Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Review: 'The Beginning Woods' by Malcom McNeill

I love fairy tales and I love books about fairy tales. There is something about that whole mysterious world full of dark woods, dragons, princesses, talking frogs, wolves and witches that can fascinate me both as a child and an adult. So when I stumbled across a book that promised to delve into fairy tales in a very new and different way, I knew I had to pick it up and devour it. I'm talking, of course, about The Beginning Woods. It feels like a well-worn and trusted classic and yet is beautifully modern and complicated as well, which is a stunning combination. Thanks to Pushkin Press and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.


Pub. Date: 1/09/2016
Publisher: Pushkin Press

A MYSTERY NO ONE CAN SOLVE
The Vanishings started without warning. People disappearing into thin air - just piles of clothes left behind. Each day, thousands gone without a trace.
A BABY NO ONE WANTED
Max was abandoned in a bookshop and grows up haunted by memories of his parents. Only he can solve the mystery of the Vanishings.
A SECRET THAT COULD SAVE THE FUTURE
To find the answers, Max must leave this world and enter the Beginning Woods. A realm of magic and terror, life and death.
But can he bear the truth - or will is destroy him?
A STORY THAT WILL TAKE YOU TO ANOTHER WORLD
Greater than your dreams. Darker than your fears. Full of more wonder than you could ever desire. Welcome to the ineffable Beginning Woods...

Clocking in at almost 450 pages, The Beginning Woods is a chunk of a book, which likes to take its time. Some reviews of this novel have taken an issue with its "slow pace", while also complaining about being confused by the plot. These two criticisms surprise me because they feel antithetical to me. The Beginning Woods takes its time, at the beginning, setting up various different plot lines for the reader to become adjusted to before the major story takes off. Rather than jumping from dramatic scene to dramatic scene, McNeill actually lingers on his characters, allowing his readers to sink into them and their minds. This especially counts for Max, the young protagonist of the novel. We get to know Max slowly but surely in the first 100 pages or so, and this kind of pace can be, I guess, off-putting to some who prefer to be dropped straight into the action. But for a novel like The Beginning Woods, which has so much to give for those readers who pay close attention, this kind of pace is a boon because it allows the reader to relax into the prose, be inspired and transported by it. Although it is difficult to maintain this kind of magic over 400+ pages, but for most of The Beginning Woods McNeill manages to bewitch.

At the heart of The Beginning Woods lies the importance and power of words and dreams. The Vanishings that plague the world, the Beginning Woods, Max's quest for his parents, the beautiful fairy tale-esque stories intertwined with the main plot lines; all this comes together to impress upon the reader how important it is to dream. Max comes into the world alone and is haunted by the desire to find his real parents. As the world becomes more and more paranoid about the Vanishings, Max is drawn to the Beginning Woods which seems to hold more questions and only few answers. Max is supported by a very interesting mix of characters, both magical and normal. Through these side-characters McNeill is able to pose some of life's most difficult questions and formulate some potential answers for the reader to figure out. Choosing a teenage boy as a protagonist comes with the same kind of dangers as picking a teenage girl, there is a lot of internal angst to potentially deal with. At times Max's worries and actions can be a bit annoying, but this is also natural for such a long and complex novel.

McNeill's writing throughout the novel is stunning, which made it very hard for me to believe this is his first book. As the plot moves along, there are some absolutely stunning moments and images which are incredibly inspired. I often find myself disappointed in Fantasy authors who copy without adding any new life to the old material. In The Beginning Woods there are witches, dragons, giants and ghosts, but the reader meets them in a completely new guise. It is incredibly refreshing to read a Fantasy novel that isn't lazy, that goes beyond and tries to create truly new and different ideas for the genre. Although this kind of experimentation can also go wrong every once in a while, overall I think that The Beginning Woods is a tour-de-force of fantastical experimentation. The Beginning Woods also isn't afraid to go dark and deep, whether it is in reaimagining fairy tale staples or having Max confront his most inner dark secrets. It's the kind of Fantasy novel you feel would inspire children, to read and to dream, and that is one of the best things any book could ever do.

I give this novel...

