Book Review: The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell


Newly married, newly widowed Elsie is sent to see out her pregnancy at her late husband’s crumbling country estate, The Bridge.

With her new servants resentful and the local villagers actively hostile, Elsie only has her husband’s awkward cousin for company. Or so she thinks. But inside her new home lies a locked room, and beyond that door lies a two-hundred-year-old diary and a deeply unsettling painted wooden figure – a Silent Companion – that bears a striking resemblance to Elsie herself.

The book opens with the main character Elsie “Elizabeth” Bainbridge as an amnesiac, numb and mentally-tortured patient of an insane asylum. The doctor – a young new face highly enthusiastic about the prospect of helping Elsie return her memories reveals that she is suspected of arson and potentially murder. Elsie was severely injured in a fire, the incident also robbed her of her voice. Two people were registered to have died at the Bridge, the ancestral home of her late husband. Four bodies were later found in the mansion.  In an attempt to remember what happened, Elsie slowly begins to recount her tale in writing.


Book review: Power by Naomi Alderman

In The Power the world is a recognisable place: there’s a rich Nigerian kid who larks around the family pool; a foster girl whose religious parents hide their true nature; a local American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family. But something vital has changed, causing their lives to converge with devastating effect. Teenage girls now have immense physical power – they can cause agonising pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world changes utterly.

Goodreads book synopsis calls Naomi Alderman’s Power extraordinary, and yet, I cannot bring myself to call the novel something other than average. Or maybe a bit more than average.

Naomi Alderman does deliver an intriguing concept. At a certain point in time women become powerful – all of a sudden, the bodies of young girls all around the world can produce electricity. All the babies are born with it. The older women get the power from younger ones… The world is turned upside down, all the concepts of male-dominated societies go crashing down as women get the chance to fight back against opression.

The book follows a set of characters. Allie’s power comes through as her foster father is raping her. She kills the man and runs off, ending up in a covent and all of a sudden becoming a prophet of a female God. Btw, Allie hears a voice in her head that keeps driving her actions. Roxy is an illegitimate child of a British mob boss, her power comes through the moment enemies of her father come to kill her mother. Margot is an American politician, who receives the power from her teenage daughter Jos. Tunde is a Nigerian kid who becomes a journalist and a keen observer of the events that changed the world.


At some points towards the end of the novel I found myself skipping pages as the storylines got me questioning more and more how did Power get a 4* average on Goodreads. It’s hard not to question how so many readers got this book so wrong. Don’t get me wrong, Naomi Alderman’s writing IS good, but is not exceptional. At least not just yet. She depicts violence against women, she depicts violence committed against men, she writes about rape and abuse, about drugs, about power and the ways it corrupts people. Some part of the storylines reminded me of bad fanfiction. Power is ok, but it definitely isn’t a book that deserves another read.

Overall grade: 3*

Review: Tell the wolves I’m home by Carol Rifka Brunt

 12875258Two lonely people become the unlikeliest of friends and find that sometimes you don’t know you’ve lost someone until you’ve found them.

1987. There’s only one person who has ever truly understood fourteen-year-old June Elbus, and that’s her uncle, the renowned painter Finn Weiss. Shy at school and distant from her older sister, June can only be herself in Finn’s company; he is her godfather, confidant, and best friend. So when he dies, far too young, of a mysterious illness her mother can barely speak about, June’s world is turned upside down. But Finn’s death brings a surprise acquaintance into June’s life – someone who will help her to heal and to question what she thinks she knows about Finn, her family, and even her own heart. 

As the events unravel, the reader begins to see that June’s love for her uncle has grown into an unhealthy obsession. Not in a maniacal sort of way, but still not quite right. Even her sister Greta used to tease June that she was in love with her gay uncle and by going through the first half of the book, it’s hard not to question whether in fact it was true. Sure thing, June grieves about the loss of her closest friend and confidant, but her loss becomes a sort of compulsion.

