Author: Jordan Elizabeth
Published: 25th January 2016
Goodreads Rating: 4.08 out of 5
Reviewed: February 2016
Fifteen-year-old Edna spends her life looking after her brother Harrison whilst also working as a servant for a rich family. One day she is worried about Harrison’s uncharacteristic behaviour and is concerned to find him wearing a pocket watch that does not belong to him. Yet, when she snatches the watch away from him, he disintegrates into a pile of cogs. Panicked, Edna rushes out onto the streets in search of help, but naturally, no one believes her; no one but a thief, that is. Ike claims to recognize the watch as belonging to the hags – an evil, magical species – and says they must have stolen Harrison and replaced him with a cogling – an automaton changeling.
With Ike’s help, Edna is determined to rescue her brother, yet there are many incidents ahead for the pair to try and deter them. Not only that, Ike appears to have an ulterior motive for aiding her. Edna is also harbouring a deep secret.
Cogling is not based on a fairytale, yet it would not look out of place amongst the Grimm selection. It is full of adventure and magic, yet is darker than the stories told to children. When reading, I could not help but be reminded of Cornelia Funke’s Reckless on account of the similarities of strange creatures and settings – although that is where the comparisons end.
What I liked about Cogling is that it is a very modern fairytale in terms of its characters. Although set in a past where women were a lower caste than men, the heroine is not a helpless maid as in traditional tales. Edna and Ike are of equal ability and defeat the hags together, rather than Ike being the dashing prince rescuing the princess.
To begin with, Cogling felt like it was going to be fun to read but nothing special. The characters were a little annoying, but that added a slight humour. Then it got more interesting. As their lives became more dangerous, the story got much more exciting and hard to put down. The character developments were brilliant.
If you like fairytales, you will also love Cogling. Its steampunk approach makes it unique and fascinating.
In A Land of Paper Gods
Author: Rebecca Mackenzie
Published: 28th January 2016
Goodreads Rating: 3.47 out of 5
Reviewed: March 2016
“My name is Henrietta S. Robertson. That’s my English name… My Chinese name is Ming-Mei.”
As the child of two members of the Interior Alliance Mission, Henrietta has grown up between two cultures: English and Chinese. From the age of six, she was sent to boarding school on a mountain in the Jiangxi Province, where four years later, she remains a small, pale, lonely girl.
For a girl as young as ten, Etta has a big imagination. She decides that God has called her to be a prophetess and encourages the other girls in Dormitory A to join her in a Prophetess Club. This results in Etta getting into all sorts of trouble as she naively goes about inventing prophecies; all the while, the Second Sino-Japanese War gets closer and closer to their mountain sanctuary.
Told mostly from Etta’s point of view, In a Land of Paper Gods is a hilarious historical novel about a young girl’s innocence. A large part of the story is about the missionary school rather than the ongoing war, so the focus is on Etta’s interpretation of the Bible and her understanding of the differences between Western Christian and Chinese cultures. Yet, once America joins the war effort, it is shockingly quick how the tale can go from humorous to heartbreaking.
The other character who plays a large part in this novel is Muriel, a dorm aunty who Etta regards highly. Muriel wanted to be a missionary but found herself working at the Lushan school instead, keeping an eye on the ten and eleven-year-old girls. Although most of the book is written in Etta’s first-person narrative, Rebecca Mackenzie has also included the occasional diary entry from Aunty Muriel. Since these are so few, it is not clear what their purpose is, as the story could easily continue without them.
Despite being a historical novel, In a Land of Paper Gods focuses less on fact and more on the impact the times had on a young girl. It is interesting to see the character development of Etta as she goes from a naughty, attention-seeking schoolgirl to a young woman who must fend for herself. All the while, she has her belief in God to resort to for explanations about the world in which she is living. The reader also witnesses the growth of the relationship between Aunty Muriel and Etta. To begin with, it is that of an adult and child, but it ends with them being equals in their suffering.
For some people, the Christian content will not mean anything, but it is possible to enjoy the novel without a religious background. For those like myself, who have a Christian upbringing, this aspect makes the story even better. Readers may recognize themselves or their childhood in Etta, particularly her understanding of the Bible.
Author: Dani DiPirro
Published: 13th September 2016
Goodreads Rating: 4.06 out of 5
Reviewed: June 2016
“Effortless inspiration for a happier life.” It has been scientifically proven that gratitude can benefit mental and physical well-being. It is also acknowledged that being thankful is difficult for many people due to negative circumstances or pessimistic personalities. Gratitude is a little, hardback book by writer and graphic designer Dani DiPirro, whose purpose is to encourage the reader to show and feel more gratitude in their lives. In a way, this is a self-help book.
Using quotes, written insights and activities, DiPirro guides the reader through several situations in which one can be grateful. The author’s insights are sensitive but to the point, suggesting that everyone faces these problems and does not isolate individuals. The quotes help emphasise the ideas, and the activities are simple and relevant.
The activities are nothing to be afraid of; they are not strenuous or difficult. They merely require you to think or complete a task that does not require you to go out of your way: “Reflect on the last time you experienced compassion or forgiveness.”
The book itself is simple yet beautifully designed. The red theme makes it feel bright and positive, but it may be more attractive to women than it would be to men. The print is large, clear and easy to read, suitable for all ages and backgrounds.
Although roughly 130 pages, it only takes ten minutes to read from cover to cover, yet this is not the author’s intention. To get the most out of the book, each section/task should be tackled individually to experience the outcome you are hoping for: feeling a sense of gratitude. This is a book that you can return to time and time again, whether you feel motivated or need a little pick me up.
