Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia #MexicanGothic @JoFletcherBooks @silviamg

Today my review is part of a book tour – the details of which can be found below along with the poster detailing all the bloggers taking part.

MexicanGothicMy TL:DR Five Word Review : ‘Open Your Eyes’: Read it.

She only went and did it again.  Silvia Moreno-Garcia is positively a wordsmith.  I sometimes feel she writes simply with me in mind and manages to conjure up a book that is full of all my, not so secret, loves.  Mexican Gothic is truly gothic horror at it’s finest.  There’s a fantastic set up where we get to meet our storyteller, a forward thinking and intelligent woman who is not averse to a little romantic thinking.  There’s the light touch of fairy tales intertwined with myth sprinkled throughout the pages and there’s the most gorgeously decadent horror story that brings to us a house in the style of Usher and a family with more secrets than you could shake a stick at.

Set in 1950s Mexico the story begins with an introduction to Noemi.  Noemi is our central character and is very well imagined.  Beautiful, wealthy and a tad spoilt, although certainly not enough to make her unlikable, Noemi is no shrinking violet.  She’s used to the power that her family name brings and the doors it opens and this gives her a confidence that belies her age.  Not content to settle for a suitable marriage Noemi wants to go to University, she wants adventure and so when her father receives a disturbing letter from a recently married cousin Noemi is eager to make the journey and find the root of the problem.  So, suitcases in hand, lipstick in purse, and heels suitably high she sets off across the country to see her cousin and solve the mystery of her recent illness.

To be fair to other readers I’m not going to elaborate further on the plot.  Wild horses couldn’t drag any spoilers from between the lines of this review.  You’ll have to pick up Mexican Gothic yourself to discover it’s hidden secrets.

So, why did I love this?

Firstly, the writing.  This is not a new-to-me author.  I’ve already read and loved a number of her books including the rather brilliant Certain Dark Things, which I never miss an opportunity to wax lyrical about, and I have to say her writing is polished and persuasive.  I swear that this author could turn her hand to any genre and pull it off with ease.  Here she spins a tale that gradually pulls you in.  A lonely house atop a mountain, a family with a dark history and an overall sense of growing dread as a light is slowly shone into the darkest corners to reveal the horrors lurking there.

The main character Noemi is a wonderful creation.  She has a level of intelligence that keeps her thought processes and actions intriguing.  She has been brought up with privilege and this gives her a strength and confidence that would otherwise lack credibility and she’s not afraid to stand up for herself or take action.  Yes, Noemi could be described as vain, but, again, her vanity is never overtly irritating, more that she gives free rein to her desire to dress stylishly and is aware of the effect she has on others. Of course, this beauty can also attract the wrong sort of attention, as Noemi is about to find out.

The story itself reminded me of my love of so many gothic stories whilst at the same time standing on it’s own two feet.  It provoked thoughts of The Haunting of Hill House, Rebecca, My Cousin Rachel, The House of Usher to name but a few.  The house itself is like a character.  Perched atop the mountains, High Place is aptly named, chilling, dilapidated and suitably eerie.  It has its own cemetery which hosts the many workers who once worked in the, now abandoned, family silver mine and a family mausoleum.  A thick mist frequently shrouds the house and grounds making it easy to become disorientated and the interior is poorly lit and outdated, not to mention damp and creepily quiet.

As the tension mounts the horrors and family history are revealed – and they’re not pretty.  Here is a family whose wealth and status suffered as a result of revolution but who are stuck in the past like a needle in the groove of a record.  They’re determined to regain the power and wealth of a bygone era and not above marrying into money – and yet this is the least of their transgressions.

In terms of criticisms.  I have very little to mention except maybe a slight disjoint as the pace increased, a feeling that the last quarter of the book was a little more rushed than the rest of the story but it wasn’t a feeling that lingered as I was quickly chasing the words on the page.

Now, as it is I’m struggling to say too much more without revealing spoilers that could ruin the pleasure of discovering firsthand the secrets of this story.  I can warn you that this is gothic horror, it doesn’t shrink away from some cringe inducing scenes and it ventures into an almost hypnotic, psychedelic phase of storytelling as events escalate so be prepared to read things that could make you flinch.  As it is I have to admit that I love the way the author can make me feel such a rush of emotions.  I really felt for the main character as she went from one awful extreme to the next and whilst I could second guess some of the events before they took place I was never sure what the final outcome would be.

