Posted in BOOK REVIEWS

The Last One by Alexandra Oliva

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Alexandra Oliva — Ali, for short — grew up in a tiny town in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York. Her last name is pronounced “all of a,” like the first three words of the phrase “all of a sudden.”

In 2001, Ali left the Adirondacks for Yale University where she made some of the best friends of her life, failed to learn Russian, and wrote a very long essay about Robin Hood, which earned her a B.A. in History.

After Yale, Ali moved to Ireland to write, travel, and wait tables.  When her work permit ran out, she briefly returned to her hometown before moving on to New York City.

In New York, Ali waited more tables, worked as a private tutor, met her husband online, learned to rock climb, and received an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from The New School. She also volunteered The Prospect Park Zoo, where she particularly enjoyed narrating the Friday morning sea lion feedings to visitors and getting to hold bearded dragons.

During this time,  Ali also wrote two novels that she now refers to as her “practice novels,” though she didn’t know that’s what they were at the time. While gathering rejection letters for the second of these, she had the idea for The Last One and immediately knew it was her next project.

To pull off this novel, Ali knew she needed to get her hands dirty. Soon she was using “writing research” as the impetus to sign up for an experience she would have been too scared to undertake otherwise: a fourteen-day field course with the Boulder Outdoor Survival School (B.O.S.S.) — which is known for providing some of the most authentic and challenging wilderness survival and primitive living experiences in the world.

Ali and her husband flew to Utah for the course, where they hiked out into the desert with expert guidance and minimal supplies. In the field, she pushed herself walking water source to water source without food for three days, learned how to start a fire using a bow drill, and glimpsed an elusive mountain lion minutes before being left to camp entirely on her own for two days. It was a difficult and amazing experience, and one that was extraordinarily helpful to writing The Last One.

In 2014, Ali and her husband moved to the Pacific Northwest and got a puppy. That puppy is now a dog and pretty much rules their lives.

(bio taken from: http://www.alexandraoliva.com/ )

DESCRIPTION:

Survival is the name of the game as the line blurs between reality TV and reality itself in Alexandra Oliva’s fast-paced novel of suspense.

She wanted an adventure. She never imagined it would go this far.

It begins with a reality TV show. Twelve contestants are sent into the woods to face challenges that will test the limits of their endurance. While they are out there, something terrible happens—but how widespread is the destruction, and has it occurred naturally or is it human-made? Cut off from society, the contestants know nothing of it. When one of them—a young woman the show’s producers call Zoo—stumbles across the devastation, she can imagine only that it is part of the game.

Alone and disoriented, Zoo is heavy with doubt regarding the life—and husband—she left behind, but she refuses to quit. Staggering countless miles across unfamiliar territory, Zoo must summon all her survival skills—and learn new ones as she goes.

But as her emotional and physical reserves dwindle, she grasps that the real world might have been altered in terrifying ways—and her ability to parse the charade will be either her triumph or her undoing.

Sophisticated and provocative, The Last One is a novel that forces us to confront the role that media plays in our perception of what is real: how readily we cast our judgements, how easily we are manipulated.

REVIEW:

For a Media and Communications Major like me this one was a definite steal, I had to read it! It is a one of a kind experiment with a definite twist and originality that can be read for pleasure, or to be used for study. I am honestly impressed with it and can’t wait to have time to read it a second time. Dystopian novels are my guilty pleasure, and The Last One was one of the sweetest treats I had given myself this week.

I felt engaged throughout the whole reading and fell head-over-hills with the alternating stories between the two perspectives and timelines. The way the narration plays with your own perspective and  the susceptibility of your psyche is incredible. Psychologically, considering the tricky mind-games reality television plays even when there’s not an apocalypse going on, where viewers are complicit in their own manipulation for entertainment – required to accept a semblance of reality with the tacit understanding that the ‘reality’ is largely fabricated. 

My inner Literature freak was rapturous. An extremely good debut. There are a couple of weak parts and a bit of a three-quarter mark slump, but it held my interest and there are some terrifically intense scenes that will stick with me. I can see why some readers failed to feel connected to some of the characters, but I am fairly convinced it was done on purpose, because the novel has to be read as reality TV, and lets be honest no one ever gets that attached to the participants, right? Or is it just me? I have never been a big fan of reality TV – I might as well live without it, as I am sure many of us can.

I liked how everything progressed. It didn’t seem like it was going to wrap up nicely, but the author managed to do it. At one point you’re probably assuming that this is going to happen, or this is not going to happen, but the author throws in a completely different situation and you’ll be knocked off your seat.

