Review: The Devil’s Prayer by Luke Gracias

The Devil's Prayer
The Devil’s Prayer by Luke Gracias

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received this in exchange for an honest review from NetGalley. Thank you to the author, Luke Gracias, and the publisher for this opportunity.

The first half of this book was a solid 4 stars full of suspense, twists and intrigue. The second half, however, was a shaky 1.5 stars and completely pulled the book down.

Pros:
– Its fast pace and constant twists and turns will keep you hooked for the majority of the book
– The story is intensely creative and has a great shock impact – you won’t want to read any spoilers for this book, its surprises in the first third are the best part!
– It’s super easy to get emotionally involved in this book, the sheer suspense alone leaves you feeling like a nervous wreck desperate to know more.

Cons:
– The book should have ended in the middle with the latter part condensed into an epilogue or a companion book perhaps. There is a huge disconnect between the first part of the novel and the second part, it’s the biggest gap I’ve seen in a fiction book and it just completely derails the whole novel by giving a racy thriller a rather information-dense, bland ending.
– I found it really hard to care about any of the characters, making them more likeable would give this book a lot more impact, particularly when it comes to Denise’s friends and her daughters.

This book is a struggle to review. The majority of the book is fantastic, it has everything you could ever wish for in a fast-paced thriller and then some. It took me a little time to get into it but once I got past the initial story-building (which seems disjointed from the rest of the novel until you can make more sense of it), I couldn’t put the book down…until the second part.

The second part of the book is where things get a bit woolly – we’re given a lot of information. Seriously, a lot . It begins to read like a dry academic history textbook and as a university student studying history, I’ve endured a fair few of these. It’s clear that Gracias is incredibly passionate about the authenticity of the history presented in the book and that it is well-researched but shoehorning this into the main narrative just pulls the rest of the book down. It’s not that the latter part is particularly badly written (which it isn’t), it’s that it just doesn’t fit in with the rest of the book and it’s as though the author decided to add another book on the end of the original one. It puts a complete spanner in the pace of the reading as instead of racing through the pages on tenterhooks with suspense at every turn, you’re suddenly given a lot of dense historical information that is completely out of tone with the first part of the book.
I think this is done to try and add some realism to some of the more far-fetched elements of the main story but it just doesn’t mesh well and instead of adding to it by showing the reader that the story is grounded in historical research, it gives the effect of bombarding the reader with information that is tenuously linked to the story and doesn’t belong in the main book. As I said earlier, if this information was condensed and made more accessible so it was as easily read and understood as the first part of the book, it would make a solid epilogue or even a companion book for readers who want to find out more.

All in all, it’s a good book so long as you don’t mind skipping large chunks of the latter part or battling through it. The first part is a brilliant read and I sincerely hope the author seriously considers reshaping the novel so the first part can be read on its on merit because it’s a gripping thriller that’ll keep you up reading into the early hours of the morning. Its clever twists and the care taken to reveal the story in bitesize amounts to keep you guessing throughout are well-worth giving this book a chance and popping it on your TBR list.

I probably wouldn’t read it again unless it was reformatted in some way, I bet knowing the plot points will make it significantly less interesting the second time around too. I’d recommend this book to anyone who reads the likes of Dan Brown for its history/mystery/religion and/or Martina Cole’s books for their suspense/grittiness but with the advice that, unless the book has sparked an interest in the history of religion, they could skim most of the book’s latter part.

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Review: Slammerkin by Emma Donoghue

Slammerkin
Slammerkin by Emma Donoghue

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A Raw but Gripping Page-Turner.

I couldn’t help but race through this book and get absorbed in the murky world of Mary Saunders’ 18th Century England at any available opportunity.
Though there’s no clear storyline as per se, there doesn’t seem to be any significant end point or climax as you’re plodding along through the pages, I was still completely gripped by this book. Emma Donoghue’s depiction of this historical world is somewhat bleak and raw in all of its grimly detailed glory but it’s the perfect background to explore a character as peculiar and unique as Mary Saunders.