I have no hesitation in recommending Mexican gothic.  It was positively gripping, beautifully written, packed with atmosphere and delivered another great read by an author that certainly knows how to push all my buttons.

My rating is 4.5 of 5 stars

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above opinions are my own.

Finally, today’s post is part of the blog tour organised for Mexican Gothic.  Below are the details of the other blogs taking part so please give them a visit and check out their thoughts and feelings too.

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Shorefall (The Founders Trilogy #2) by Robert Jackson Bennett, #Shorefall, @JoFletcherBooks

ShorefalShorefall is the second book in The Founders Trilogy and is yet again an impressive display of unique storytelling by this incredibly gifted author.

Quick warning – if you haven’t read the first book in the series you may want to avoid this review in case of spoilers (although I do try to avoid spoilers).

Shorefall picks up a few years after the conclusion of Foundryside and gets off to a cracking start as Sancia and her friends are in the thick of an ambitious heist at one of the major Houses of Tevanne. If you enjoyed Foundryside you’ll be pleased to know that your favourite characters are back and they’ve come a long way since the first instalment, setting up their own firm and contributing to significant changes in the city -not least of which is the negative impact on the four ruling Houses.  Things are of course still far from ideal with slavery and exploitation at the outlying plantations and this is something that is about to become intensified as a new threat becomes evident to Sancia due to a dream sequence.

I’m going to be intentionally vague about the plot.  The first instalment brought three key players to the scene and whilst one of those is mainly absent during this book the other two take part in a desperate bid against each other for power involving a lot of hide and seek due to disparities in strength.

Sancia and her friends play a huge role in trying to prevent this latest plot development and although they meet with limited success (or more to the point just barely stay alive) the city is about to be devastated in a most spectacular fashion that clearly sets the scene for the final book.

This is another very good book by Bennett.  An author who is incredibly creative with a seemingly endless array of plots, worlds and magical systems up his sleeve.  His writing is incredibly persuasive and I never find myself in any difficulty at all in imaging either the place or the characters and the magic system at play in The Founders Trilogy is brilliant.  It really is. The use of glyphs placed on objects to tell the object how to behave.  It’s almost stunningly simple and yet I can’t remember ever reading anything like it before.

In terms of the characters.  Well, we have pretty much the same characters as the first book although Clef is largely absent and I have to confess I missed his wit a good deal.  Sancia and Bernice share a very sweet relationship and in fact the themes of friendship are very important to the story here.  We delve a little more into Gregor’s history which is very revealing in terms of the emotional scars he carries and his own reluctance to become involved with others.  His is such a dark and horrible story which makes certain elements very hard to bear although the later developments are incredibly satisfying for those same reasons.  On top of this the hierophant, Crasedes Magnus, plays a large and very creepy part in this instalment.  Assisted by others, his resurrection brings a certain horror to the story that was absent from Foundryside – for the sake of clarify this was not a negative for me. Crasedes is hellbent on transforming the city and only the presence of another character from his past, much weakened and in hiding, can really stand against him.  The problem is,this other character is also very difficult to place any trust in so the whole sorry mess becomes a stark choice between the devil and the deep blue sea.

In terms of criticisms.  Well, after a rather sparkling start that really got me back on board almost with whiplash efficiency I did find that the plot slowed down a little.  I’m not entirely sure that ‘slowed down’ is the right phrase.  More it became a little dense with explanation of the magic system and (and I did feel similarly in book 1) it just became a little bit too much and slowed the pacing quite noticeably – at least until the last 40/50% when things sped up considerably.  I love the magic system here (I may have already mentioned that), but I felt that I had a good grasp of it and so could have used a little less explanation, plus it felt that as the story really got into the thick of things the ideas and solutions became even more convoluted with more explanations heaped on top.  The thing is though, even though the solutions became ever more fantastical I didn’t ever quite feel enough tension to be sat on the edge of my seat, reading with baited breath to see if things would work out.  Along with this I really sorely missed Clef and his interactions with Sancia.  They helped to lighten the story in No.1 and so Clef’s absence for most of the book felt like a bit of an issue for me.