5 Universes!

I really loved The Beginning Woods! Although there are lesser moments in the novel, overall it is a fascinating Fantasy novel that celebrates dreaming and imagining, reading and loving. I will most definitely be rereading this novel and trying to find a hardback to add to my Fantasy/Fairy Tale shelf. I'd recommend this to fans of both Fantasy and Young Adult.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Review: 'Miranda and Caliban' by Jacqueline Carey

I didn't read The Tempest until I got to university, despite starting my love affair with Shakespeare years earlier! Unlike most of his other plays, I struggled with The Tempest a lot, confused about many of the characters, the storyline, etc. It took me a long time to develop an appreciation for the play, and up until a few days ago I would have counted it as one of my least favourite plays. And then Jacqueline Carey's Miranda and Caliban happened. Her novel has given me a whole new appreciation for the play, for the different themes playing under the surface and for Carey's excellent writing. Thanks to Macmillan-Tor/Forge and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book!

Pub. Date: Macmillan-Tor/Forge
Publisher: 14/02/2017

A lovely girl grows up in isolation where her father, a powerful magus, has spirited them to in order to keep them safe. 
We all know the tale of Prospero's quest for revenge, but what of Miranda? Or Caliban, the so-called savage Prospero chained to his will? 
In this incredible retelling of the fantastical tale, Jacqueline Carey shows readers the other side of the coin—the dutiful and tenderhearted Miranda, who loves her father but is terribly lonely. And Caliban, the strange and feral boy Prospero has bewitched to serve him. The two find solace and companionship in each other as Prospero weaves his magic and dreams of revenge. 
Always under Prospero’s jealous eye, Miranda and Caliban battle the dark, unknowable forces that bind them to the island even as the pangs of adolescence create a new awareness of each other and their doomed relationship. 
Miranda and Caliban is bestselling fantasy author Jacqueline Carey’s gorgeous retelling of The Tempest. With hypnotic prose and a wild imagination, Carey explores the themes of twisted love and unchecked power that lie at the heart of Shakespeare’s masterpiece, while serving up a fresh take on the play's iconic characters.
Adapting any classic piece of literature is a momentous task. You have to find a balance between honouring the original but also creating something new that holds up on its own. And then there is the enormous legacy that comes with someone like Shakespeare, whose name has almost become synonymous with literary excellence. I myself have often felt disparaging towards adaptations or retellings of my favourite books, since I have such an attachment to the originals. Often I have been surprised by how much I ended up loving the adaptations. Since The Tempest has always left me rather confused, I wasn't sure what to expect going into Miranda and Caliban. Would this be a straight up love story that ignores many of the issues thrown up in the play? Would the novel explore these characters in a way the play doesn't? In the end the novel completely blew me out of the water. Carey deals with the opposition between good and bad, ignorance and innocence, servitude and freedom, and brings it all together in a beautiful tragedy. For those fearing a love story, this is not a romance. Love is a part of this story, but there is much more to it.

For me the true power of Miranda and Caliban lies in how Carey liberates her two main characters from the characterisations they have been stuck in. In Shakespeare's play Miranda is very much a side-character to the Prospero-show, the kind of girl who is calm and quiet and falls in love with the first prince she sees. Caliban, on the other hand, is as close to the 'noble savage' archetype as a character can get. He is a monster, the child of a witch and a demon, and Shakespeare himself seems torn between representing him as an unjustly mistreated wretch and a cunning and sly opportunist. In Carey's Miranda and Caliban these two characters are fleshed out, given colour and life and motivations. The novel starts with a six-year old Miranda observing her father's magic, lonely on the island but aware there is a boy out there. When Caliban is lured into the house by Prospero's spells, the novel really takes off as Miranda becomes Caliban's teacher. As they grow up, they both start to strain against Prospero's tight hold over their lives and their realities, as well grow aware of each other and themselves in different ways. Carey really manages to evoke a sense of the loneliness and isolation of the island, as well as the conflicting forces pulling on both Miranda and Caliban. I want to just quickly go into some details regarding both of their characterisations.

