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Monday, 17 January 2011

The Birth Machine

By Elizabeth Baines

This novel immediately takes the reader into a world of vivid detail and thought-provoking imagery. The writing is full of well-observed, deliciously minute detail. In the opening chapters I particularly like the description of the Professor, ‘The candyfloss tuft on his head, his gob-stopper eyeballs, lips like a twist of half-blown bubble gum’. And, in a beautifully evocative phrase, ‘The fat around the meat became pocked with rows of deep holes, each hole somehow shocking and filled with pink light’.

The novel traces the story of Zelda, about to give birth in an environment which is trying to restrict and regiment her. Elizabeth Baines uses a very clever juxtaposition of ideas to illustrate and enrich the story; life and death, fecundity and sterility, natural and synthetic. The themes of fascination with birds, the natural world and food also run through the story.

She plays with time and the succession of events, and uses this to maximise the impact of the contrasting ideas. At one point, where present story and back story meet, she contrasts the concepts of increasing the dosage of drugs in childbirth with strengthening the spell with magic and herbs in a childhood memory to great effect.

The story of Zelda’s experience of giving birth has fragments of a half-forgotten fairy tale woven in and a mystery lost in the past runs through it increasing the tension of the narrative.

There’s plenty here to keep you reading - suspense, mystery and the sheer beauty and skill of the writing.

There’s also a very interesting author’s note at the end which explains about the publication history of the book. I’m not going to say too much about that though because I think anyone reading this novel should just come to it as it is and then read the author’s note and reflect on its implications afterwards.

I highly recommend this novel both for the intelligent handling of the themes and the pleasure of the reading experience.

Reviewed by Helen M Hunt

This book was kindly provided to Bookersatz for review by the author. Book published by Salt and available here.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Love In The Time Of Dragons

By Katie MacAlister

This book was a pleasure to read, but it’s quite hard to describe. It’s a tale with fantastical and historical themes, but also with one foot in a world that seems very real and characters that feel very contemporary.

A lot of its success is dependent on the strength and likability of the two main characters.

Tully Sullivan finds herself sucked out of her normal and everyday life into a world where everyone else is trying to convince her that, not only is she really called Ysolde de Bouchier, but also that she is in fact a dragon. Needless to say, this is not something she readily accepts.

She comes face to face with her dragon mate – Baltic, and a large part of the novel is devoted to exploring their relationship in a way that keeps you wondering about its exact nature to the end. Baltic is a great character complex and dangerous, but also immensely attractive.

Tully also has to unpick the events of the past to find out why the other dragons want to sentence her to death, and what Baltic has done to annoy everyone.

The novel has a mix of fantasy, drama, adventure and humour that works really well.

I understand that this book follows on from some others written by Katie MacAlister which feature some of the same characters, so if you are keen on this genre I would recommend checking those out as well.

Reviewed by Helen M Hunt

This book was kindly provided to Bookersatz for review by the publisher.