Tag Archives: books

Review: De Cineribus From the Ashes by Thomas Vaccaro by Sian Thomas

Four stars

Thomas Vaccaro’s De Cineribus: From the Ashes was a book I honestly wasn’t sure I’d like. I like Thomas’s YouTube videos a lot (their channel name being Unicorn of War), as I am certainly a sucker for a good video essay to absorb over a plate of food (my favourites being their RWBY reviews and rewrites, and their Taylor Swift song discussions), but I’d realised with YouTuber books they were often – well, bad. Or at least, would quickly fade from the limelight or fall from grace in a record speed. I was worried, at first, that this book would be similar; a money grab, rather than a labour of love.

I was wrong, and pleasantly so.

One of Thomas Vaccaro’s strengths, I think, is their ability to think far ahead with their plots. Admittedly, I found their channel because I was actively looking for content about RWBY that would prove its awful writing, terrible production, and overall bad reception, and what I found was someone who was lovingly taken the broken, beaten show, and making it into something of their own. RWBY is its own show, yes, but I admired Thomas Vaccaro’s way of reshaping the information we (RWBY’s audience) have, and turning the plot into something both actually palatable and genuinely fun. This was a quality I was sure would shine through in their book, even while I still quietly worried about the production quality of it. Despite that, at the very least, I knew the story was in perfectly capable hands.

And it was.

De Cineribus mainly follows Felix, a young adult about to enter the college scene, heading off to a college for those with magic powers. He finds friends, enemies, suffers his wins and his definite losses. A few other perspectives are followed throughout the story but this, I realised, does not take from Felix’s perspective as sometimes multiple POV stories can do. Rather I found the jumps in perspective enlightening, and definitely enriching of the wider plot as new characters would pose new questions to me (what’s happening here? How does it relate back and affect Felix? How much do they know? Whose side are they on?).

As I said, I admire Vaccaro’s dedication to writing and storytelling. It’s most definitely a skill of theirs, and clearly shows through the books. First of all, the book is just over 500 pages long, so you can tell that’s dedication to a story for one! But mainly it comes in the depth and complexity of their characters (and there’s a good number of them!) but while the cast of characters is big, it is not overwhelming. There are not so many that I can’t keep track, or I can’t remember whose skill is what, or who matters to who. This is something I was incredibly relieved to find out as often college/magical fantasy stories often have casts as far as the eye can see. This is something RWBY is completely guilty of, and I found myself noticing Vaccaro’s particular points about RWBY being contested in their own work. Characters in De Cineribus are fleshed out, have their own skills and limits, motivations, and broad personalities. I liked being able to not expect what a character would be like based on their skills. Healers who aren’t friendly, teachers who are cranky, teachers who are jovial, etc. I liked, especially, that while Felix was for the most part sweet and caring and loyal, he also had a very clear dark underbelly to his character; one that was angry, determined to the point of obsessive, and sometimes a bit scary. It was nice to see a main character with real faults, and real regrets when those faults caught a hold of him too strongly.

The writing is strong and done with precision (although I’ll admit I found a few typos – but to err is human. And even so, I can’t even remember where they were or what they were!), Vaccaro’s skill and dedication really shine through the way the dialogue is youthful but not cringey, and the way their descriptions are alluring but not droning. The prose itself was enjoyable, turns of phrase appearing that I wouldn’t have expected, I think I was most fond of “bust a gut” to describe laughter, since this isn’t an image I usually come across, and it definitely elevated the youth of the characters and the depth of their emotions.

The book is, as I said, just over 500 pages – so, not a quick read, but a fun, entangling one.I trust Thomas to make a strong series based on their passion and unwavering dedication. Since this is called book one, and I’m excited to see where the rest of the story may go. Especially since the books ends in a very apt spot for a sequel to take over.I admire their dedication to their craft and in particular, to their audience.

I appreciate aspects I’ve otherwise never seen in literature such as their comprehensive list of trigger warnings at the beginning of the book, and good sized chapters – long enough to engage, short enough that I don’t get bored.

