Sunday, April 13

A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin

Kings are dead, kings are crowned, and there is no place for two queens in Westeros.

Blood stains swords and lies tip tongues. Trust is an uncertainty and nowhere is safe.

All men must die, and in the end we are all a feast for crows.

'Feast for Crows' sets itself apart from the previous three novels, in that it continues with the fewest established point of view characters. Those are Jaime, Sam, Arya and Sansa. The most prominent POV characters were Cersei, Jaime and Brienne. It was interesting that the previous most prominent POV character – Jon, Tyrion and Daenerys – were all absent.

That being said, I was far more invested in the story than I expected to be. Martin proved that his deft writing and excellent world building could exceed simply affection for established characters. Jaime and Brienne were two of the most prominent POV characters in the book, and had been one of my favourite aspects in the previous installment, so I always already engrossed in their individual character arcs. Yet I was also was consumed by the politics of King's Landing and the Iron Islands.

Cersei is still not a very sympathetic character. It was, however, interesting to have some insight into her thoughts. She is so plagued and paranoia, and extremely fearful for her children. Even so, she can't help but compare Tommen to his brother, and she is consumed by thoughts of what Joffrey would have done, or what her father would have wanted. Cersei is torn by her grief, but has also gained strength now that she is not so oppressed by men.

One thing I found particularly fascinating in 'A Feast for Crows' was the custom of the Drowned God. Many of the POV characters introduced in the novel were Greyjoys, and their morbid form of baptism is quite a jarring ritual. I like that Martin does not discredit any of the gods in favour of others. The characters may deny other deities, but Martin himself does not move to confirm any as true or false.

'A Feast for Crows' also shows how ignorant Cersei is of the situation in Westeros. She views the people as pests for revolting and calling for provisions, and cannot fathom that the church would not receive her in riches, but instead ops to feed the people. It is an excellent commentary on how removed she is from the realities of those who she is supposed to be ruling.

Jon Snow has become cold and stern from the very brief insight we get of him in this novel. It is unsurprising considering all he has lost but still disheartening. I look forward to seeing more of the change in him in 'A Dance with Dragons,' along with the return of Tyrion and Daenerys.

Listening to 'A Feast for Crows' on audio, some of the established accents were altered, along with the pronunciation of certain character names. This was probably due to the fact that the previous book, 'A Storm of Swords,' was recorded by Dotrice more than 7 years previously. It was disconcerting but understandable. Dotrice's performance was just as dynamic as ever though, and his range is magnificent.

Trigger Warning: Physical and sexual abuse.

In accordance with the FTC, Quill Café would like to disclose that the reviewer purchased this book. The opinions expressed are hers alone and no monetary compensation was offered to her by the author or publisher. Cover art is copyright of Bantam and is used solely as an aide to the review.

Tuesday, April 8

Always Emily by Michaela MacColl

When Emily and Charlotte Brontë return home from Roe Head School, they are swept up in a world of intrigue. A stranger walks the moors, a burglar is rife, and one man's sudden death breeds whispers.

Wild with curiosity, Emily seeks out adventure, cloaked in the mysteries and romanticisms she relishes in her writing. Her sister, Charlotte, perturbed by their brother's peculiar actions, and startled by the hushed up history of their neighbour, does some investigating of her own.

The two sisters have always been so different, but they must come together to solve the mystery that plagues Haworth...before someone else meets a swift death.

An insight into two young women who broke the gender barrier and wrote timeless classics was a captivating enough premise, but entwined in mystery I was hooked. 'Always Emily' transports the reader, not only to the home and school where the two women were raised, but also into their vast imaginations.

The novel is written in third person, with alternating perspectives between Charlotte and Emily. From the start, I was shrouded in the setting of Haworth. The writing is so palpable, and I was intrigued by the history of the Brontë family, which I knew nothing of. MacColl manages to thread information about the characters throughout the story, without resorting to numerous amounts of backstory or info dumps.

The Brontë sisters are strikingly different, but equally compelling. Emily is vivacious, independent and strong-willed. Charlotte is insightful and reserved. Where Charlotte is flustered, Emily is unperturbed. Charlotte can be stoic and severe, and Emily can be reckless and rude. They are both such well-rounded characters, and while they have their differences – which provide wonderful conflict between them – they are both driven by their passion for writing. Emily and Charlotte cannot help but compare the circumstances they face to the stories they write, or imagine how they would translate something onto the page. It is a sensation that any writer can relate to, and really defined their shared nature.

