes for ‘Vampire Redemption’ type novels waiting to perhaps one day make it to the top of the list and be written, so I was excited to read something similar—Ullo described the book as a ‘Catholic Vampire Novel’.

Unfortunately I just plain did not like it. Okay, so it’s possible in a vampire novel that some innocent people will die—because the pesky bloodsuckers can’t always control themselves, especially at first. That’s often what a ‘redemption’ type novel is about, after all: the vampire finding some way to control his/herself/be redeemed/reach heaven. Though to be honest, I always much prefer the ones where the vampire manages not to kill anyone. But no such luck in JENNIFER THE DAMNED. People begin to be killed quite soon and they go on being killed for practically the whole book. On the first couple of occasions it is clear that the young vampire truly cannot help it—but by the third murder it is wholly premeditated. Even worse, the descriptions of the murders would be more appropriate as descriptions of the mystical union of a saint with God. I understand that what Ullo is really trying to show is the awesomeness of the immortal soul and the human being’s heavenly potential, but it’s still very unpleasant to read a murder written in such terms.

Murder after murder takes place, each a bit worse than the last, until just after half way through, the protagonist commits a murder that is so horrible, so not ‘necessary’, so wholly committed simply because she was jealous and she felt like it, that there is no doubt whatsoever that if I hadn’t promised a review I would have put the book aside and never opened it again. As it was, I had actually resolved to do so and to review just the first half when I decided, no, I really did have to finish the thing, it wasn’t fair otherwise. So I read on. And shortly afterwards the protagonist commits another, double act of pure evil! But I made it to the end.

You’ll be glad to hear, there is some redemption eventually, and redemption that doesn’t shrink from just punishment (though it’s all left a bit vague exactly what will transpire), but it was too little too late as far as I’m concerned. It didn’t make it worth ploughing through the rest. The first half was blighted by the horribly described murders; the second half dragged a bit, partly because I didn’t find the love interest a wholly appealing or convincing character.

There was also a moment in the climax when I thought blood was coming from a crucifix, miracle-style, and once I’d finished I thought back and wondered if, and then became fairly sure that, it was supposed to be the protagonist’s blood. A relatively small point, but the wrong time to have any confusion.

A large part of what made it so unappealing to me was the lack of any true remorse. Yes, Jennifer is often sorry about what she’s done, and yes, she is supposed to be conflicted about things, but for most of the book, even after the very first killing, she never once resolves not to do it again (not even while knowing that she’s unlikely to manage to hold to it). Genuine sorrow for one’s sin requires a firm purpose of amendment, i.e. the resolution not only not to do it again, but to try to avoid things that will lead us to do it. I’m sure we’ve all made such a resolution knowing we’re likely to fail to keep it, but we’ve still made it because we want to keep to it. Not Jennifer. She just wrings her hands briefly and starts planning her next kill.

In a way, this problem, along with the vicious killings in the middle of the book, really move the genre of the book from redemption of a vampire (who really can’t help it or at least not very easily) to bog standard redemption of a serial killer (who chooses to kill). I’m not a fan of serial killer books, so that’s probably why I disliked this so much. I don’t for a moment dispute that a serial killer can repent and be forgiven, nor that it may be a long time coming. In fact I absolutely love books or films with a bad character who is redeemed (hence why I had such high hopes for this). But something about this totally failed to do it for me. I just don’t like to read all about crimes in detail. It’s not necessary. The writer can convey plenty about what they did in ways that move us without making us endure murders in loving detail, let alone murders described as raptures.

So although the redemption at the end is quite satisfying, I’m afraid my overall reaction was overwhelmingly negative. But that’s only my opinion, so if you’ve got a higher tolerance for serial killer stuff, do give it a try, don’t let me put you off. According to Ullo, Wiseblood is a Catholic publisher, although it doesn’t state this explicitly on the website. So maybe other people will read this and explain to me that there were deep meanings and amazing metaphors all the way through that I totally missed. In all seriousness, I do feel like there actually is quite a lot there and that if I read it again I might be able to write about the themes and the meanings of this and that in the book. But seeing that I finished reading it only under the deepest compulsion to give it a fair review, a second read just isn’t going to happen. 😦

To be quite honest I could go on and say quite a bit more, but this is too long already! But for the more squeamish, I should mention that the disposal of a couple of the bodies is described in quite considerable detail.

The Blurb:

When a sixteen-year-old orphan vampire adopted by an order of nuns matures into her immortal, blood-sucking glory, all hell literally breaks loose.  Yet with every rapturous taste of blood, Jennifer Carshaw cannot help but long for something even more exquisite: the capacity to experience true love.  As she struggles to balance her murderous secret life with homework, cross-country practice, and her first boyfriend, Jennifer delves into the terrifying questions surrounding her inhuman existence, driven by the unexpectedly human need to understand why she is doomed to a life she never chose.

Bridging the gap between the literary tradition of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and the modern teen vampire romance made popular by the Twilight series, Jennifer the Damned reexamines the legendary monster as a conflicted and complex being.  Jennifer is at once the quintessential vampire, embodying an unholy union of life and death; yet she is also a sympathetic young woman full of spiritual anxieties, gifted with a limitless sense of ironic humor, and possessed of a beautifully persistent hope in the love she yearns for.