I was initially worried about boring fantasy tropes showing their head throughout this text, as most fantasy books fall victim to at least a few. And while I’m sure a few did seep in there, I was pleasantly surprised when things didn’t turn out that way and I actually couldn’t guess where the story would go as it progressed, which was definitely a breath of fresh air for me.

Overall, the book was a fun, immersive read. Especially for fans of things such as Harry Potter but have outgrown it or do not wish to support its author. It’s a fun, youthful take on the “wizard school” idea, one ripe for a new generation and a new presence in literature. 

Sian Thomas

Review: It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover by Sian Thomas

Four stars

It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover is one of those books I heard about over and over and over again and kept skirting the edges of to get away from. With her skyrocket into popularity, I found myself jumping through hoops to avoid her work, for no other reason than: I had a weird feeling I’d like it, and because I know she has so many books published, I simply didn’t have the time or money to fall into her work and out the other side, changed.

Then I got paid.

It Ends With Us was the kind of book floating all over booktok, appearing and disappearing in book group posts I would skim read; it was popular, easy to read, and seemingly either incredibly well-liked, or vehemently hated. I wanted to know why. Even when I was actively avoiding it, I wanted to know what it was that was happening to people that their reviews were becoming so mixed.

I thought, when I was reading it, that it would be down to its “chicklit” factor. The book itself being pink, and Hoover being notably a romance writer, I thought people were detesting it because it was a gooey, lovey dovey easy read, and not an absolute draining challenge of some such classic literature you’d find on a university reading list that I’m sure I would hate after half of the first page. I found myself believing this at one point, questioning if something that had so clearly rocketed into pop culture, wouldn’t it be too easy for me?

And then I decided I didn’t care. I’d been paid. My New Year’s Resolution was to read twenty books this here and here was a book I was interested in; I had to take the opportunity before it skirted me, the same way I had been skirting It Ends With Us. I bought it one day after work, snatching it from the shelf before I had a chance to think about it too long, rushing myself through the till before I had the chance to turn around and put it back.

Besides, if I didn’t like it, there is a cute phone-box-library right by my house, and I’m sure someone, somewhere, would like it more than me.

I kept it. I’m keeping it forever, tucked nicely into the pink section of my bookshelf. Because I liked it. As I, ironically, knew that I would.

It Ends With Us is a fun book at first. A real page turner as one relationship blossoms right before the reader’s eyes and the other notable relationship come sneaking out of the shadows, piece by piece. I admit, I’m no high class literature snob (except for when I want to be), so when the blurb said something much more wordy than simply “Man A meets Man B and which one will it be at the end?” I had two main thoughts: I’m too good for this and this is going to be a great read for me. I got over myself quick when I found I was six chapters in the same day I’d started reading, and had the feeling that by that time tomorrow, the book would be finished.

I had heard a lot of different opinions on Colleen Hoover’s writing style, and I had initially been worried that I wouldn’t like it. But admittedly, the writing style is easy and quick. Not plain, exactly, but simple. Easy to follow and, as I found out, easy to get lost in. The book is fast paced with short to mid length chapters (which I certainly appreciate, I always felt like short chapters feel more like the book is moving, rather than longer ones), and with its page-turner ability, I found the book was over far sooner than I’d expected.

The story progresses as (no spoilers): Lily meets Ryle and they hit it off. It’s great, until. And also in the mix is an old friend of Lily’s she was once in love with.I know it sounds very chicklit-y. It is. But that’s honestly what made it fun for me. I’m excited for the sequel to be released and seeing what happened to the cast of characters next.

There are a few things I have noticed in my last few reads, and this one, that have pulled me from my escapism of reading and placed me squarely back in real life. I’m not sure if it’s a trope in and of itself, but I’ve noticed a prevalent “rich best friend” character appearing; funding or enabling the main characters lifestyle, existing for exuberant gifts, there for not much more of a purpose than “be rich” and “be convenient”, which is a shame. I get the feeling that it’s easy, that Rich Best Friend nullifies a lot of typical people-problems, but I find this also voids a certain aspect of relatability to the cast of characters. But honestly, that was the only flaw I saw in the book – everything else about it was compelling and emotional, intriguing and fun!