I’ve noticed that its Mary’s character herself that seems to be the make or break with most readers of the book with many hating her but just as many readers having their hearts go out for her. I was among the latter crowd – seeing Mary as a somewhat troubled young adult being introduced to a harsh reality all too soon was truly moving. It’s understandable why some readers would turn against her unlikable nature, at times I was sitting book in hand almost tearing my hair out in exasperation as she made yet another clumsy move landing herself in more trouble. However, that was a key part of the very appeal that kept me invested in the story, hooked on page after page. What would it be like for a person like this trying to find their place and advance themselves in such a cut-throat world? It’s an interesting question that was explored wonderfully by Donoghue’s talents.

The richly created characters in this novel are addictive through the lens of young Mary’s shrewd calculation as she grows increasingly suspicious of everyone and everything around her. Through Donoghue’s clear talent in character development, this distrust grows more cumbersome on Mary’s life to heartbreaking effect. I found myself constantly second-guessing how Mary felt about the situation around her due to the way Donoghue portrayed her emotions indirectly through other characters’ reactions to her, it was a brilliant way to depict Mary’s world without sensationalising everything that happened around her. Without that technique, I think the bleakness of events would have definitely became overbearing given there already depressing content for the most part. This also managed to show off (again, to great effect!) the intricacies of the other characters in the novel as it left the reader having to puzzle out their motivations.

As much as I enjoyed this novel, there were a couple of things I did have a problem with.
Firstly, I believe a few storylines were left uncomfortably hanging and one in particular could have definitely done with some closure to really add a greater impact to the ending. I’m guessing this was intentionally avoided so as to emphasise the abruptness of the end of the book but an epilogue would have been so satisfying.
Secondly, what was with the chopping and changing of viewpoints in the second half of the book? It was distracting and really detracted from Mary’s story without adding a great deal. With a deft hand and great attention to detail, this could’ve been done a lot better without the jumping around from character to character in short bursts.
And lastly…the ending. Okay, it took me completely by surprise and I just couldn’t put the book down after its big, entirely unexpected, climax but it saddened me a little that it didn’t quite mesh with everything we thought we knew about the characters involved. Something just wasn’t right there and it felt like Donoghue had to over-explain it in order to try and make it work. That being said, it was one hell of a shock and gave it a unique twist that will probably linger in my mind for a long time.

Make sure you give this book a go – it may be bleak and gritty but its an immersive story like no other.

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Review: The Help by Kathryn Stockett

The Help
The Help by Kathryn Stockett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Subtly Powerful.

The Help seems worryingly cliché at first but a chapter or so in, it transforms into something refreshingly different. We see characters that feel so realistic it’s almost too raw to read about their experiences and though at first the line between the ‘good’ characters and the ‘bad’ is quite clearly drawn, this quickly begins to blur as we learn more about the lives these women (both black and white) lead.
Now, let me first say I’m in no way trying to distract from the race issue that is at the heart of The Help here but for what it’s worth, all the women in this book are trapped in their own cycle of frustration. It makes for hard-reading when you see them express this by taking it out on each other when it seems so obvious to the reader that everyone is hurting in their own way.

“She looks as her fancy kitchen like it’s something that tastes bad.
‘I never dreamed I’d have this much.’
‘Well, ain’t you lucky.’
‘I’ve never been happier in my whole life.’
I leave it at that. Underneath all that happy, she sure doesn’t look happy.”
– Page 44

It’s easy to see why many readers have felt this book has failed to live up to the hype, its build-up is subtle and slowly paced which could quickly become irritating if you opened the cover expecting fireworks. However, if you put the hype aside, you can appreciate how the subtlety of the book is exactly what makes it such a powerful, vivid read. Unlike many other fiction books that tackle the issue of race in 60s America, The Help doesn’t try to shock you into feeling. Instead, it gently coaxes it out of you, one observation at a time leaving your thoughts to join the dots long after you’ve put the book down.

Go into this book open-minded (preferably without reading many reviews) and read at least 20 pages before you start judging it pre-maturely. It’s well-worth the risk.

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Review: Angels & Demons by Dan Brown

Angels & Demons
Angels & Demons by Dan Brown

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Meh.

