Review: Victoria by Daisy Goodwin

30841109In 1837, less than a month after her eighteenth birthday, Alexandrina Victoria – sheltered, small in stature, and female – became Queen of Great Britain and Ireland. Many thought it was preposterous: Alexandrina — Drina to her family — had always been tightly controlled by her mother and her household, and was surely too unprepossessing to hold the throne. Yet from the moment William IV died, the young Queen startled everyone: abandoning her hated first name in favour of Victoria; insisting, for the first time in her life, on sleeping in a room apart from her mother; resolute about meeting with her ministers alone.

One of those ministers, Lord Melbourne, became Victoria’s private secretary. Perhaps he might have become more than that, except everyone argued she was destined to marry her cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. But Victoria had met Albert as a child and found him stiff and critical: surely the last man she would want for a husband…

I watched the Victoria TV show religiously, as I will do when it returns for its second series. I’ve always been fascinated by all things Victorian, and I love old-timey Kings and Queens but oddly, I don’t read that much historical fiction. When I discovered Victoria was also a book, though, I had to read it because I am invested. Very invested.

The book and the show were being written at the same time (I do believe) and it shows, the book is so much like the series, which for me is perfect. It takes everything I loved from the series and delivers it in a delicious booky form. The difference between the book and the series being only where the book ends. If you’ve watched the series, you’ve already passed the end of the book – I am hoping there will be more novelisations released to coincide with the series, I definitely wanted to see a bit more of Albert, who only enters into the novel in the last act.

I thoroughly enjoyed it and found that the emotional moments pack the same punch in book form as they did visually. Victoria was just as feisty as I was hoping and had me rooting for her from the beginning.

Before I started reading, I was worried that the writing style might mimic classics from the same period – I have a lot of trouble reading classics (I just don’t click with that style of writing) but I so wanted to enjoy the novel. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the narration while dealing with the historical was actually quite contemporary in style. Praise be to Ms. Goodwin!

All in all, it was a lovely book, and it was lovely to revisit characters that I have missed during the break between series. A great read if you’re a historical fiction novice like me, and if you love all things Victoria. If you liked the series, you’ll like the book.

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Review: Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

24590694Night Vale is a small desert town where all the conspiracy theories you’ve ever heard are actually true. It is here that the lives of two women, with two mysteries, will converge.

Nineteen-year-old Night Vale pawn shop owner Jackie Fierro is given a paper marked ‘KING CITY’ by a mysterious man in a tan jacket. She can’t seem to get the paper to leave her hand, and no one who meets this man can remember anything about him. Jackie is determined to uncover the mystery of King City before she herself unravels.

Diane Crayton’s son, Josh, is moody and also a shape shifter. And lately Diane’s started to see her son’s father everywhere she goes, looking the same as the day he left years earlier. Josh, looking different every time Diane sees him, shows a stronger and stronger interest in his estranged father, leading to a disaster Diane can see coming, even as she is helpless to prevent it.

Diane’s search to reconnect with her son and Jackie’s search for her former routine life collide as they find themselves coming back to two words: ‘KING CITY’. It is King City that holds the key to both of their mysteries, and their futures …if they can ever find it.

We are still on the Welcome to Night Vale train here on eloucarroll.com. We regret nothing.

(We being I, me, Elou, all on my lonesome. I like to think I’m royal and thus able to pull off the royal ‘we’, do I succeed? You decide. My deciding would be nepotism, and my nepotism would say yes. Yes, I do.)

Anyway, let’s avoid any more tangents, shall we? (There I go again…)

Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel is, you guessed it, a novel based on the wildly popular Welcome to Night Vale podcast. I would recommend listening to at least some of the podcasts or picking up Mostly Void, Partially Stars and The Great Glowing Coils of the Universe (the script books for the first two years of the podcast) before you read the novel. Not only will you be more invested by that point but you will also have some idea of what to expect and some familiarity with the setting and some of the characters. The novel does mention things that have occurred previously on the podcast.

Or you could go into it blind and be in for a wild, wild ride. (No, really, you should probably familiarise yourself with Night Vale – I’m not sure it’s hugely accessible for new readers unless you already know what you’re in for.)

As you might have gathered from the blurb Welcome to Night Vale is weird. Unlike American Elsewhere, which I read and reviewed recently, the weird in Night Vale is the random sort of weird that always manages to take you by surprise. I am amazed at the imaginations of Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor but I am even more amazed at their ability to make all of the random things which make Night Vale what it is work together. I always thought that there was such a thing as too out there. Fink and Cranor continue to prove me wrong.