She gets jealous – four-year-old kind of jealous – of a life that Finn has led without her. The character is slow to realize that Finn was gay. As it turns out, Finn’s sister (June’s mother) put her brother before a choice – he could keep in touch with the girls only without the involvement of his boyfriend.   June questions why would Finn keep his boyfriend secret, and while the homophobic attitudes of the family the answer is quite obvious. At one point June even gloats that Finn did not take his boyfriend Toby to the Cloisters Museum, where Finn and June used to go on their Sundays together.

Tell the Wolves I’m Home touches on many topics, perhaps too many to make it likable. It’s slow, at some points quite painfully so. June’s journey of self-discovery drags on and on, and the things that happen to her and the other characters (unfairness of life, judgments, loneliness etc etc) are quite tragic and yet Tell the Wolves I’m Home is no first-class drama, it’s a “meh” kind of book that did not leave either a positive or negative impression. It’s not a book that I would recommend, re-read or go see in cinemas if it gets an adaptation.



Review: The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

Hearing The Queen of the Tearling called “female” Game of Thrones makes me think of this:

George R. R. Martin women momentQuestioning the judgment of journalists from Variety, Figaro and a number of other media websites has never been this easy… Have they really been watching the same show and reading the same books? They probably didn’t do either.

There is no denying that George R.R. Martin created some of the strongest female characters out there. Arya, Daenaris,Cersei, Sansa, Melissadre, Bryenne, Margaery, even now deceased mamma Stark…. Mothers, sisters, wives – ladies run the show. While they may not be the most moral of role models, with all the lies, manipulations and murder sprees that surround  them, the suggestion that Game of Thrones is a guy oriented book/TV series is plain wrong. The Queen of the Tearling is branded a “female” Game of Thrones stems from the fact that Erika Johansen’s debut novel happens to have a strong-willed young woman for a lead. She’s also happens to live in a brutal, somewhat medieval post-apocalyptic world that has elements of magic about it. This is where the similarities end. The non-existent similarities with the Hunger Games series do not even deserve a discussion…

Young Kelsea Raleigh was raised in hiding after the death of her mother, Queen Elyssa, far from the intrigues of the royal Keep and in the care of two devoted servants who pledged their lives to protect her. Growing up in a cottage deep in the woods, Kelsea knows little of her kingdom’s haunted past . . . or that its fate will soon rest in her hands.

Kelsea grew up in isolation, taught to be just and fair, but unprepared for the true dangers and responsibilities that the crown bears and completely unaware of the real life of her kingdom under the rule of her evil (and weak) regent uncle. At 19, as the custom goes, Kelsea is supposed to take over the throne and the Queen’s Guard comes to find her to take her to the capital.

Queen Elyssa, Kelsea’s mother, was beautiful, vain and well… passively evil. When, years ago, the neighboring kingdom ruled by the Red Queen, invaded Tearling, Elyssa forged a peace treaty involving monthly human tribute. Men, women and children were picked by a lottery and shipped to face their fate in iron cages. First thing Kelsea does when she arrives to New London is free the prisoners unlucky souls, triggering adoration from the common folk and dangerous scheming from the corrupt noblemen and officials. She also lays ground for another war.

The writing style is engaging, but somewhat unexceptional for my taste. The character development is one of the strongest assets of The Queen of the Tearling,  however, we do get only small glimpses of the true thoughts and motivations of the the secondary characters. The unique feature of the book is the setting. Three hundred years prior to the described events, William Tear led a group of Europeans to a new, tech-free utopia. The books that still exist are the remnants of the pre-Crossing world, medicine and healing are a lost art… Johansen gives hints of an apocalyptic-like event (at least in my understanding) that led to the exodus, but does not provide sufficient detail. For some books, this could have been a major flaw, in case of the Tearling, the absence of information makes one look forward to the second installment entitled the Invasion of Tearling.

Overall: 4*

Review: The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

American Rebecca Porter was never one for fairy tales. Her twin sister, Lacey, has always been the romantic who fantasized about glamour and royalty, fame and fortune. Yet it’s Bex who seeks adventure at Oxford and finds herself living down the hall from Prince Nicholas, Great Britain’s future king. And when Bex can’t resist falling for Nick, the person behind the prince, it propels her into a world she did not expect to inhabit, under a spotlight she is not prepared to face.