I picked up this book after being semi-intrigued by the Da Vinci Code hype a few years ago (another meh) and then deciding to tackle Dan Brown again after I read Inferno and absolutely loved the book. So you could say I knew what I was letting myself in for – similar plot, exactly the same structure, cheesy lines, awkward academic in tweed, Langdon wears tweed, there’s Harris Tweed in this book, did you know the art history guy wears tweed? Thank goodness, I would never have finished this book if I wasn’t reminded that he was wearing tweed every ten pages. Tweed, Tweed, Tweed.

You get my point? The repetition in this book is mind-numbing to the point where its almost insulting. It’s as though Dan Brown thinks his readers need to be guided very delicately along the mystery otherwise it’ll confuse their tiny brains. This repetition is the case with almost everything in the book, you have the premise nailed into you from the get-go and the great bulk of the 600 or so pages is just made up from repetition.

So now that’s out of the way, we have to talk about the entire point of the book. Religion vs Science – or is it? Yes, that’s basically what’s going on here and while it is an interesting concept, it’s not executed very well and it pretty much eats its own tail in that respect. It could have been so much better.

The characters do very little to help the book – we have the know-it-all Robert Langdon who stars as the supposed expert who figures most of the good stuff out after it’s already happened and is just painfully awkward.
There is the cliché hot smart girl, did you know she’s Italian? You will do, we hear about it at least 200 times whether it’s her ‘exotic accent’, ‘olive skin’ or her ‘Mediterranean body’. It’s just plain cheesy and at times borderline uncomfortable.
These two are the strongest characters, seriously. Don’t get too excited about the rest.

A positive in the book’s favour is that it’s fast-paced but that is helped a lot by the whole thing taking place over one day so how much of that we can really credit to Dan Brown’s writing is hard to judge. It’s exciting, it’s trashy and it’s entirely brainless but it gets the job done and if that’s what you want from a lazy summer read then this will be a good match.

Of course, you could do yourself a huge favour by leaving this book dusty on the charity shop shelf and pick up the far better option that is Inferno.

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Review: Company of Liars

Company of Liars
Company of Liars by Karen Maitland

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was an excellent book and Maitland did a brilliant job of bringing the past to life in a way that was realistic without being overwhelming.

In parts the plot pacing was a little shaky as it could often be quite slow but I think this was more than compensated for by the great attention to detail which kept the reader hooked into the plot by all the eccentricities of medieval life. I absolutely loved all of the superstition and religious elements that were included! They’re the main reason I enjoy studying the medieval period and Maitland did a brilliant job of including them without it becoming overbearing or without it seeming out of line with our modern beliefs on what is and isn’t possible (view spoiler). Furthermore, the mysteries were very deftly done and I spent most of the book trying to second-guess what was behind them all. Though some were a bit of a let down, I do think this was more in part to the amount of suspense leading up to them rather than the plot itself – with that much suspense constantly building up throughout a novel most revelations would feel like a let down!

The entire theme of truth throughout the novel was a pretty unique take on a book like this and I thoroughly enjoyed how it was explored in most situations. It didn’t delve too far into challenging whether lying was necessarily a bad thing in every scenario but it did raise enough questions to make the book linger in the reader’s mind long after they finished a chapter.

A writing device used in the book I particularly liked was the way Maitland had the characters tell stories and, instead of repeating them to us parrot fashion, she voiced their content through the different reactions of the character’s. This really helped keep my interest up in the story as well as move the plot on very nicely while giving us more information about the characters.

The only criticism I would have of the novel, and a small one at that, is that the characters of Osmond, Adela and Rodrigo would’ve been better with more development. This is particularly the case with Adela as the fact that she was ‘tender-hearted’ was both shown and told to the reader repeatedly but there seemed to be very little else to her and this did get a bit irritating towards the end. A much stronger backstory for all three of those characters would have improved the book tremendously, I’m aware there is some extra material to accompany the novel so I hope I find what I’m looking for in there!

All in all this book was a fantastic read and I’d highly recommend it to anyone interested in either English history and/or myths and legends.

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