Sian Thomas

REVIEW: TJ KLUNE’S THE LIGHTNING-STRUCK HEART, BY SIAN THOMAS

5 Stars


I read this book in about, let’s say, ten hours total. Over two days, because I’m grown and have a job and go to bed at 10pm and stuff like that, but I thought about this book the entire time I wasn’t reading it. I thought about this book when I was clocking into work at 5:58am this morning, I thought about this book when I was making lunch and left it upturned in my armchair, I thought about this book when the delivery company told me “It’s on the way!” because my excitement was obliterating, and I just could not stop thinking about what a treat I was in for.

Because I was. In for a treat.


I was achingly awaiting the release of TJ Klune’s Under the Whispering Door and wanted something to scratch the itch sooner. I have the Green Creek Series on my shelf, and the House on the Cerulean Sea, too, but I was looking for something new to me to prep for the all-new new-to-everyone release of Under the Whispering Door. I was excited, since The Lightning-Struck Heart is the foundation of a wider series, and I was ready to commit to something fun, light-hearted, and absolutely intoxicating. Since, I reiterate, I read it in about ten hours. It was an excellent start to what I’m sure will be an incredible series, setting up a joyous protagonist with his mismatched, knit-together found family; a unicorn (Gary), half-giant (Tiggy), knight (Ryan), mentor (Morgan), parents, king, and later, dragon, and prince. And I love them. All of them. Just so much. TJ Klune has a fantastic way of crafting the nuanced relationships between his characters; they feel like genuine people, like real conversations are taking place and I can see where they can go before they do, and I adore that. I can see the bonds through their words and the love through the thoughts of the protagonist (Sam Haversford). This is something I have always admired from TJ Klune – I find it remarkable how well done it is every single time. In the Green Creek series, the pack bonds speak for themselves; they are visceral and enveloping. In the House in the Cerulean Sea, they are endearing and heartfelt. In this book, they are tantalizing, fun, witty, and downright hilarious. I think only a few choice authors have ever made me laugh out loud while staring down at the book in my hands in an otherwise silent room. So loud you’d think I’d have barked like a dog. This was one of those authors, making one of those special books that seem to fit in my hands just right. Isn’t that neat?

I loved it. Could you tell? Probably.

The plot is there, in between the bits and pieces of the romance story I was absolutely absorbed in. I find it a really good starting point for a wider series, it deals really nicely with the world itself and the character dynamics, and where/how they fit into their world of Verania, and it sets up really well where the rest of the wider story will go. I love the way the magical creatures were involved with every bit of their own flare, the individualism of TJ Klune’s work is astounding; unique and much needed in the fantasy sections of stores that are just far too filled with whatever new cover Harry Potter has now. I’m excited to see the way this wide world will expand and how the characters fit into it as they, and it (I’m sure), will change around them. And honestly, I’m looking forward to seeing what conflicts will arise between everyone and what exactly it might lead to. I’m doing my very best to not spoil everything about the first book, and I’m trying my best to enter the rest of the series as blindly as I can (I find that best with TJ Klune books – he assures his readers of happy endings, which I have seen time and time again and never once got tired of, but I love the rollercoaster feeling of his novels too much to ruin my fun before I’ve had it).

If anything is a take away here, I find TJ Klune books, this one in particular, about connection, at the heart of everything. Yes, magic is cool, and mystery is fun, but my favourite thing about any TJ Klune story is that it is simply not the same without the connections made along the way. I love seeing it, and I’d love to be able to explain it without screaming “READ THIS BOOK” or “OH MY GOD” or, I don’t know, squealing a little. But it is most definitely a skill I admire in a writer and would love to learn to do myself, one day. Sam Haversford has his best friends, and slowly collects more as the book goes on (which I love. It’s like there’s no bad guys. There’s just stubborn strangers who slowly becoming a part of the group), and his energy is contagious, his demeanour perfectly sunshine-y, his dynamic with his friends complementary and genuine.

To talk about something else, I really loved the humour of the book. It feels youthful and energetic, and it’s perfectly in my style. The thought-process of the main character, his quick wit, and the back-and-fore of him and the other characters is absolutely adoring. It’s fun, snappy, and all-around joyful; there were so many times where I had a huge grin on my face, watching jokes fly between characters for pages and pages, one thing snowballing into another before the plot reintroduced itself to me.