At the back of the book, DiPirro has provided lists of the top ten ways to be grateful in different environments. These are useful when you are experiencing problems at home or work and need help stepping back and seeing the bigger picture.
Overall, Gratitude is a lovely, inexpensive guide to help people gain a more positive outlook on life. Other books in this series focus on different areas of life that people struggle with, e.g. forgiveness and living in the moment. Gratitude is the ideal book to give as a gift to a loved one or even to keep on your bookshelf or bedside table, accessible when needed.
There Will Be Lies
Author: Nick Lake
Published: 6th January 2015
Goodreads Rating: 3.45 out of 5
Reviewed: June 2016
Award-winning Nick Lake has returned to the limelight with a young adult thriller so full of emotion that you will be gripped from beginning to end. There Will Be Lies starts with a happy relationship between mother and daughter, then rips it apart, revealing that everything you once believed is a lie.
From the very beginning, seventeen-year-old Shelby Jane Cooper warns the reader that bad things will happen. She speaks of death and a car collision that is about to occur within the first few chapters of the story. But this is not the climax of the story. It is merely the small stone dropped on the top of a mountain, causing an avalanche of questions, danger and the slowly unravelling truth.
All her life Shelby has been homeschooled, isolated from society and shadowed by her overprotective mother. After being hit by a car, resulting in a fractured foot, Shelby is ushered into a car by her mother and driven in the opposite direction from home. Supposedly an abusive father, a man Shelby cannot recall, is on their tail whom they must hide from to avoid a disastrous confrontation. Despite initially believing this story, peculiar things start happening to Shelby that suggest all is not as it seems.
The first quarter of There Will Be Lies follows a typical contemporary storyline, but as it becomes more thrilling, the author incorporates fantasy/American mythology into the mix. Finding herself slipping in and out of a dying, impossible world known as the Dreaming, Shelby begins to question the things her mother is telling her, especially after being warned that there will be two lies followed by a truth. Yet she cannot work out what they are, and what if the truth is something she cannot – does not want – to consider?
I loved this book from the very beginning. I loved Shelby’s character: the way she spoke, her sarcasm, her wit, and her intelligence. Despite being so sheltered from the world, she was not weird or awkward. What made it even better was discovering she was deaf. Readers will not even be able to guess at that for almost half the novel when Shelby reveals the fact herself. She is not portrayed as stupid or any less human for having a disability. Nick Lake has done a superb job of avoiding any forms of stigma or prejudice.
The fantastical elements, the American mythology, which gave it the appearance of a half fairytale, nearly ruined the entire book. I admit I liked the concept and enjoyed reading the scenes set in the Dreaming, but it seemed so out of place with the rest of the novel, as though Lake had written two different stories and decided to combine them instead of publishing them separately.
As the story progressed, the relevance of the fairy-tale-like elements became clearer. You cannot say whether the Dreaming was real or whether Shelby was merely doing that: dreaming. The mythological storyline is a metaphorical way of revealing what Shelby was dealing with in the real world. In a place where she was confused about what was true, she needed the Dreaming to explain things to her, to make her understand her predicament.
There Will Be Lies is full of little metaphors, some that you do not notice at first but easily apply to life in general. It is a quotable narrative with beautiful phrasing. With two thrilling storylines that eventually merge, you are guaranteed to be gripped, wanting to know what happens, yet also not wanting it to end.
The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 ¼ Years Old
Author: Hendrik Groen
Published: 1st June 2014
Goodreads Rating: 3.94 out of 5
Reviewed: August 2016
Think Adrian Plass but with octogenarians, and this is the result. The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 ¼ Years Old is a years-long journal beginning on 1st January 2013. Hendrik hates old people, an unfortunate predicament as he lives in a home for the elderly. He set himself the task of writing a daily account about the “life of the inmates of a care home in North Amsterdam,” with the purpose of it being read after his death by readers or “inmates” who wish to know what to expect in their old age.
Whether the contents of this diary are true or exaggerated does not matter, as what it produces is a laugh-out-loud story – a pleasure to read. From cake in the fish tank to complaints about leaky nether regions, Hendrik provides a brutally honest account of the highs and lows of being an OAP.
The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 ¼ Years Old encompasses a selection of unique and presumably real characters. Readers are bound to discover someone who reminds them of an elderly relative or even themselves! There is the diabetic, rude, gin-loving Evert – Henrdik’s best friend of many years – who is never without a witty comeback for the bossy, self-important director of the home. On the other hand, levelheaded Eefje, who Hendrik is rather fond of, shows a completely different view of elderly mentality. Despite the stereotypes associated with care home patients, Hendrik and his friends still have as much fun as possible; after all, they may be Old but not Dead.
Speaking of Dead, Hendrik makes several jokes and references to euthanasia, which may seem like poor taste to some readers. Yet, when all the friends around you are living the final years of their lives, why not joke about it instead of worry? Naturally, there are sad diary entries about the inevitable deaths of his contemporaries throughout the year, but Hendrik does not let it get him down for long. Hendrik and his close friends make the most of the time they have left, and if that involves speeding along the roads of Amsterdam on their souped-up mobility scooters, then that is exactly what they will do.
The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 ¼ Years Old is a gem of a book and comes highly recommended to readers of all ages. Hendrik‘s effortlessly funny, sarcastic remarks stress what the average citizen is too polite to voice. Once you begin, it is hard to put down. Unfortunately, a year is not long enough, and you will end up wanting more. Whatever the future holds, let us hope we become someone like Hendrik Groen.