Carey turns Miranda into a fully-fledged character. We get to witness her growing from child to woman, becoming more aware of the extent to which her father controls her whole life.  Whether it is her life before the island or the physical realities of becoming a woman, Miranda lives her life constantly in the dark, waiting for Prospero to declare her "ready". I have seen the word 'Stockholm-syndrome' floating around and in a way that does describe Miranda's relationship with her father rather well. She loves him, but that is because he is all she has. She tiptoes around him, yet hangs on his every word. By teaching Caliban, Miranda is given the chance to consider everything around her anew, to attempt to take control of her own life. Carey does the same for Caliban, imbuing his chapters with a painful awareness of his position. His chapters start out as three-word sentences, but as he learns more his chapters grow to become very insightful and beautiful. Carey addresses a lot of the themes that have made Caliban a controversial character. His origins are a point of contention for him, constantly being used to abuse him and put him down, as is his appearance. Carey's Caliban is a very deep and interesting character, who is full of emotions and conflict. As a reader you can't help but ache for both of these characters, who are so deprived and yet struggle to find silver linings.

Carey's writing in Miranda and Caliban is masterful. She captures the fluidity and eloquence of Shakespeare's language without making her writing feel or sound archaic and stuffy. Shakespeare never underestimated the power of words and this is a major theme in The Tempest, which finds a beautiful reflection in Carey's writing. A highlight is Ariel, who is the only character to retain a Shakespearian way of speaking. The novel is saturated with beautiful phrases like the one below:
"Thou art the shoals on which Caliban wilt dash his heart to pieces." 
With language like this it shouldn't come as a surprise that Miranda and Caliban is heartbreaking. As in any tale that is doomed from the start, there is a sense of dread mixed with hope that grows and grows while reading this novel. There is the hope that Miranda and Caliban will free themselves, that what you know must happen won't. In that sense Carey has well and truly mastered the art of retelling a famous story. Even though everyone knows what will happen, it doesn't matter for a single minute because the reader is too caught up in her version of the story. There is not a moment you will get bored of this novel and when it ends you'll wish it hadn't.

I give this novel...

5 Universes!

I absolutely loved Miranda and Caliban. It is a beautiful novel and a masterful retelling of a Shakespeare classic. Carey infuses her characters with a sense of life they didn't have before and you'll be sorry to see them go at the end of the novel. I'd recommend this to fans of Shakespeare, retellings and literary fiction.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Review: 'The Roanoke Girls' by Amy Engel

If ever there was a book I didn't put down then it's The Roanoke Girls. Fascinated by the blurb I requested it months ago, but then somehow it ended up at the bottom of my TBR pile. Then, on a whim, I started it on a random Tuesday in February and I didn't put my Kindle down till the very last page had been read and devoured. Sometimes a book just hits you at the right time, resonates will all the darkest and best places in you. This happened with The Roanoke Girls and I absolutely loved it. Thanks to Hodder & Stoughton and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 09/03/2017
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

A gripping, provocative thriller about the twisted secrets families keep, perfect for fans of The Girls.
Beautiful.Rich.Mysterious.Everyone wants to be a Roanoke girl.But you won't when you know the truth. 
Lane Roanoke is fifteen when she comes to live with her grandparents and fireball cousin at the Roanoke family's rural estate following the suicide of her mother. Over one long, hot summer, Lane experiences the benefits of being one of the rich and beautiful Roanoke girls. 
But what she doesn't know is being a Roanoke girl carries a terrible legacy: either the girls run, or they die. For there is darkness at the heart of Roanoke, and when Lane discovers its insidious pull, she must make her choice…
Quite some time has passed between reading The Roanoke Girls and now reviewing it, which is good because reading Engel's book had my head swimming. There are certain novels out there which simply have the ability to make you sit back and go '...no way. I mean, right? That did not just happen.' The Roanoke Girls is definitely one of those books. I had to go rant and rave on Twitter straight after reading it and there is still a part of me that simply wants to screech about it. I'm guessing it's quite obvious that I loved this book, although it s very difficult for me to pin down exactly why. So please follow me in the paragraphs below as I try and make sense of it!