Kate Middleton fanfiction, with references to Downton Abbey and Harry Potter in the very first chapter… The Royal We is just that – and so much more. Rebecca Porter is the Great American Pretender who is set to shake the foundations of the British monarchy.She sets off for Oxford and finds herself drawn into the life she could never imagine. Her newest dorm mates are members of the English aristocracy and the future sovereign, is the dashing, movie-star-good-looking guy who helped drag her luggage up the stairs while she unknowingly joked about his ancestors’ syphilis….Okay, I’m an absolute sucker for unusual introductions (confession)… Nick, Prince Nicholas that is, he’s Mr. Perfect, but he’s also taken and his princeliness comes with a lot of baggage – dark family secret and nosy paparazzi included. As Bex and Nick grow closer, things slowly start to apart.

The Royal We is not the kind of book that I would normally pick up. Epic adventure, gut-wretching drama with an occasional dash of fantasy, psychological or historical non-fiction that would make a lot of my friends say “Why???”. The Royal We is not my typical read, but it is one that I devoured and craved for more in my book hangover.There simply is nothing better than a well-written and well-plotted novel.

The Royal We has a score of complex characters, who are more than the usual background noise so many novels make them to be. Secondary characters compliment Bex’ and Nick’s development, but they also are intelligent, fun and possessing distinct traits. Bex that arrives in Oxford is a somewhat shy and retiring type. Her twin sister Lacy always was the one aiming for fame spotlight, but Bex ended-up being the one forced out into the public. This creates points of tension and conflict throughout the novel, however, I should say that the development of the sisterly relationship is one of the highlights of The Royal We. Prince Freddie is an absolute gem. Cilla, Gaz, Lacy and even the haughty Lady Bollocks are a team of loyal friends anyone would wish they had… “They believed that I was brave. They believed I was tough. They believed in me, period.”

Yes, The Royal We is all about romance, but it also is a novel about friendship, personal growth and sacrifices you are willing to make for your loved ones. It’s fun, captivating and just deliciously good.

Overall: 4,5*

Review: Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

“Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge”

More than fifty years on, Iris Chase is remembering Laura’s mysterious death. And so begins an extraordinary and compelling story of two sisters and their secrets. Set against a panoramic backdrop of twentieth-century history, The Blind Assassin is an epic tale of memory, intrigue and betrayal…

The Blind Assassin opens with one of the most memorable first lines in literary history. Laura Chase, tragic, strange and famous Laura Chase drove her car off a bridge.In her twilight years, Iris Chase is living on her own, her estranged daughter is dead, her husband too, her granddaughter is somewhere in Africa and wants nothing to do with her grandmother. How did it come to this?

While, at times, the story may be slow – after all, it’s almost a century of family life we’re talking about – Margaret Atwood’s writing is simply divine.   The narrative structure is strange and extraordinary at the same time. The timeline jumps from present-day Iris to the glory days of her family and the tragic years leading up to Laura’s death. Some parts of the story are told through newspaper clippings, others – through a novel inside a novel, written by Laura and published by Iris after her suicide.

We are left to assume that the main characters of the novel in question, called the Blind Assassin, are Laura and Alex Thomas. We are left to assume a lot of things. Without venturing into the spoiler zone, I should say that the ending of the novel is one of the most fulfilling plot twists that I’ve ever read. It radically changed my perception of the main characters and made me fall ardently in love with Margaret Atwood’s writing.

The Blind Assassin is the winner the 2000 Booker Prize.

Review: Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

Beginning in Paris on the eve of the Nazi occupation in 1940. Suite Française tells the remarkable story of men and women thrown together in circumstances beyond their control. As Parisians flee the city, human folly surfaces in every imaginable way: a wealthy mother searches for sweets in a town without food; a couple is terrified at the thought of losing their jobs, even as their world begins to fall apart. Moving on to a provincial village now occupied by German soldiers, the locals must learn to coexist with the enemy—in their town, their homes, even in their hearts.