That being said, and slightly slow feeling to the first half being set aside, this is still an impressive second instalment, it does have a bridging feeling for the final instalment (which promises much goodness I think) but it really does heap on the emotion and I loved the way the characters have developed.  The explorations of friendship and how the povs supported and helped each other was easily the winning element of this story for me.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

Rating 4 of 5 stars.

 

Mistletoe by Alison Littlewood #MistletoeBook

Today I’m taking part in a blog tour for Alison Littlewood’s Mistletoe.  I’ve posted below information about the other blogs taking part so try and take the opportunity to visit those and check out their thoughts on this latest gothic ghost story.

MistletoeMistletoe is my second book by Alison Littlewood, an author who excels at creating atmosphere and gothic creepiness.

This is a book set in the depth of winter, the countryside is cloaked in white and Christmas approaches.  It should be a time of cheer but for Leah Hamilton this is more an escape.  Leah has lost both her son and her husband and in a strange twist decides to buy the ‘fixer upper’ that her husband dreamed of acquiring.  Like she’s keeping a little piece of him alive by taking on a project that he was keen to undertake even though she wasn’t so enthusiastic at the time.  The farmhouse in question is very run down and no longer a going concern.  Parcels of land have been sold off over the years to neighbouring properties and the remaining house and buildings seem to be encumbered by a strange past that leaves the place not just neglected but also a little creepy.  Of course, a lot of the past history is unknown to Leah when she arrives and so she’s in for a number of surprises.

What I really enjoyed about this was the way the story was split.  Leah experiences a number of apparitions that gradually reveal the secrets of the house.  There is a dark history here and Leah is slowly sucked into events in a very scary way that threatens her own well-being.  She becomes so wrapped up in events that she shuns the neighbours, enclosing herself in a strange cocoon of mystery and darkness, almost becoming so involved that she begins to lose herself.

The writing is very evocative and this is truly the perfect time of year to read this book.  You can feel the cold and the weather, the looming clouds, the burgeoning snow and the short days all add to the atmosphere because they are particularly well written.  In fact, there are a few ghostly moments contained in these pages that I confess set my pulse racing and I couldn’t help admiring Leah for her steadfastness in the face of such scary goings-on.  If that was me, I would have been out of there in a New York minute but Leah felt a compulsion to see things though.

In terms of characters.  Well, Leah is the main pov but she shares time with her neighbours as well as inhabitants of the farm from a bygone era.  I really enjoyed the flashbacks and the little insights.  I think the inclusion of the neighbour’s son was a great addition to the story in fact with the flashbacks from the farm’s past, plus Leah’s memories of her son there are three young characters who help the story to progress in a strangely symmetrical way.

In terms of criticisms.  I think one of the characters was a little too easy to read which meant I second guessed what was going on from the storyline from the past – I wouldn’t say this spoiled the read for me but I think it could have been even more gripping with a little more ambiguity to keep me guessing.  I would also say that this was slightly different from what I was expecting.  It actually feels like a journey for the main character, one that she is maybe reluctantly pushed onto, but still a turning around of sorts.  I think going into this I was expecting an out and out ghost story but in fact I think the added element of Leah’s own personal tragedy coupled with the little rays of hope brought something additional to the read.

Overall, this was a very easy book to get along with.  It’s a good story and coupled with the excellent writing it makes for a real page turner.  Packed with angry ghosts and heartbreak it also manages to achieve a feeling of hope.  It gave me Bronte vibes in a way – the remote feeling of the farmhouse, the sweeping landscape, the loneliness of the central character and the brooding (Heathcliff like feel) of one of the ghosts from the past.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

Rating 4 out of 5 stars

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AuthorphotoAuthor Information:

Twitter : Ali__L
Genre : HorrorThriller
Alison Littlewood was raised in Penistone, South Yorkshire, and went on to attend the University of Northumbria at Newcastle (now Northumbria University). Originally she planned to study graphic design, but “missed the words too much” and switched to a joint English and History degree. She followed a career in marketing before developing her love of writing fiction.

Her first book, A Cold Season (2011), was selected for the Richard and Judy Book Club and described as ‘perfect reading for a dark winter’s night.’

Alison’s latest novel is The Crow Garden (2017), is a tale of obsession set amidst Victorian asylums and séance rooms.