At the heart of Engel's novel are the three generations of Roanoke girls. The novel largely follows Lane's story, intermingling her present with moments from her past, but also takes little forays into the lives of the other Roanoke girls that have come and gone. It was quite fascinating to see Lane's present through the prism of her own past and the lives of the other girls, as each new addition made everything make a little bit more sense. Lane is a very interesting character, clearly deeply scarred by things that have happened in her past but also unwilling to face those demons. On returning to Roanoke, however, it becomes impossible for her to avoid these demons since they're all around her. Without wanting to spoil anything, I think it is fair to say that the trauma at the heart of this novel is not for the fainthearted. The lives of the Roanoke girls are incredibly fractured and complicated, with a lot of darkness and misery. Combine this with the relative isolation of rural America and you have the perfect recipe for a high-intensity novel that packs an emotional punch.

Engel's writing is perfect for this novel. Her characters come to life in a way that feels gritty and real, yet she also never tones down on the drama that makes this novel so addictive. Dialogue in novels can feel forced sometimes, especially if an author wants to get across a character's complicated feelings. The way Engel addresses some of the quite, to extremely, controversial topics in her novel, however, never feels forced or awkward. Sure, it's shocking and there is also the excitement of reading something scandalous, but The Roanoke Girls never feels like an exercise in sensationalism. Engel manages to combine the stories of the Roanoke girls with a whodunnit-story, which keeps the pace high and means you never get tired of exploring Lane's mind and history. This is the perfect book to get yourself excited again, to feel the rush of wanting to turn every single page and miss absolutely nothing.

I give this book...

5 Universes!

I loved The Roanoke Girls and I still can't quite do it justice when I talk about it. Engel creates fascinating characters and a story that grips you by the throat and doesn't let go. The last page is both a relief and a disappointment. I'd definitely recommend this to everyone who like mysteries and thrillers and don't mind taking a trip to the dark side.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Short review: 'Erté's Theatrical Costumes in Full Color' by Erté

Erté's Theatrical Costumes in Full ColorI have a bit of a passion for the ballet and the opera. I remember the first time I went to the ballet and saw Carmen. I was absolutely taken in by the vibrancy of the movements and, of course, by the costumes. And yet I'd never heard of Erté and his stunning designs. So when I saw Dover's book of his colour designs I knew I wanted to peek into this fabulous world behind the curtains. Thanks to Dover Publications and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 19/10/2016
Publisher: Dover Publications

A fan-bearing slave girl, a worshipper of Horus, the wife of a Russian boyar, Ceres, a mermaid, and a gypsy dancer are among the 49 theatrical costumes selected for this tribute to the work of the Russian-born, Paris-bred designer Erté (Romain de Tirtoff). Spanning the years 1911 to 1975, these extravagant, imaginative designs include costumes for well-known personalities, Folies-Bergère shows, editions of George White's Scandals, and ballets.
Many exotic and historical fashions include Egyptian, Chinese, Persian, Japanese, Russian, and French styles. The lavish, flowing costumes are complemented by different colors to create different moods: deep, lustrous purples, reds, and browns for dynamic, vibrant figures; ochre, sienna, orange, and beige for more formal characters; and pale blue, lavenders, greens, grays, and blacks for people of mystery and hidden powers. As dazzling as Erté’s color graphics and as witty as his fashion designs, this compilation merits the attention of costume designers, artists, theater people, costume aficionados, and all who appreciate the treatment of costume design as a fine art.
Erté's Theatrical Costumes in Full Color is a great coffee table-book, in all the best ways. Coffee table-books are often ridiculed, as if being placed on a coffee table implies a sense of neglect or 'I don't really care'-attitude. In our house, the books placed on the coffee table were treated with a completely opposite attitude. These were the books you enjoyed looking through, whose illustrations could capture your attention until your coffee was long cold. They were also the types of books you'd enjoy guests looking through, always with a sense of 'look at the beautiful things I read'. It is in that sense that I call Erté's Theatrical Costumes in Full Color a coffee table-book.