The book is fun. I really, really liked it. I can tell my reading slump has ended on account of, I then immediately bought the rest of the series, Under the Whispering Door, and another book on my way home from work. TJ Klune’s writing is real, and special, and means the absolute world to me. I am beyond excited to experience more of it.

Sian Thomas

Review: Heartsong by TJ Klune by Sian Thomas

Review will include spoilers.

An incredible continuation of a phenomenal series. I have to begin with applause – for one thing especially. The flow. I noticed as I began reading this book that something was different – not that it was a different character, place, situation – I expected all of that. I understand well enough the creative decision TJ Klune made to have the series circle multiple characters rather than just Ox and Joe, and I wholeheartedly respect it! But I definitely could tell the difference from the beginning of this book compared to the others. Once I realised what it was I was in awe; as Robbie’s memories became less hectic, and as he became more trusting and open of the Bennett pack, the story began to feel less choppy, and much more smooth. The transition into this was so effortlessly made that I hadn’t fully noticed it until I was about half way through the book. I don’t know if this was something that was done on purpose (if it was, that’s amazing and inspiring), but it truly was incredible; it felt like honest craftsmanship coming straight through the pages and falling into my lap. I love it, it makes TJ Klune feel like an author to really look up to.

I already loved this series, and have for a while now, so I knew I was in for a great story when it arrived. To speak from a place of real honesty, this is a series to experience rather than read about second hand. The way the emotions of the characters – of every character – come through the books so clearly, stark and vibrant, is fantastic. The book is full of feeling, there really is no shortage of it, and it’s refreshing to see, especially since a lot of the “main cast” is male. This is something I’ve always adored about the writing style, there is no fear in it. Characters are everything and anything, given real time to process things and react to them, and each of them is so individual and unique – there are traits in everyone that are recognisable and easy to relate to, and I love it.

Ox has my heart, as always, so he remains my favourite characters. It’s been such an experience to see how, through other’s character’s stories, his is still growing and moving forward behind the scenes – and I’m very much looking forward to seeing what it all is going to accumulate into. I love how he’s progressed through the series, the way he’s changed from shy and insecure to this Alpha character now is unparalleled. I feel proud of him and his growth, almost.

I don’t think anyone could even try and convince me not to give this book five stars, there was so much in it to enjoy: the making, breaking, and repairing of character’s relationships (most notably Kelly and Robbie’s relationship being strained and strengthened), watching a hero’s journey move forward, Carter being amazing (I’m very excited to see what happens with him, next), and even things like watching how the “bad guys” are moving on from fabled things of nightmares to real, honest figures of terror. I can’t wait to see what happens in the next book, another hit – I’m sure – in this phenomenal series.

I know this review isn’t too plot-detail heavy (I don’t want to ruin things), but I stand by what I said: this book is to be read by you, not by me telling you what I read.