You can find her living with her partner Fergus in deepest Yorkshire, England, in a house of creaking doors and crooked walls. She loves exploring the hills and dales with her two hugely enthusiastic Dalmatians and has a penchant for books on folklore and weird history, Earl Grey tea and semicolons.
She is on Twitter as @Ali__L

 

 

 

 

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia #GodsofJadeandShadow

GodsofGods of Jade and Shadow is the third book I’ve read by Silvia Moreno-Garcia.  I was so excited to see this one pop up and I’m pleased to say it doesn’t disappoint.  Steeped in folklore and taking inspiration from fairy tales this is the story of one young woman’s journey across Mexico, accompanied by a God, Hun,-Kame – the Lord of Shadows – or Mayan God of Death.

Casiopea Tun is the Cinderella of the story.  Downtrodden and treated as a servant by her family she spends all day cleaning and running errands.  And all this for one of the wealthiest and most respected families in the small dusty Mexican town in which she lives.  She daydreams about the simple pleasures in life, travelling, seeing the ocean and dancing and although she holds little hope of achieving these things she remains optimistic, particularly in the face of her cousin Martin who is constantly tormenting her.  Casiopea’s life changes dramatically when she one day opens a locked chest in her grandfather’s room releasing a long imprisoned spirit and in the process tying herself to his fate.  Has anybody heard about Pandora and what she released – or maybe curiosity killing the cat??  Anyway, to an extent, downsides notwithstanding, Casiopea finally gets her wish to leave the confines of her family home and travel – and with a dashing and sometimes daunting God no less.  What could possibly go wrong?

So, this is told in a fairly linear fashion.  Casiopea and her companion must travel across Mexico, collecting various ‘items’ along the way, in order to return Hun-Kame to his former self and render him capable of standing against his twin brother, Vucub-Kame, and reclaiming his throne that was most treacherously stolen from him.  We travel from place to place making the acquaintance of a number of fantastical characters.

To be honest, what I loved about this most was the difference.  It’s set in the Jazz Age, beaded dresses, art deco and the Charleston are in full swing.  It’s a new era and a lot of the elements, short bobbed hair for example, are shocking in the extreme. I loved seeing all of this afresh from Casiopea’s perspective and watching her gradually awaken to the multitude of possibilities.  She goes from strength to strength and along the way she also falls a little bit in love.  But, don’t think this is a romance, it isn’t, that’s just an aside to the story.  Really this is more about Casiopea’s own journey, about her finding herself, gaining confidence along the way and being strong enough to do the right thing.  Casiopea is a young woman poised on the brink of possibility.  On top of that, although she has help along the way she basically becomes the hero of the piece which is just so refreshing.

The world here is not overly described but there are enough descriptions to really build up a convincing picture.  I think this is one of the strong points for this particular author.  She doesn’t labour the point and yet is able, apparently effortlessly (although probably not effortlessly at all) to really conjure a sense of place.  Heat, dust, food, mode of travel, dress, etc.  They’re all worked into the narrative without the need for info dumps.  I guess this is made possible in some respects by the fact that Casiopea is so sheltered and so we, the reader, are experiencing things through her eyes and yet it just helps to really pull you into the story.

In terms of characters.  Well, obviously, we have Casiopea – and what a wonderful character she is.  She isn’t waiting to be rescued.  She’s sheltered, downtrodden and naive and yet she isn’t afraid to grasp the bull by the horns, take risks and go out into the big wide world.  What a fantastic protagonist she is.  She made me smile.  She’s not perfect, not always fearless, not always immune to persuasion but at the end of the day she’s just great – I simply have to applaud the author to come up with such a strong female character.  The Mayan God of Death – what can I say, he’s a moody sod.  Tempestuous, aloof, superior, downright good looking and with some rather brilliantly caustic dialogue – he’s a rather decent bit of mind candy and I loved watching the relationship between the two of them grow but that isn’t the entire focus here.  It’s more about the changes that people bring about in each other and it’s rather brilliantly portrayed.  At the end of the day the baddies aren’t always necessarily bad and the goodies aren’t necessarily always good – and sometimes it takes somebody with a different way of seeing things to step in and connect people to their ‘better selves’ and that’s what I felt came across really well.