I absolutely loved looking through the illustrations in this book. Ranging across the world for inspiration, Erté's costumes are incredibly vibrant and stunning. What I loved was how all of it looked so elegant and intricate and yet so fluid at the same time. With no stretch of the imagination could I see these costumes in motion on the stages of ballet and opera houses. At the same time these costumes had a theatricality to it that I would like to see in more movie costumes. Especially the Octopus costume was brilliant, in that it both actually looked like an octopus while still being a costume. I know that sounds like a stupid statement but you have to see the sketch to know what I mean. Naturally this is a book only for those who enjoy costume design. If it is not your thing of course you won't enjoy this, but if even the slightest part of you also loves the theatre you will get some pleasure out of this book.

I give this collection...

3 Universes!

Overall this was a great collection of prints. Although there is a lack of information to them, regarding when they were designed and for what etc., they are stunning on their own. I would love to own a hardcover of this book. 3 Universes is due to how selective the readership for this collection is and that it is largely a photo collection.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Review: 'Lying in Wait' by Liz Nugent

I love me a good thriller, especially if it is all wrapped up in dysfunctional family relationships. Thrillers can, unfortunately, be very repetitive, especially with how many thrillers are saturating the market at the moment. Sometimes stories stand out, however, with how different or interesting they are. I've been blessed enough to read, and see, some brilliant thrillers in the last few months and I'm definitely adding Liz Nugent's Lying in Wait to that list. Thanks to Penguin Books and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 29/12/2016
Publisher: Penguin Books UK

The last people who expect to be meeting with a drug-addicted prostitute are a respected judge and his reclusive wife. And they certainly don't plan to kill her and bury her in their exquisite suburban garden.
Yet Andrew and Lydia Fitzsimons find themselves in this unfortunate situation.
While Lydia does all she can to protect their innocent son Laurence and their social standing, her husband begins to falls apart.
But Laurence is not as naïve as Lydia thinks. And his obsession with the dead girl's family may be the undoing of his own.
One of the best things about Lying in Wait is that it grips you right from the beginning with a brilliant opening line:
'My husband did not mean to kill Annie Doyle, but the lying tramp deserved it.'
Not only does it put you right into the mess of the situation, it also immediately gives you a good idea of the characters you will be dealing with. Nugent has split up her novel into separate chapters with separate narrators: Lydia, Laurence and Karen. Having different narrators can both work for and against a novel. On the one hand it will give you a number of  different perspectives upon the same event, priceless in thrillers, but on the other hand it can also distract from the story the novel is trying to tell. I'm sure we've all read novels with multiple narrators where we ended up hating, at least, one of the narrator's chapters passionately. Thankfully no such thing happens in Lying in Wait. Rather, Nugent masterfully crafts her narrative through her characters, never forgetting she is the one who is telling the story in the end. What one character reveals the other shows us unknowingly, what one feels the other senses, while what one does the other completely misinterprets. Being stuck inside three different heads makes for a surprisingly claustrophobic read.

Nugent deals with a lot of different themes within this novel. Of course there is the main story (the whodunnit of sorts), but around that swirl story lines about gender and class. Set in the Ireland of the last century, the women in Lying in Wait find themselves dealing with the expectations of others regarding their behaviour, looks and future. Whether it's sex, pregnancy, marriage, divorce, or simply having a job, Nugent addresses these issues in the stories of Lydia, Annie, Karen and Helen. What makes their portrayal different from other novels depicting women's issues, however, is that Nugent doesn't avoid to discuss class as well. Whereas Lydia is upper class and expects to be treated as such, Annie, Karen and Helen are working class. This divide expresses itself in much more than just the gross outlines of their characters, it colours their journeys throughout the book and shapes their actions and psyches. Although it used to be easy to forget about class as a major Issue, what between feminism and racism being major conversation topics, but with recent events such as Brexit and Trump, it has come right back to the forefront of our social consciousness and it is rewarding to see authors having already brought it back in their works as well.

Liz Nugent is brilliant at slowly but surely developing her characters over hundreds of pages. None of her main characters are the same towards the end of the novel. As I said above, part of this novel is about dysfunctional family relationships, at the heart of which lies love. Whether it is mother-son, husband-wife, sister-sister, once it comes to loving and living together, every reader knows relationships can become difficult. A good author doesn't just know this, but knows how to use it for their novel. Nugent does the latter, the family relationships becoming central to how characters act. The murder, which happens even before the start of the novel, is like the match that sets of the fuse in all the characters' relationships. Nugent's novel covers a range of years, yet never does her story loose its immediacy. Her writing is gripping, not letting the reader go until the last year and then just dropping them into nothing. Lying in Wait is a roller coaster of a read that never really lets you go.

