Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Hex - A Review

HEX by Thomas Olde Heuvelt


Noun:  A witch or a caster of spells

Intransitive Verb:  To practice witchcraft

Verb:  To put a spell on, to affect as if by an evil spell (jinx, curse)

Having seen the reviews about this book I was quite excited when I got the notice from the library that my copy was available for pick-up.  I wanted to like this book!  I really, really did!  I mean it had a small town with an evil curse – residents unable to leave for more than short periods of time without becoming suicidal, it had a centuries old witch – with her eyes and mouth stitched closed, no less, what was not to like?

Alas, I found it to be a little bit of a disappointment.

In her time Katherine van Wyler was a recluse, living just outside of the town proper.  Maybe she was a bit eccentric.  People talked and speculated and pointed fingers.  As was so often the case, innocents being persecuted for being different, she was branded as a witch and dealt with accordingly.  It seems in Katherine’s case the town’s folk may have been right because “The Black Rock Witch” still inhabited the town some 300+ years later.  She had a certain path she took into and out of town, but randomly appeared in people’s homes for unknown reasons and stayed until she decided to go elsewhere. 

When she appeared at the home of Tyler and his family she simply stood quietly in a nook in the livingroom while the family went about their daily lives.  They could not bear to look at her, so placed a tea towel over her head.  That image did me in.  No matter what took place after that, the image of the evil witch standing there with a tea towel over her head never left me and it colored the rest of the book.  In fact the first few chapters gave me the impression that this book was not one to take seriously … at times I found I was chuckling to myself.

Yes Tyler, a teenager with a GoPro and a blog, his friend with the nasty streak and a woman obsessed with befriending Katherine for her own gains and the hard won peace between Katherine and the town becomes tattered.  The excellent writing and the depiction of the town falling into mob rule is what kept me reading, but even that wasn’t enough as I found by the end of the book I was disgusted by the town and its inhabitants. I cared about what happened to Tyler and his family but a big part of me was rooting for Katherine to come out the victor – tea towel and all.  I don’t usually find myself cheering on the evil entity in a horror book so I have to conclude this one just didn’t push the right buttons for me.

I’m rating “Hex” at 3 ½ stars.  The extra half being given because there were some clever “easter eggs” in the character names and the author did a respectable job explaining how the curse could be kept secret in the 21st century.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from Wikipedia)

Thomas Olde Heuvelt is a Dutch writer whose horror novel HEX has been sold to nine languages in fourteen countries, among them US, France, China and Brazil. His short stories have received awards like the Hugo Award for Best Novelette, the Dutch Paul Harland Prize, and has been nominated for two additional Hugo Awards and a World Fantasy Award.

Olde Heuvelt was born in NijmegenNetherlands. He studied English language and American Literature at the Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen and at the University of Ottawa in Canada, where he lived for half a year. In many interviews, he recalled that the literary heroes of his childhood were Roald Dahl and Stephen King, who created a love for grim and dark fiction. He later discovered the works of a wider range of contemporary writers like Jonathan Safran FoerCarlos Ruiz ZafónNeil Gaiman and Yann Martel, whom he calls his greatest influences

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper - A Review


Arthur Pepper is a sixty-nine year old widower whose life is governed by schedules.  He gets up at the same time every morning (7:30), dresses in his grey slacks and mustard yellow sweater vest (his late wife liked it) and tends to Frederica (his fern).  The rest of his day is spent in a combination of three past times – watching television, sitting in his garden and/or avoiding his neighbor, Bernadette, with her endless gifts of food and baking.  However, today is different.  Today is the first anniversary of his wife’s death and he has tasked himself with finally going through her things to clear them out of the house.  He is not looking forward to this chore he has set for himself but is determined to do a thorough job.  That’s how he finds the mysterious charm bracelet tucked inside one of his wife’s boots.

The charm bracelet is – well – charming and obviously expensive.  He knows they could never have afforded such a thing and he cannot recall his wife ever wearing it.  So what was it doing tucked away inside her boot?  Curiousity gets the better of him when he notices a number that could be a telephone number engraved on an elephant charm.  He dials the number and sure enough it rings through to India and so begins his “epic quest” to find out what each charm symbolizes and what they can tell him about his wife’s life before she met Arthur.

This book was an absolute pleasure to read.  The characters are lively and a little over the top, a combination that makes them eccentric and very  “charming”.  Arthur’s adventures are equally lively and over the top.  The reader quickly moves from feeling very sorry for Arthur and his somewhat self-imposed solitary life to cheering him on in his travels and discoveries.  From elephants in India, tigers in England, unmentioned friends in Paris and an embarrassing university art class Arthur does uncover his wife’s “secret” past but he discovers so much more about himself and those around him.

Ms. Patrick’s (dare I say it again?) charming debut book makes a perfect summer read that will allow you to escape into Arthur’s world for a little while … a little story-cation that is definitely worth five stars.  I look forward to seeing more from Ms. Patrick if this is any indication of stories to come.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from her website)

Phaedra Patrick studied art and marketing and has worked as a stained glass artist, film festival organiser and communications manager. An award-winning short story writer, she now writes full time. She lives in Saddleworth, UK, with her husband and son.