Along with Zoo on her journey you’d feel shocked, confused, angry and emotional at times. I hugely enjoyed this fantastic debut novel from Alexandra Oliva and would definitely, 100% read any future releases!

The storyline was interesting, well crafted, entertaining and, most of all (despite the quite serious subject matter) really fun to read!

5FOXGIVEN

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Posted in BOOK REVIEWS

Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet by H.P. Wood

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

H. P. Wood is the granddaughter of a mad inventor and a sideshow magician. Instead of making things disappear, she makes books of all shapes and sizes. She has written or edited works on an array of topics, including the history of the Internet, the future of human rights, and the total awesomeness of playing with sticks. She lives in Connecticut with a charming and patient husband, a daughter from whom she steals all her best ideas, and more cats than is strictly logical.

DESCRIPTION:

May 1904. Coney Island’s newest amusement park, Dreamland, has just opened. Its many spectacles are expected to attract crowds by the thousands, paying back investors many times over.

Kitty Hayward and her mother arrive by steamer from South Africa. When Kitty’s mother takes ill, the hotel doctor sends Kitty to Manhattan to fetch some special medicine. But when she returns, Kitty’s mother has vanished. The desk clerk tells Kitty she is at the wrong hotel. The doctor says he’s never seen her although, she notices, he is unable to look her in the eye.

Alone in a strange country, Kitty meets the denizens of Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet. A relic of a darker, dirtier era, Magruder’s is home to a forlorn flea circus, a handful of disgruntled Unusuals, and a mad Uzbek scientist. Magruder’s Unusuals take Kitty under their wing and resolve to find out what happened to her mother.

But as a plague spreads, Coney Island is placed under quarantine. The gang at Magruder’s finds that a missing mother is the least of their problems, as the once-glamorous resort town is abandoned to the freaks, anarchists, and madmen.

REVIEW:

Apparently I am on a carnival strike… well, I am absolutely loving it, so shush! This book, dear readers, this book is better than chocolate cake and morning black coffee, it is more exciting than a journey with a  hobbit and more rewarding than a bowl of ice cream on a hot summers day. It is epic in its wording and humble in its presentation. I am absolutely smitten.

The characters are strong humans, who struggle with discrimination, gender roles, family issues and inability to find hope in the next day. They are marvellously developed and become idols,  if you allow me to call them such. The lessons you learn from them, will come in handy some day, you just sit back and wait.

It is the best piece on equality an acceptance that you can come across. A wonderful story of embracing individuality and accepting people for being different and the same in one breath. I know it is not YA novel, but I wish more kids would read it, so they would understand that subjects like the ones discussed in the book are serious and have tremendous influence on others.

The intertwining science and magic, make the read even more enjoyable… I do agree that this was probably the most magical era to live in anyway, but they way it was transmitted through the novel is enchanting. It is like reading Carlos Ruiz Zafon, just different. This is a read that definitely melts in your mouth and lingers for a lot longer that you’d generally expect it to.

5FOXGIVEN

Posted in BOOK REVIEWS

The Stealers’ War (Far Called Trilogy #3) by Stephen Hunt

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Stephen Hunt is a British writer living in London. His first fantasy novel, For the Crown and the Dragon, was published in 1994, and introduced a young officer, Taliesin, fighting for the Queen of England in a Napoleonic period alternative reality where the wars of Europe were being fought with sorcery and steampunk weapons (airships, clockwork machine guns, and steam-driven trucks called kettle-blacks). The novel won the 1994 WH Smith Award, and the book reviewer Andrew Darlington used Hunt’s novel to coin the phrase Flintlock Fantasy to describe the sub-genre of fantasy set in a Regency or Napoleonic-era period.

DESCRIPTION:

Weyland has been at war. Invaded by a technologically advanced enemy, the cities sacked, and what fragile peace remained torn apart by a civil war.
All anyone should want is a return to peace.
But Jacob Carneham still wants his revenge; and if he can lure the invaders into the mountain he can have it. He can kill them all.
If he does, there may never be peace again.
If he doesn’t, Weyland will never be free of the threat of invasion.
The northern horse lords are planning an attack. A future Empress is fighting to save her daughter. Jacob’s son is trying to restore peace and stability to Weyland, alongside the rightful King. And behind it all is a greater struggle, which may spell the end for them all…

REVIEW:

I am a firm believer that Autumn is the best time of the year for magical reads, it is a season that flares up you senses and makes you more receptive to the unusual and magical. Besides it is the Halloween week, so I am always on the look for the extraordinary.