Interspersed with the familiar radio stylings of Cecil, the novel itself follows Diane and Jackie, two unlikely heroines who are thrown together (much to their disgruntlement) by circumstances beyond their control. Both linked by the mysterious stranger in the tan jacket and his cryptic two-word message of ‘KING CITY’. Jackie and Diane are wildly different, and it’s great that we get to experience the story through both of their perspectives, with some chapters happening parallel to one another.

However, it’s not until the last couple of chapters that the plot actually gets anywhere and I think that’s why it took me so long to read (it took me over a week, which is a long time for me at my current reading speed). The wild ride I mentioned earlier was not the wild ride of the plot – that was the wild ride of Night Vale as a thing. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed the novel but it could probably have been a fair bit shorter. What works in a short podcast doesn’t necessarily work for a long-form novel. There’s lots of exposition but not enough plot to really justify it, for the podcast this would be perfect but the novel could have done without it. That said, I do love the narrative style (even if it does go every direction except forwards for a lot of the novel). It has a habit of pointing out things that we all know but never really think about, which I really enjoy. At the end of the book, there’s a sentence which spans across three pages. I didn’t notice that it was all the same sentence at first. Until I did. I’m not sure what I think about that but I think that I like how my mind just accepted it and succumbed to the power of the sentence. (I am suddenly worried that the sentence is going to leap out of the book and make a bid at world domination. If any book could convince its sentences to jump ship and take over the world, it would probably be this one.)

Welcome to Night Vale is a mixed bag and it could go either way, I enjoyed it but there are so many reviews from existing fans and Night Vale newbies alike who thought it just fell flat. I can see where they’re coming from. Personally, I like rambling, pointless stories (as long as they have a point of interest, narrative style or characters that I can engage with) but I know a lot of people don’t and if a book’s plot doesn’t really show up until the last few chapters, that’s going to be a problem.

So while I do recommend this book, I recommend it with a pinch of salt. It’s definitely not everyone’s cup of tea and even though I enjoyed it, I would recommend you explore Night Vale a bit before you pick up the novel to avoid being thrown head-first into a pit of confusion.

Review: American Elsewhere by Robert Jackson Bennett

14781178Some places are too good to be true.

Under a pink moon, there is a perfect little town not found on any map.

In that town, there are quiet streets lined with pretty houses, houses that conceal the strangest things.

After a couple years of hard traveling, ex-cop Mona Bright inherits her long-dead mother’s home in Wink, New Mexico. And the closer Mona gets to her mother’s past, the more she understands that the people of Wink are very, very different …

This book is weird. Not quirky-weird, weird-weird.

My best friend read this book and then decided I should too, and mentioned it constantly until I ended up buying it. She knew I was currently very into Welcome to Night Vale, and this book is similar in that it takes place in a fictional town somewhere in the desert (well, near the desert) where everything is a bit strange and at its heart lies a conspiracy. As soon as I read the second line of the blurb above, I knew I wanted this book. I knew I needed this book. It was exactly the kind of weird I was looking for.

It follows Mona, an ex-cop with a complex relationship with her past, as she travels to Wink to find out more about her mother who died when she was young. Her mother left behind a house, and Mona thinks there might be answers there. What she stumbles into is not the quaint little town it seems.

There is a lot to uncover in American Elsewhere, around every corner is something new and it takes a while for it to all click into place. The novel jumps around from person to person in a fashion that I absolutely love. I love the little glimpses of the lives and thoughts of other characters, especially when those characters are not quite normal. I fell in love with these not quite normals, Parson and Mr First especially.

My favourite character, however, was Gracie, sweet, sweet Gracie. She’s a tiny cinnamon bun who needs to be protected, and smothered with love. I can’t really reveal much about her without giant spoilers, so I won’t. Just know that she is precious, and she speaks to my awkward little heart.

American Elsewhere is immediate. Written in the present tense, we are always in the action. I love the present tense, and I know how difficult it is to do well, so it always makes me incredibly happy when I find a book that does just that.

It’s a hefty book but, because of the present tense narration, it’s quite a quick read. It’s definitely a page turner and it’s hard to put down once you start!

If you like Welcome to Night Vale, you’re going to love this. If you like weird, you’re going to love this. What are you waiting for?