I was absorbed by the plot of 'Always Emily.' MacColl established the mood of the story, as though the mystery were a cloak of fog on the moors, and managed the tension with such finesse. She had a very tactful execution of cliff-hangers, often implemented at the end of chapters, and constantly upped the stakes, thrusting the heroines into increasingly challenging situations.

Being unfamiliar with the Brontë family, I was fascinated to learn more about their history. Anne is absent for the novel, but there is still some insight from her in the letter she writes to Emily. I had no idea that there had been two older sisters who had died at a young age from tuberculosis, which they both contracted from a boarding school. The novel begins with the funeral of the second child, Elizabeth, and Emily's fearless state is only amplified by the fact that she views death as but a chance to be reunited with her sisters.

Branwell, the sole son of Rev. Brontë, was far more vital to the plot of the novel. He is somewhat of an infuriating character, and a troubled soul. It was interesting to see how he was spoiled for allowance by his father, and given much more freedom than his sisters, despite being an established wreck. It was a stark commentary on the way women were automatically devalued because of their sex, regardless of their social standing.

'Always Emily' is a riveting read, which I would recommend to anyone who loves to be swept up in a tale of adventure and intrigue. I will admit that I am utterly unfamiliar with the works of the Brontë sisters, but reading MacColl's fictional – though marvellously rooted in realism – tale of the siblings has encouraged me to seek out their work. I look forward to it, and to reading more of MacColl's writing in future.

In accordance with the FTC, Quill Café would like to disclose that the reviewer received a review copy of this title through Edelweiss. The opinions expressed are hers alone and no monetary compensation was offered to her by the author or publisher. Cover art is copyright of Chronicle Books and is used solely as an aide to the review.

Sunday, April 6

The Blunders of Audio Book Narrators

It is no secret that I am an avid fan of audio books. Since my rediscovery of them in 2011 they have come to serve as a large chunk of my book consumption. Yet there are many factors to take into account when choosing an audio book. One of the greatest is the narrator. A narrator can elevate the experience of the listener, but there are also a few peeves and blunders than can turn potential listeners away.

1. Mispronouncing Words

Whether it is a word in another language, a common mispronunciation (I'm looking at you "mischievous") or a word that is pronounced with different inflections in different places, a lot of narrators drop the ball. This is particularly a problem when dealing with accented words. Even those with a good hold on an English accent can give themselves away with an American pronunciation.

2. Accents

Poor execution of accents does happen, but a common failing is when a narrator switches a character's accent between instalments. A Scotsman in book one may mysteriously turn into an Englishman in the sequel. Sometimes it has been a year since they narrated the last book, other times a decade. It's understandably hard to keep so many accents in mind over a vast period of time, but it does tend to throw the listener.

3. Name Pronunciations

It is one thing to switch the pronunciation of a character’s name between instalments. Perhaps the narrator has been enlightened as to the correct pronunciation, and is now simply executing it as it should be. However, it's another thing entirely to switch the pronunciation of a character's name within the same novel, let alone the same chapter. It's a rare occurrence that this happens, but it does.

4. Characters of the Opposite Sex

One of my biggest peeves is when narrators overcompensate for their gender. Some men use really high pitched voices for female characters, and some women over-exaggerate male voices, so that they sound like they are voicing a cartoon character. It's a little off-putting and subtracts from what really matters: the emotion and inflections.

5. Monotone, Monotone, Monotone

This is one of the most popular turn-offs to audio book listeners. Someone may have a "nice voice" but that doesn't mean they will be a good audio book narrator. It is not simple dictation, but acting out every single role. A great narrator will heighten the tension, not bore the listener with a droll delivery.

These shortcomings can serve to turn someone off of an audio book, yet they are all things which I have encountered with some of my favourite audio book narrators. The greatest will slip up, but their incredible aptitudes – which produce amazing audio books that enthrall me for hours – overpower any flaws. I can't fathom attempting it myself, let alone without fault.