Sian Thomas

Review: Disconnected by Michelle Halket (et al) by Sian tHomas

I recently finished Disconnected – a collaborative and clever endeavour of alternating short stories and poems (with a handful of extra poems as well). I didn’t know how many to expect, nor how to expect it to look or be delivered, but what greeted me from inside the cover was pleasant and enjoyable. Alternating piece by each author was a nice succession, gave room for clarity and enjoyment, and was nice to see it neatly presented. Seeing their words and pieces in the put-together way of the whole book was fab, and even better was the feeling of consistency throughout all the pieces.
The emboldened and repeating lines, such as, “Here is how it works: you take your finger and write the most secret words you can think of on my skin…” in Amanda Lovelace’s short story “Small Yellow Cottage on the Shore”, even though that line is the majority of Iain Thomas’ poem, “The Way It Works”. These bits, scattered throughout each of the pieces gave the book a lasting impression of the book itself being made from togetherness and teamwork. As things related back and fore to each other, there was a gentle feeling of camaraderie between all the authors and also myself, as I can catching the dotted-around references to and from.
Both of my favourite short stories and poem came from Iain Thomas. The story, “Driving with Strangers” and the poem, “The Way It Works” were both lovely. The idea of driving with Death and also the idea of “owing” something to him/the world was definitely and interesting one. It inspired me, in its own little way. Plus, it had some really striking lines, such as, “another dark spark shines in the voice inside us and the night grows one iota blacker”, and, “bees come and bees go, and the bees die and are reborn as little boys and girls”. They were just so catching – easily hooking me in. After all, I love lines that snatch my attention like that. And I adored the poem. Short and sweet. Lovingly crafted, concerning love. Gentle and kind.
I’m not entirely surprised that these turned out to be my favourite of the collection. I bought the book as I knew he was a part of it. The rest of the experience was a nicely added surprise.
There were, also, some authors I’d never come across at all before, and similarly, some works and styles I’d never encountered before, either, like Liam Ryan’s “The Train”, and “Ultra” by Yena Sharma Purmasir. Both of these stories had a uniqueness to them, a gentleness and a tenderness to one that hooked me in, and a ferocity almost – a maternal flame and bright, bright instinct in the other, that made me feel a lot at once. I really like love stories, and they’re both one, if you try. Love for a child to come, and love lost and found (almost. Kind of).
On the flip side, there were some authors I recognised. Iain Thomas, of course, but also Trista Mateer, and Amanda Lovelace. I’ve read almost all of Iain Thomas’ other work, Trista Mateer’s “Honeybee”, and Amanda Lovelace’s “The Princess Saves Herself In This One” and, “The Witch Doesn’t Burn In This One”. I could see through those pieces to how each of those authors come through, staying true to their styles and interests, and it impressed me each time over. The familiarity of it was nice.
Overall, Disconnected was an incredible read, especially for poetry lovers and short story lovers, too, and I’m glad I read it.

Sian Thomas

Review: Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman by Sian Thomas

I feel as if I started reading Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman years ago, fell in an out with it as time went on, until I finally stumbled and stayed in its clutch.
    I remember hearing about it and thinking of it as interesting. Intriguing. I’m pretty sure it was described to me as light and easy, and I’m pretty sure the suggestion had come just after I finished A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. Light as easy must have been what I needed, because at the very least, Neverwhere was something that stayed in the back of my mind as a quiet desire to get into – and that’s where it all starts, really.
    I’ve read Neil Gaiman before, both The Graveyard Book and Good Omens, and I can say with a complete certainty that the way fantasy is presented through his writing is done strongly, and in a way that’s wholly fascinating. The story I have different opinions on, but the way it was crafted and elegantly delivered to me I really enjoyed. Richard, the main character, was one I grew to be quite fond of. Especially considering that how he was written was the begrudging type in a fantasy novel – the one who is just trying their best to get home. I liked the way he was happy when his bank card worked again at the end of the novel – something so simple and joy-inducing considering everything else he’d seen throughout the novel.
The story itself was alright. Most of my reason for reading was that 1) I like the writing and, 2) I really liked the characters. It’s an easy story in a huge book – man dragged into a big fantastical fantasy-world journey of “London Below”, going on a mismatched-twisted-and-turned adventure until he can go home (and then immediately realising he didn’t really want to go home). Kind of predictable, but still enjoyable.
The main characters – Richard, Door, and the Marquis (later adding a woman named Hunter) – each had a specific feeling to them that – though recognisable in fantasy – still had their own little spins which was nice to see. They were all likeable in their owns ways – as were the villains, for people who tend to enjoy bad guys more. I do quite like Neil Gaiman’s characterisation – something about it is always very clear and well-liked. The characters had their traits, and their goals, and their rises and falls – and none of it was made too complicated for unnecessary reasons.
I really did like this book! I’m glad I read it.

Sian Thomas

Review: Ravensong by TJ Klune by Sian Thomas

I don’t know where to begin with this book. I didn’t know where to begin after I read the first in the series, Wolfsong, so here I am all over again, hoping that I’ll be able to think of something that works and say anything that shows a fraction of what I felt while I was reading Ravensong.
I was so excited for it. This was not a secret (I don’t think it could have been, really, even if I tried with all my might)

This book had a stark difference in the way it utilised its point of view. A different story needing a different outlook is much more than understandable, and though I was excited to see how the change would play out ultimately I would realise: I love Ox and I love Wolfsong and though it would be easy for me to pick a favourite, that would never mean that Ravensong was bad – because it wasn’t. I loved it anyway, and I loved it in a different way. The thing about reading Wolfsong was that I also came to realise that I adored all the characters that were there for me to enjoy – so the book being told by a new voice was welcome, and fun, at its core.