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper is Phaedra Patrick's debut novel with translation rights snapped up in 18 countries worldwide.

Friday, 17 June 2016

The Good Sister - A Review

THE GOOD SISTER by Chelsea Bolan

Raul Amador told himself that everything he did was for the good of his family.  After all, didn’t he move them from the poverty, squalor and dangers of Mexico City to the prosperity, peacefulness and safety of Santo Nino?

For Raul Amador family was everything.

Family AND honor. 

Or maybe it was honor above everything? – the idea that he could hold his head high while tending to his bar full of tourists or walking through town.  Why else would he have been able to banish his 14 year-old daughter, Gabriela, on the basis of rumor?  That was the day Lucy lost not only her sister but also her best friend.  She thought she couldn’t do anything about at the time but when the after shocks of her father’s decision cracked the foundation of her life and family she set out to find her sister.  Through the slums and red-light districts of Mexico City to the “gringolandia” of San Diego she searched everywhere.  Would she ever find her sister again?  And if she did, could she even begin to ask for forgiveness for doing nothing?

“The Good Sister” is in turns heartbreaking and heartwarming, frightening and comforting, full of suspense and danger and then love and redemption.  Ms. Bolan has created a gritty yet wonderful world populated by both truly hate-worthy characters and, while not always traditional, equally truly loving and warm characters.  Lucy’s quest to find her sister is believable and I found myself cheering for her whenever something went right and despising those who made her journey more difficult.  Ms. Bolan managed to grab hold of my emotions from the first page and not let go.  Then I felt her squeezing just a little tighter, if that was even possible, when Gabriela’s whole story was finally revealed at the end of the book.  Well done for a debut author!

Told in both the first person for Lucy’s story and third person for the rest worked well for this book.  “The Good Sister” explores so many themes relevant today – some politics, male/female double standards, tradition versus more modern norms – the list goes on, yet Ms. Bolan managed to combine them all into central plot that had me anxiously turning pages whenever I could get a few minutes to sit down with the book.

This book made me think of “The Kite Runner” and “The Almond Tree” because it has also stayed with me for a while after turning the last page.  It too asks the age-old questions “Can you be good again?”  “Can you really go home again”?  Since both Lucy and Gabriela took turns breaking and mending my heart as I read, my only dilemma was deciding which of the two sisters the title refers to?  Which one is “The Good Sister”?

I have to confess to a case of cover love for this book too.  The cover so perfectly captures the Mexican setting and after finishing the book I realize that not one of the small illustrations is wasted.  Just looking at the cover brings special parts of this book quickly back to mind.

Definitely a 5-star read for me.

I would like to thank Harper Collins and First Look Books for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from her website)

Chelsea Bolan writes a lot about people who long for alternate worlds where they would better belong.  In the meantime, they make kites, change genders, play piano, stalk flautists, jump off bridges, and dream of UFOs. Her work has appeared in The Kenyon Review (online), Seattle Weekly, CutBank, Fourteen Hills, Borderlands, Poetry Northwest, Bayou, and other publications.

Born in Spokane, she earned a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from the University of Washington and an MFA from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.  In 2010 she was Artist-in-Residence at Milkwood International in Český Krumlov, Czech Republic, and in 2011, she was awarded a GAP grant (Grants for Artist Projects) from Artist Trust to work on short stories.  

The manuscript of her first novel, The Good Sister (formerly In the Place of Silence), won the 2014 HarperCollins/UBC Prize for Best New Fiction, and will be released by HarperCollins Canada June 21, 2016.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

The Passenger - A Review


When Tanya Dubois’ husband accidentally falls down the stairs and kills himself it sends Tanya’s life into an absolute spin.  After checking that he is indeed deceased, instead of calling 911, she packs her meager belongings and begins a life on the run.  It’s not too long before the reader comes to realize that this is quite obviously not the first time she has felt the need to “get out of Dodge”.  She knows who to call for a new identity, official (enough) papers and some cash.  In a pinch she even knows how to go about finding a new name on her own as well. 

But why?

As she seamlessly slips from being Tanya to being Amelia she encounters a kindred spirit in Blue, another woman on the run.  As “Blue” and “Amelia” get to know each other – I hesitate to say “become friends” – we learn a little bit about each woman’s past.  However, its not until they part ways and Amelia … now Debra … is again trying to escape her past on her own that we find out, in bits and pieces, what she is running from.

I enjoyed this book because it was clever.  The writing was smart.  It had me guessing about the reasons behind the actions of Tanya/Amelia/Debra as well as scratching my head about her choices and actions.  I alternately cheered her on, hated her actions and, felt sympathy for her.  In true thriller fashion the whole story was not revealed until the very end.  Despite enjoying the roller coaster ride with the main character I cannot jump on the 5-star bandwagon for this book.  I know readers who absolutely LOVED it.  Sadly, for me it’s a 3 ½ stars, generously rounded up to 4 for those sites without the ½’s.  Yes, I read the book blurb.  Yes, I get the meaning of the title.  Yet, between the title and the cover illustration I think I was expecting a different type of story.