I give this novel...

5 Universes!

Lying in Wait genuinely had me by the throat for a few days. Even when I put it down and walked away it was right in the back of my mind. Nugent has definitely won a fan in me with her thrilling writing and great character development. I'd recommend this to fans of psychological thrillers!

Short Review: 'My Cousin Rachel' by Daphne du Maurier

My Cousin RachelI was never a big fan of Hitchcock's The Birds, partially because of the on-set stories and the fact I always found it a little bit boring. But then I read a collection of Daphne du Maurier's short stories and that all changed. Her writing gripped me in a way that this film by "the master of suspense" never did. That is when I decided Rebecca and all of du Maurier's other works were due a read. I've slowly worked my way through her work but had never heard of My Cousin Rachel until I saw a trailer for its upcoming adaptation, which sent me on a frantic reading spree.

Original Pub. Date: 1951
Publisher: Doubleday
Orphaned at an early age, Philip Ashley is raised by his benevolent older cousin, Ambrose. Resolutely single, Ambrose delights in Philip as his heir, a man who will love his grand home as much as he does himself. But the cosy world the two construct is shattered when Ambrose sets off on a trip to Florence. There he falls in love and marries - and there he dies suddenly. Jealous of his marriage, racked by suspicion at the hints in Ambrose's letters, and grief-stricken by his death, Philip prepares to meet his cousin's widow with hatred in his heart. Despite himself, Philip is drawn to this beautiful, sophisticated, mysterious Rachel like a moth to the flame. And yet... might she have had a hand in Ambrose's death?
After finishing My Cousin Rachel I wondered why so much of my du Maurier reading is tied up with the cinema. Upon giving it some thought I realized that it stems from the power of du Maurier's writing. Although she is classed as a romantic writer, her novels and short stories are full of suspense and a broody, dark atmosphere that translates beautifully onto the screen. Her characters are full of secrets and undisclosed desires, her landscapes and mansions come alive for the reader and her stories ring with an echo of the normal and paranormal. It makes for an engrossing read, every single time. Her short stories is what really turned me towards her, since writing good short stories is an art of its own. My Cousin Rachel falls somewhere between a short story and a novel, not as deep as her novels yet also too involved for a short story. In the end, My Cousin Rachel is a rather quick and straightforward narrative which gives a hint of du Maurier's power, yet I think it doesn't give a full taste of all she is capable.

My Cousin Rachel is, in many ways, quite a straightforward story. Written in hindsight, its main character Philip Ashley warns the reader about the unhappy story ahead of them. With its lush Cornwall setting and its purposefully quaint portrayal of the landed gentry, du Maurier sets a sharp contrast between what we see and what is at the heart of things. Everyone might have a secret agenda and ulterior motives, while some of us may also just be fools. The cousin, Rachel, is without a doubt the most interesting and mysterious person in the novella and it is one of my few petty gripes with the story that we never fully get to know her. Of course this is fully on purpose, giving the reader a sense of Philip's despair. Aside from Rachel, there are a fair few of fascinating side characters, some of which may be a little bit flat but still interesting.

I give this novella...

4 Universes!

I really enjoyed reading My Cousin Rachel despite its brevity. du Maurier is a masterful writer and I'm definitely continuing my mission to read more of her work. I'd recommend this to those who want to get a taste for du Maurier but aren't big fans of short stories. I leave you with the trailer that inspired my reading.


asd

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Review: 'Faithful' by Alice Hoffman