The writing style before I remember as crisp and sharp and full of emotion, and it still was, now. It had a way of making me reflect on my own writing style; how mine is elongated and often runs in triplets and have a very obvious tendency to be verbose. It was refreshing to relive, I didn’t notice how much I had missed the style in the two years that had elapsed between books. It’s great too because, amidst the ache and the burn and the awe, there is always jokes; fun comedy in light of whatever serious situation is happening. I latched on to that, it was something I both really appreciated and could never wait to see when or where it would next pop up. TJ Klune has a talent for knowing the time and the place, and he also has a skill for creating a time and a place if he wants to, anyway.

The story was damning; I cried at least four times? At Wolfsong I’m sure it was at least six (the first time I read it, that is). The touch of tragedy but still triumphing it is always wonderful to see. That and, I don’t know, it’s a huge story and one of the biggest things about it is a loss none of the characters can control. I like a book that makes me feel a lot, so I’m not at all surprised at how much I enjoyed this one. There’s something about being able to cry at a story that’s inherently good; it talks a lot of the skill of the author and the openness of the reader. And I liked it – it makes me feel like even more of a part of the story. It was leagues more than the word intriguing can convey; I’m excited for whatever’s going to come next
adored it

I did a review of Wolfsong when I read it, about two years ago (give or take a little). I remembered feeling like I had to be the luckiest person alive when TJ Klune himself said he enjoyed it. That alone meant a lot to me. What also meant a lot to me was seeing the opening lines of it printed out in front of Ravensong.

It felt nice, first of all, to be remembered and also it felt wonderful to be included and I liked that this little Welsh group got to be seen the way it has. It felt important, and I felt very lucky all over again. It definitely made my day much more enjoyable when I saw it; the hours were a breeze and a constant grin was on my face.

In my last review, I talked about LGBT representation. I still think it’s important and I always will; Ox being openly bi was one of the many reasons I adored him. So, in the blog posts leading up to Ravensong, when I saw “unless I am explicit about a character’s heterosexuality, readers of Ravensong (or any book of mine) should assume said character is queer. Easy, right? Unless you see a dude like balls deep inside a vagina , or a woman talking about how she wants to get all up in some dude and ride him like a wooden rollercoaster, they gay. (Or, even better, they could still be doing BOTH those things because bisexuality is a thing that exists.)”, I was blown away. I was so happy. It was also great to watch this unfold as the truth, with characters embracing who they are and ones being mentioned to be aromantic – it’s refreshing to see. I hope it never, ever stops, and I hope that if I get as far into writing as TJ Klune has, I can do something even a fraction as meaningful and important with my words and my characters.

I hope the book does well, because honestly, it deserves to.

Sian Thomas

Review of “The Bookshop” by Roger Barrington

 

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

“The Bookshop” directed by Catalan feminist auteur Isabel Coixet, is a faithful adaptation of British writer Penelope Fitzgerald’s 1978 Booker Prize nominated novel.

Set in a small Suffolk coastal town in 1959, as with all Fitzgerald’s novels, it is drawn from her own experience, as she worked in a bookshop in that country for a time in the 1950’s.

The plot is about awfully nice Florence Green, (Emily Mortimer) as a widowed middle-aged woman who decides to open up a secondhand bookshop in fictionalised Hardborough and concerns her battle with the local bigwigs General and Mrs  Gamart who want to convert the property into an Arts Centre. Also encountering opposition due to small-town small mindedness and ignorant philistinism she garners support from recluse Edmund Brundish, (Bill Nighy) and 13-year old Christine, whom she employs as her assistant. Into the mix comes loquacious rakish BBC man Milo North who Christine perceptively recognises is not a nice man.

The tension arises out of the burgeoning friendship that develops between our heroine and Brundish in opposition to the Machiavellian ruthfulness of the appalling Gamarts.