And this book is exactly the thing I was looking for. Enchanting and thrilling it will keep you hooked up right until the end. Stephen Hunt is a man of his letters, an incredible storyteller, a man with acute sense of humour that creates heroes of the olden times, when heroism actually stood for something more than muscles and big guns!

I delayed the writing of this review on purpose, because I haven’re read books one and two, but know that I have done I can safely say it was the easiest, most charming fantasy I have read lately. The world building is a masterpiece and completely believable! The characters are real, evoking and, lets face it, they crack you up! It is a definite page-turner and I am sure you’d love it!

I see why many of the other people who read it say they are disappointed in the outcome of the story, but guys… that was the best choice Mr Hunt could make and if you give it a second read, you’ll see it is more than appropriate.

4FOXGIVEN

Posted in BOOK REVIEWS

Orphans of the Carnival by Carol Birch

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Carol Birch is the author of ten previous novels, including Scapegallows (2008) and Turn Again Home (2003) which was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. She has also won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize and the David Higham Award for Best First Novel. Jamrach’s Menagerie was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and longlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction and the London Book Award.

DESCRIPTION:

The dazzling new novel, evoking the strange and thrilling world of the Victorian carnival, from the Man Booker-shortlisted author of Jamrach’s Menagerie.

A life in the spotlight will keep anyone hidden.

Julia Pastrana is the singing and dancing marvel from Mexico, heralded on tours across nineteenth-century Europe as much for her talent as for her rather unusual appearance. Yet few can see past the thick hair that covers her: she is both the fascinating toast of a Governor’s ball and the shunned, revolting, unnatural beast, to be hidden from children and pregnant women.

But what is her wonderful and terrible link to Rose, collector of lost treasures in an attic room in modern-day south London? In this haunting tale of identity, love and independence, these two lives will connect in unforgettable ways.

REVIEW:

It has been more than a month since I have uploaded a review, but I was engaged in refurbishing agenda in my home country – Bulgaria. All has ended well, no fingers hammered and no sanity- lost. It came out to be a pretty decent kitchen to be honest. But as you probably are guessing I didn’t have much time to sit down and think over the wonderful novels I did read while, not painting or running around. I did manage to scribble down some remarks, thou… So based on them today I am going to tell you about Carol Birch’s novel, which both moved me and left me in awe.

Carnivals, and human monsters have always been a subject of great intrigue for me. Having in mind that my brother, had he been born a couple of centuries earlier, might have shared the same destiny as many of travelling peculiar humans brought to the public to horror and amuse. The portray of people with any sorts of disability is a delicate matter I briefly discussed in my dissertation, and a subject I fear is often disregarded and rucked at the back of the human rights agenda.

Therefore, picking up this book was a natural outcome of my born and bred interests in the life of the peculiar. I have previously read The Night Circus, and wasn’t really impressed with the ending of the story, this is why I approached the story not exactly with open hands. The book is a fictional account of the life of Julia Pastrana – a woman born with a genetic condition, hypertrichosis terminalis (or generalized hypertrichosis lanuginosa); her face and body were covered with straight black hair. Her ears and nose were unusually large, and her teeth were irregular. The latter condition was caused by a rare disease, undiagnosed in her lifetime, Gingival hyperplasia, which thickened her lips and gums.

In short she was the perfect object of ridicule and an even more appropriate choice for a travel companion of a carnival. A heartbreaking story of a life led in service to the others. Definately not for the faint hearts, it will make you cry, that one is certain. In many ways I feel this novel could be used as a metaphor for the journey all “Different” have to take upon to embrace the life they are destined for. Julia Pastrana was a born ‘freak’, but an accomplished very talented one who was a dancer, a performer, could speak several languages and could both charm and horrify people. But like many women, all she wanted was to be loved for who she was beneath her ‘animal countenance’. Everyone knows no man could ever look upon such ugliness and find love, it is unheard of, surely. She feels cursed, could her mother have gone out under a full moon and her punishment was this monster infant?

Orphans of the Carnival is a wonderful atmospheric read portraying what it’s like to be truly different and chronicling a life spent making the best of what you’ve got. Read it, then sit you sassy asses down and think about the life we are living today, so privileged and free… Way more accepting than we can ever wish for.

4FOXGIVEN