The ending – I’m not going to tell you.  You’ll simply have to read the book.  All I can say is that I thought this had the perfect ending and if the author ever wanted to pick up and revisit from the place she left off I would be the first to pick up that book.

In terms of criticisms – I don’t have much.  I had a certain slowness during the middles sections of the book.  It didn’t make me want to put the book down but I definitely felt a little lag in the pace.  Other than that – I have nothing.

So, think Cinderella, think Labyrinth, think Pan’s Labyrinth, think American Gods – and then think of none of those thing.  Yes, of course, if you like those then this might resonate with you but it strongly stands on it’s own two feet.

I received a copy, courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

Rating 4.5 of 5 stars

Finally my thanks to Jo Fletcher Books for including me in the blog tour for this wonderful novel.  I’ve posted the banner below so you can see which other bloggers are taking part and maybe pay them a visit to check out their thoughts too.

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This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar, Max Gladstone #TimeWar

This is HowTIHYLTTW is such an unusual book, quite extraordinary really.  Thought provoking, clever and the type of read that will appeal on multiple levels.  I loved it.

Here we have a most unlikely love story, told primarily in epistolary format, this is a tale that spans the ages and cunningly side steps some of the issues that can sometimes accompany time travel and science fiction.

On the face of it this is a story of two agents, both jumping back and forth through time in order to manipulate the timeline.  Both pitched against each other and yet eventually, through loneliness, finding a place in each other’s affection that could prove deadly should that affection become known to their commanders.

I’m not going to enter into details of the plot to be honest.  I think each reader will have a different experience when reading this and so to try and sum it up in a nutshell is not something I’m keen to do – plus at just over 200 pages I really believe this will be best discovered with no prior knowledge going into the read.

So, what else can I tell you.

This works quite simply as a story of two people, adversaries to begin with, who slowly become enamoured with each other.  The writing is beautiful, flowery maybe but also with so many unique concepts that it is simply fascinating.

This brings me to the sci-fi elements.  This is the type of science fiction that doesn’t over elaborate – which means I love it.  It also means that it doesn’t become convoluted with over ambitious explanations.  The time travel element simply ‘is’.  I don’t know how it works, I don’t really know what missions both of these agents are undertaking, I don’t know what the objectives are – I just know that things happen and taken on face value like this there’s a sort of easy acceptance to it all.  Time travel can be another very complicated thread with all the paradoxes and getting turned around in circles but the simplicity here means no headaches for me – and no doubt no headaches for you too.  Now you might be thinking that you want all those explanations and details – and maybe I would have liked some hints – but, at the same time I found I really didn’t miss them.  It’s incredibly odd – they simply weren’t necessary to the story.  In fact, given that the two characters are so firmly rooted in this future world why would they need to explain anything to each other.  They wouldn’t – and so any such detail would only end up feeling forced.

The writing is really rather lovely.  There’s a sparsity to it where nothing at all is wasted, everything has a meaning here and it’s the sort of writing that makes you want to stop and reflect.  Don’t be too keen to gobble up these pages in a rush, you will be missing out if you do.

I may have mentioned that I love letter writing in my stories and this is no exception.  The letters here are sprinkled in the most unlikely places, scattered amongst seeds and other unexpected items.  I loved reading them.  The thoughts and desires but more than that the way the letters change over the course of time becoming something that both correspondents are desperately waiting for and have in fact become dependent upon.  On top of this there is the almost poetic style which when coupled with the unlikely romance between the two main characters gives it an uptodate Shakespearean feel.

I loved all the references, the ones I picked up on anyway, I’m sure I missed a good few or they were simply above my head as this is a clever little nugget.  And this brings me to my final thoughts, which I’m still dwelling on.  This is a story that I felt had a subtle underlying message.  The two central characters are fundamentally opposed in the first instance purely as a result of their own make-up.  This is set in a far future that has seen advances not only in technology but also in nature and yet the two don’t sit well together – in fact they’re at war with each other – right up until they discover they can get along.

Anyway, this book is very different, very unusual in fact, and, very good.

I received a copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

4.5 of 5 stars.

Finally my thanks to Jo Fletcher Books for including me in the blog tour for this wonderful novel.  I’ve posted the banner below so you can see which other bloggers are taking part and maybe pay them a visit to check out their thoughts too.

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