FaithfulMore frequent readers of my blog know that I have always had a soft spot for Alice Hoffman's writing. There is something magical about how she blends the ordinary with the extraordinary which makes reading her books both soothing and exhilarating at the same time. Hence every time I start a new book by her I am both excited and nervous. What if this is the book that falls flat for me? What if the magic is not there? Thankfully Hoffman never disappoints, especially with her latest, Faithful. Thanks to Simon & Schuster and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 01/11/2016
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Marriage of Opposites and The Dovekeepers comes a soul-searching story about a young woman struggling to redefine herself and the power of love, family, and fate.
Growing up on Long Island, Shelby Richmond is an ordinary girl until one night an extraordinary tragedy changes her fate. Her best friend’s future is destroyed in an accident, while Shelby walks away with the burden of guilt.
What happens when a life is turned inside out? When love is something so distant it may as well be a star in the sky? Faithful is the story of a survivor, filled with emotion—from dark suffering to true happiness—a moving portrait of a young woman finding her way in the modern world. A fan of Chinese food, dogs, bookstores, and men she should stay away from, Shelby has to fight her way back to her own future. In New York City she finds a circle of lost and found souls—including an angel who’s been watching over her ever since that fateful icy night.
Here is a character you will fall in love with, so believable and real and endearing, that she captures both the ache of loneliness and the joy of finding yourself at last. For anyone who’s ever been a hurt teenager, for every mother of a daughter who has lost her way, Faithful is a roadmap.
Not many books can make me cry but Faithful managed to have me sobbing in the middle of the night. It's easy  to want to write about tragedies, about loss, heartbreak, love and forgiveness, and many authors do try. It's incredibly difficult, however, to create that fine nuance that can make these literary disasters come to life for the reader. Hoffman has perfected the art of writing about human life, and especially about human women. Whether it's her unnamed protagonist in The Ice Queen, Shelby in Faithful or the magical Owen sisters in Practical Magic, Hoffman writes women who live, dream, fear, hope, doubt and believe. Perhaps it is the fairy tale element in many of her books that makes them feel so real, because they are given a struggle. Their life never passes them by, they are never spectators to the happenings in their own inner selves. Novels about women often fall into self-help traps and there was a part of me that was worried Faithful would go there as well. Although this novel does lay out a "roadmap", as the blur above says, it is never pedantic, patronising or preachy. Rather, it is an inspiration.

At the heart of Faithful is Shelby, a teenage girl whose life is derailed by a car accident. Although her friend is the one in a coma, Shelby's life comes to a sharp stop. Grief, survivor's guilt and a whole series of bad events see Shelby reduced not only to a husk of her former self but to, in her own words, 'nothing'. Deeply cynical and yet secretly hopeful, Shelby is straight up lost and she knows it. As the reader follows her journey, Shelby encounters others in the process of finding themselves. This story could so easily have devolved into platitudes and cliches, yet Hoffman tells Shelby's story with an honest kindness. She doesn't leave anything in the dark, yet also never forgets her subjects are human. Shelby grows enormously throughout the novel, finding herself capable where she never expected, broken where she hopes to become fixed, and saved when she least expects it. Although she has an angel watching over her, it is Shelby who travels this road. It is she who makes her choices, who finds herself making choice after choice when she never thought she would be capable of choices.

Hoffman is, rightfully, heaped with praise for her writing and there is not much that a fledgling blogger like me could add to it. Her writing is magical because she finds the extraordinary moments in life, whether it is noticing a shaking hand or a dog's loyal nature. It was these moments which broke my heart because they are true. I was crying at the kindness of strangers, the love of mothers, the trust of children, and the beauty of a starry night. I was also soothed by these exact things. Life can be heartbreaking and heartwarming, it both breaks you and make you, and Hoffman always finds that balance. Although my life has been a lot less tragic than Shelby's, I could identify with her need for forgiveness and for a reason. A reason for everything, for all the things, all the people, all the moments that become a part of your life and not someone else's. It is painful to read someone writing about your emotions, your thoughts, but there is also something rehabilitating about it. Reading Faithful, reading all of Hoffman's books, brings me that healing pain which makes you stronger at the end of a book. It is something I've never found with any other author and it is why I will always treasure Hoffman's books.

I give this novel...

5 Universes!

Faithful stunned me, broke me and then put me back together. Yes that sounds dramatic, but I walked away from this novel with an incredibly amount of hope. I will be rereading Faithful numerous times and it will join the list of books that changed me. I'd recommend this, naturally, to fans of Hoffman but also to those who are looking for the magic of writing and the beauty in an ordinary life.