I received this book from the publisher, Simon and Schuster
via Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR (From her website)

Lisa Lutz is the New York Times bestselling author of nine novels, including The Passenger (Simon & Schuster, March 2016), How to Start a Fire, six novels in the Spellman books series, and Heads You Lose, co-authored with David Hayward. She is also the author of the children's book, How to Negotiate Everything, illustrated by Jaime Temairik. Lutz has won the Alex award and has been nominated for the Edgar Award for Best Novel.

Although she attended UC Santa Cruz, UC Irvine, the University of Leeds in England, and San Francisco State University, she still does not have a bachelor's degree. Lisa spent most of the 1990s hopping through a string of low-paying odd jobs while writing and rewriting the screenplay Plan B, a mob comedy. After the film was made in 2000, she vowed she would never write another screenplay.

Lisa lives in the Hudson Valley, New York.

Friday, 10 June 2016

I Got Mail

Even though I knew it was on its way it is always so great to receive a book package in the mail.  I'm one lucky lady because I was selected to be a "first reader" for this book - "The Good Sister" by Chelsea Bolan.

It came with a lovely bouquet of flowers tied to it with a blue ribbon.  I can hardly wait to see if those have any significance to the story?  And, an HCC mug (YAY!! ... 'cause I'm a little bit of a crazy collector when it comes to mugs).  Not only is it special to receive a book to review, but once again a well deserved shout out to the marketing team for making it even more special with the "extras"

Thank you to Harper Collins!

So now I've got my book!  I've got my coffee and a mug to put it in!

My Sunday is "Booked"!
Sorry, couldn't resist.

Visions of Genius - A Review

HIERONYMUS BOSCH: VISIONS OF GENIUS by Matthijs Ilsink and Jos Koldeqeij

If you find yourself fortunate enough to be in a gallery standing in front of a Hieronymus Bosch painting I think it would be safe to wager that you would be bent at the waist with your nose as close as possible – without attracting the ire of the security guards – to the painting, quite possibly scratching your head in either wonderment or bewilderment.  Bosch is well known for adding whimsical items to even his most serious works of art.  He randomly adds machinery, wild imaginary and mythical creatures, and hybrids of both man and animals.  Lavish landscapes are dotted with fanciful items and, more often than not, owls.  Even his human figures sport exaggerated features and are frequently participating in lewd behavior.

“The Garden of Earthly Delights” is quite probably his most well-known painting (triptych) and I’ve often wondered if Bosch was “having one over” on his potential audience?

When I saw this book offered on Netgalley I knew I wanted to learn more about the why behind the paintings.  The authors attempted to explain that elusive “why”, and they did an admirable job – unfortunately not much is known about Bosch.  Unlike other historical figures Bosch left behind no diaries or correspondence.  Everything gleaned about his personal life has been learned through municipal records in his birthplace of ‘s-Hertogenbosch.  Born Jeroen Anthonissen van Akeniwas; his actual date of birth is merely speculation, estimated to be around 1450.   Public records indicate that he was married while children are also a question mark.  He died in 1516 and was buried on August 9th.  Really, it’s not much to go by when one is writing a book about his life, so kudos to Ilsink and Koldeqeij for undertaking this task to mark the 500th anniversary of his death.  A retrospective exhibition was held in his home town of ‘s-Hertogenbosch bringing together more that fifty works of art that are held in 25 collections spread across 10 countries.  This book is a result of extensive research, scientific testing and scholarly discussion that took place during the exhibition. 

After I read the forward by the authors I was a little intimidated to start this book and must admit to looking at the illustrations and pictures and then putting it aside for a little while.  When I finally delved in clear writing pleasantly rewarded me, there was none of the “art-babble” sometimes included in such books.  Each section of the book is accompanied by the work of art it describes and then smaller detailed pictures of specific sections of the work are on the following pages.  It was an easy book to follow and I now have a slightly better understanding and significantly more appreciation for Bosch’s art.  Could it be possible that I am finally creeping out of my “impressionist fan” box?  Maybe not too far though – I think Bosch was a bit of a rebel in his time too.

So while not so much as a self-portrait remains of this painter (only a pencil sketch speculated to be Bosch) and the fact that he very rarely dated or signed his paintings (resulting in mere 25 works definitively attributed to him) he remains a baffling artist.  My only regret is that I had a digital copy of this book rather than a beautiful hard cover as I think the electronic version did not due the pictures justice.  Despite that this book did what I wanted it to do – it made sense of some of the bafflement.  For that, I give it 5 stars.

I would like to thank the publishers, Yale University Press & Mercatorfonds,
for providing me with a free copy of this book via Netgalley in exchange
 for an honest review.


Matthijs Ilsink is project coordinator of the Bosch Research and Conservation Project and teaches at Radboud University, Nijmegen. Jos Koldeweij is professor in art history of the Middle Ages at the University of Nijmegen, the Netherlands. 

Jos Koldeweij is Professor of Art History at Radboud University Nijmegen, an expert in the work of Jeroen Bosch and initiator of the Bosch Research and Conservation Project (BRCP). He is in charge of the research project and, together with Matthijs Ilsink, curator of the Jheronimus Bosch – Visions of Genius exhibition.