Isabel Coixet is a multi-award winning Catalan director, who first came to my notice with the superb, “My Life without me”. (2003). She continues to make highly acclaimed film, “Elergy” (2008) and “Endless Night” (2015) and a dominant theme throughout her dozen or so other feature movies is that the central character is a woman who takes control of her life.

Emily Mortimer is ideally cast as Florence Green, the brave and pioneering but vulnerable woman who doesn’t look for confrontation, but will take it on if she has to.

 

Bill Nighy who plays her ally Edmund Brundish is in usual scene-stealing form. Has there been a British actor since Denholm Elliott ho constantly manages to achieve this? All the best scenes in the film feature him.

 

 

American Patricia Clarkson is a regular feature in Coixet’s films and this is their third collaboration. This underrated actress manages the clipped British accent nicely and subtly provides us with a nasty determined character who is determined to get her way within the small community she resides in, as she always does.

 

Thirteen-year old actress, (at the time of filming), Honor Kneafsey as bookshop assistant Christine provides a mature performance of the precocious but charming adolescent. A couple of years on, she is already a veteran of nineteen films and looks a rare talent, even though her middle class speaking voice seems a little out of sorts with Christine’s working class antecedents.

 

Coixet’s Suffolk doesn’t look authentic. In fact, exterior shots were filmed on location in Northern Ireland, whilst interior sets were in Spain.

However, this isn’t really a problem, as Suffolk isn’t key to the story. As I mentioned earlier, it is where author Penelope Fitzgerald resided for a time in the 1950’s whilst she worked in a secondhand bookshop. But the location could be anywhere, and not only in the UK, where closed communities exist.

“The Bookshop” is a story about courage and determination. We  learn late into the film that during WW1, Edmund was an aviator, so he is the ideal person to recognise Florence’s qualities. By contrast, General Gamart, (Reg Wilson) a veteran of the same conflict but who served in The Suffolk Regiment, comes across as the worst kind of army officer of this period, who stoops to levels of deceit to cowardly succumb to his wife’s demands.

This film is also about small town bigotry, in terms of it’s consolidated opposition to a person who doesn’t conform to their small minded way of thinking. If you are brought up in a small town or village, you may appreciate what I am writing.

The time setting of the book and film is significant. The last year of the 1950’s, a period when Britain was coming to grips with the austerity of and aftermath of  WW2, marks a time with the 1960’s, just around the corner,  a decade that transformed society. Also, Arts Centres, that sprung up after 1945, were becoming the trendy venues of the 1960’s and 1970’s, thereby marking a total contrast to the traditional British secondhand bookshop – an institution that in our era of online bookselling and e-books is slowly succumbing to its eventual inevitable demise.

It didn’t pass me by, that I was watching this film at Chapter, an arts centre in Cardiff. I pondered whether I had to give one thing up – secondhand bookshops or arts centres, which choice would I make, coming down in favour of the former. A difficult decision because i love both, but books have always featured strongly in my life. I have always lived in places where books take over the place. Even in the modest flat I live in now, I have upwards of two and a half thousand books. I will never be able to read all of them before I, (hopefully), gain admittance to that great library in the sky, but that doesn’t stop my sense of anticipation when I enter a secondhand bookshop to explore its contents. “You are never alone in a bookshop” is the closing line of this film, and if you feel as I do, then you will identify closely with this.

The satisfying climax works perfectly, but I don’t wish to give the game away by saying more here.

This film will divide the majority of viewers, into those who love it, and those who loathe it. The start is a little sluggish, but if you accept what it is trying to achieve on its own terms, then you will find this an utterly absorbing and memorable film.