Suite Francaise is an astonishing masterpiece, its rich and exquisite prose is perfect in its unfinished beauty. The circumstances of its creation and publication are truly remarkable, this is no overstatement. Written under the Nazi occupation by a Jewish-Ukrainian author Irene Nemirovsky, it was discovered more than half a century after her death in Auschwitz. Suite Francaise is, in fact, one of the earliest works of fiction about the occupation of France.

Born in Kiev, Irene Nemirovsky fled the Russian Revolution with her family, settling in France at the age of 16. Nemirovsky started writing in French and published a total of nine novels. A Storm in June and Suite Francaise were passed on to Nemirovsky’s daughters after the arrest of her husband Michael Epstein. Denise Nemirovsky discovered that her mother’s battered notebook contained a novel only in the 1990s.

It is a strange feeling, the realization that you’re reading a novel written almost at the time as the historical events unfolded. I couldn’t help but wonder that Irene Nemirovsky might have known some of the book characters, or rather the real people that could have inspired them, that some of the scenes from Suite Francaise may have happened around her.

The characters of Suite Francaise are connected by an intricate thread, their paths cross and collide, as the war and Nazi presence provide the perfect setting for the reveal of their true character. A Storm in June captures the flight from Paris. As the Nazis advance on the French capital, Parisian residents scramble to get out of the city. Fear, lies, petrol stealing, worries about personal goods and status while the enemy is knocking on their doors… Dolce covers the year in the life of an occupied town called Bussy. The residents are forced to host a German regiment, they learn to co-exist, accept and in some cases, see the enemy as mere men. The story of Lucille and German officer Bruno is beautifully heartbreaking. The recently-released Suite Francaise film follows the events recounted in Dolce. It is a pleasure to say that the adaptation turned out brilliantly, despite some minor plot changes.

A reviewer has once compared Suite Francaise to a bombed cathedral. There are no truer words to describe a book of such magnitude: “The ruined shell still soars to heaven, a reminder of the human spirit triumphing despite human destructiveness.”

Review: Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman

The kingdom of Goredd: a world where humans and dragons share life with an uneasy balance, and those few who are both human and dragon must hide the truth. Seraphina is one of these, part girl, part dragon, who is reluctantly drawn into the politics of her world. When war breaks out between the dragons and humans, she must travel the lands to find those like herself—for she has an inexplicable connection to all of them, and together they will be able to fight the dragons in powerful, magical ways.As Seraphina gathers this motley crew, she is pursued by humans who want to stop her. But the most terrifying is another half dragon, who can creep into people’s minds and take them over.

“Powerful, fresh and imaginative” Seraphina, which I reviewed just last month (here), easily became one of the best reads of the year. Needless to say, I was absolutely ecstatic to learn that the second installment of the dilogy was less than a month away.

The quest to find the half-breeds scattered across the realms gives the readers an opportunity to further discover Rachel Hartman’s imaginary world. Intricate details, plot twists and confusing emotions about the book guaranteed.


Review: City of Thieves by David Benioff

Twelve eggs to save a life. The story of adventure, survival and brutalities of Stalingrad siege from David Benioff, the producer of Game of Thrones. 

During the Nazis’ brutal siege of Leningrad, Lev Beniov is arrested for looting and thrown into the same cell as a handsome deserter named Kolya. Instead of being executed, Lev and Kolya are given a shot at saving their own lives by complying with an outrageous directive: secure a dozen eggs for a powerful Soviet colonel to use in his daughter’s wedding cake. 


Review: Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

“They will see the whore, the madwoman, the murderess, the female dripping blood into the grass and laughing with her mouth choked with dirt. They will say “Agnes” and see the spider, the witch caught in the webbing of her own fateful weaving. They might see the lamb circled by ravens, bleating for a lost mother. But they will not see me. I will not be there.”

Burial Rites Hannah Kent Book coverInspired by a true story, Burial Rites is a haunting account of the the last months of the life of Agnes Magnusdottir, the last woman to be executed in Iceland. Accused of murder of her former master and lover Natan Ketilsson, Agnes is forced to live with the family of a local farmer and spend her final weeks before the execution working as their servant. At the time, real prisons simply did not exist on the island.