As listeners, it's important to remember that for every narrative no-no, there are plenty of narrators who soar above the stumbles. When it comes to audio books, it's too easy to shy away from them by nit-picking the negative. Yet I can assure you that audio books are a brilliant way to experience incredible books, and it's tremendously talented narrators who make that possible.

Saturday, April 5

Struck By Lightning by Chris Colfer

All Carson Phillips wants is to attend Northwestern University. It's his first step to becoming a renowned journalist and one-day editor of the New Yorker. First he has to be accepted, graduate high school, and leave the mind-numbing small town of Clover behind forever.

When his acceptance to Northwestern doesn't look like a sure thing, Carson must boost his chances by constructing a literary magazine. Yet when the prospect of submissions looks bleak, he resorts to extreme measures to solidify his future: blackmail.

Carson has never held much love for his peers or the social constructs of high school, but is he willing to step on everyone around him to get what he wants?

'Struck By Lightning' is an excellent novel, which was originally written as a screenplay. I had already seen the film – starring Colfer himself – and was blown away. Despite being written solely from Carson's perspective, the novel expands on the narrative and delivers an even more humorous and heartfelt execution.

What drives 'Struck By Lightning' is Carson's character and narrative voice. The novel is written in first person, in the style of a journal. Carson has the unfiltered thoughts that resonate with any reader who has lived through the frustrations of high school. His snide attitude and wonderfully cynical humour is refreshing.

Carson's often cruel attitude might have set him up to be an unlikeable character, but his situation makes him sympathetic. He has one friend, a dejected mother, an absent father, and a treasured grandmother with Alzheimer's. Carson makes the reader mindful of the way we view and treat others, and boosts the importance of having a sense of conviction in your ambitions.

It was interesting the way in which Colfer used the stereotypical high school cliques to represent the student body at Clover High. Not only was it a clever commentary on the tropes, but Carson's perception also highlighted how we each have our own pigeon-holed prejudices. I liked that, while the insight into secondary characters was restricted, there was enough of a glimpse past the assumptions and clichéd façades, particularly in their contributions to the literary magazine.

'Struck By Lightning' is an excellent novel, which encourages readers to contemplate our attitudes to ourselves and the people around us. It is earnest and witty. I cannot recommend it highly enough, and I look forward to reading more of Colfer's work in future.

In accordance with the FTC, Quill Café would like to disclose that the reviewer purchased this book. The opinions expressed are hers alone and no monetary compensation was offered to her by the author or publisher. Cover art is copyright of Little Brown and is used solely as an aide to the review.

Tuesday, April 1

The Grudge Keeper by Mara Rockliff, Illustrated by Eliza Wheeler

In the town of Bonnyripple a man named Cornelius holds many grudges, but none of them his own.

The townsfolk entrust him to keep record of all their squabbles, but when a sudden storm throws all of their scuffles to the wind, what are any of them – especially Cornelius – to do?

'The Grudge Keeper' is a very witty remark on how people can allow negativity to dampen their lives. At first Cornelius' occupation would appear to be a clever one. It allows the townspeople to vent their feelings in a non-aggressive manner...but as the scrolls build up in Cornelius' cottage, so too do the ill feelings in Bonnyripple.

Rockliff begins the story with precise wording and lovely alliteration, which then picks up a wonderful buoyancy as the story progresses. She has an excellent hold on tension and pace, which is best demonstrated when the wind storms through the town. Rockliff's great asset is her skilled use of onomatopoeia, which envelope the reader and implore that the story be read aloud.

The book is illustrated in watercolour by Eliza Wheeler, with beautiful scenery and expressive characters. The illustrations begin with a darker atmosphere and lighten to accompany the tone of the story. The soft colour palette perfectly suits the little farmlike town.

'The Grudge Keeper' has a delightful humour that encourages the reader to not only laugh at the antics of Bonnyripple's townsfolk, but also at themselves and the silly spats that can tangle up our lives. A charming read.

In accordance with the FTC, Quill Café would like to disclose that the reviewer received a review copy of this title through NetGalley. The opinions expressed are hers alone and no monetary compensation was offered to her by the author or publisher. Cover art is copyright of Peachtree Publishers and is used solely as an aide to the review.