Country: U.K., Spain, Germany

Language: English

Running time: 113 minutes

Certificate: PG

Continue reading Review of “The Bookshop” by Roger Barrington

Review: The Witches of New York by Ami McKay by Sian Thomas


I’ve recently finished The Witches of New York by Ami McKay. For quite some time, the book was the base of my “Big Pile of Books I Need to Read” – purely because it was the largest one. I thought it intimidating at first – I hadn’t expected it to be the size that it was. However, by the time I reached the end, I found myself wishing that it was longer. The book has potential, I do believe, but I’ll get to that later.
For a while now, stories with a strong aesthetic have appealed to me more than stories with some unfathomably-mind-blowing plot twist that I never asked to be on the other end of. This book, this style of writing, was right up my alley that it and I more or less lived in the same block of flats. It was so gorgeous – all this talk about a tea shop, girls, style, soft magic, attraction (straight and gay). Even the way littler things would be described; colour, cups, plants, glass, feathers on a bird, silk of a dress, the appearance of ghosts. All of it just seemed to constantly scream out for me, and it was what I enjoyed about the book the most. I have things that agree with me, the things I find pretty or such, and this book just seemed full of them. I love the way a tea shop exists; quiet and usually more than meets the eye (as was the case here). I love little glass bottles filled with things like glitter or seeds (as was, also, the case). I love small keys, things kept on a chain because of how important they are, I love different blends of teas that all, above having their own flavour, seem to also have their own meanings. There just seemed to be so much care and effort put into every little detail with this book, and I really loved that.
The characters and the story both I’ve decided not to go into very much. The characters, Eleanor, Adelaide, and Beatrice, were all intrinsic, individualistic, and all in all, just quite lovable. I’d rather people went into the unravelling of both them and the plot blind, but I will say: I did enjoy it; the story was gripping and the characters were lovely. It touched on a lot of things I like (amongst the already incredible scenery and the like) and I relate to: the subtle fear of pushy men that every girl seems to know and knows how to combat, the camaraderie of women. While intriguing, it wasn’t too fast. It really was enjoyable. I think a lot of people all sorts of ages would enjoy this book.
Back to potential: the book has it. Ending happily, but with just enough of a nudge in some characters direction, I feel like I did certainly have closure, but just a tiny smidgen of it was withheld. I suppose I may have become fond of stories with a neat little bow wrapped around them and then encased behind glass for the rest of time. That’s on me, I do think, but you’d catch me picking up a copy of any book that would follow at the heels of this one, that’s for sure.

Review: Gaslight by Eloise Williams by Sian Thomas


I read Gaslight by Eloise Williams recently. What pulled me to it was definitely the setting – I love a story set somewhere I was born, somewhere I continue to be (and probably will remain – I’m certainly happy for that to be the case). Cardiff has a history, it has looked so many different ways, been so many different things (which can continue to be true as we all trudge through time together). I really did enjoy experiencing it in the Victorian Era. Something about knowing my home completely differently while I also have the pleasure of following a story was lovely.
This may be a peculiar thing to lead off with, but I really liked the line under the title on the cover of the book: “Have you seen her?”. Sometimes words strike a chord with me; this did. I like the mood this seems to create from the very get-go. The book does have quite the atmospheric feel to it. From cover to cover, there’s something enchanting about the intricacies of the character and the setting she resides in. “Have you seen her?” makes me feel as if I should be looking; as if hints of the character (Nansi) or other characters or even of this version of Cardiff’s past are still all over the place, waiting for the kind of attention only I can give them, because I’m already where they were. Something about that, that co-existence, is pleasing.
The story itself I don’t want to spoil, but the allure of a theatre story (definitely with some other things thrown in) in this era was a good combination. It was nice to imagine, and it was just as nice to be led into imagining it and down the path of the story. There was a moment I liked in particular; Nansi steals a piece of sea glass for a show, and during the show that piece of sea glass is used to really sell an act. The way the audience’s rapture is described, and the way the ploy plays out and the anxiety and nerves of Nansi’s surrounding it, was always a scene that had me hooked because of how easy it was to get lost in it, to become enraptured myself.
I think the book is good for a lot of ages. I enjoyed it, and I’m sure that relatives my age or younger (or older!) would, too. There is something about a young person’s endeavours (in this case, Nansi discovering the truth of her mother’s disappearance and her family in general) and watching them grow from their starting point of “clueless” to a stronger character with an ending to be proud of. It’s nice in a sense, to watch someone grow like this. To watch a character stand up for people who can’t, to stand up against people she hadn’t dreamt of standing up to before. I am immensely pleased to hear that Gaslight won the Wales Arts Review Young People’s Book of the Year 2017 award. Being good for all sorts of ages, and a story of fair intrigue, I’d say it did deserve it – and the four stars I give it.