Monday, 9 May 2016

Arrival Of Missives by Aliya Whiteley / Kelpie Dreams by Steve Vernon / The Kite Family by Hon Lai Chu

Arrival Of Missives by Aliya Whiteley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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I received a copy of Arrival Of Missives by Aliya Whiteley from its publishers, Unsung Stories, via Contemporary Small Press, in exchange for my honest review. The book is due to be published today (9th May 2016).

Arrival Of Missives is set in a small village in the years following the First World War. The community is very traditional with the same families having worked the land for generations, and men and women keeping to their strictly defined roles. We meet our narrator, Shirley Fearn, when she is sixteen years old. Singled out as the oldest student in the village school and also by her family's landowning status, precocious Shirley believes she is 'marked out for something else', some higher purpose than the role of wife that she seems to look down on in her own mother. Shirley believes the War's aftermath will allow great social changes for women and she will be in the vanguard. Encouraged by the overwhelming crush she has on her teacher, injured ex-soldier Mr Tiller, she envisions herself also as a teacher working and living by his side to guide future generations of boys.

I particularly liked Shirley's breathless enthusiasm for her plan and its childlike naivete. Of course Mr Tiller will return her love and she will be accepted to college! Against the backdrop of the annual May Day preparations we follow Shirley's attempts to both follow her dreams and to make Mr Tiller notice her. As we only see the world through Shirley's eyes, I found it difficult to really get a feel for the other characters. Her strong personality is so much to the fore that even someone as important to the tale as Mr Tiller seems shadowy and unclear. As an older man and with a teacher's responsibility he is understandably reticent with Shirley which made it difficult for me to buy into his sudden decision to reveal to her the supernatural secret of his war injuries.

Arrival Of Missives is interestingly written throughout and I liked Whiteley's detailed observations of everyday lives at the time. The mixed-age schoolroom has almost completely vanished from Britain now, as has the acceptance that a person would remain in a area because their family had always been there. The repeating motif of a three man jury is a neat plot device to reinforce a message of women's desires being ignored and irrelevant. Shirley' realisations of her real purpose to both Mr Tiller and to her family are important and well-portrayed moments. I was convinced by her emotional growth into a woman as the book progresses. I haven't read any of Whiteley's other writing so don't know if meshing science fiction and historical fiction is a recurring theme of her work, but in this novel I am undecided whether it really works. When I consider the science fiction storyline in isolation I quite like the idea, but reconciling it with the existing narrative required quite a leap of faith.

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Books by Aliya Whiteley / Science fiction / Books from England

Kelpie Dreams by Steve Vernon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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Kelpie Dreams is the second book I successfully nominated for publication via the KindleScout programme and I received a copy from the publisher in return for my vote. I would like to thank Lee Ness (author of Deus Ex Machina) for his timely tweet alerting me to Kelpie Dreams' campaign. Kelpie Dreams is due to be published on the 10th May 2016.

Set on the Nova Scotia coast, this novel begins with the unkindly named Lady Cordelia Macbeth, known as Dee, grieving the death of her son Hamilton in a car accident. Crashing as the result of unfortunate circumstances, he plunged into the ocean and she has visited the spot in order to place a white cross on the beach. This is quite an emotional scene and a dark place to start what turns into an exceedingly bizarre and humorous novel. Dee finds herself underwater fighting with a giant octopus sea hag, falling in love with a two hundred year old horse and throwing sticks for a giant purple dog. Vernon's imagination is fantastic in both senses of the word!

I liked the detailed descriptions of scenes and creatures which made it easy for me to vividly see into Vernon's world. I was less impressed with his characters as I didn't think the people were as strongly individualised as they needed to be in order to convince. This is mostly down to their long-winded sections of unrealistic dialogue which, initially, is entertaining, but quickly becomes tired and overdone. All our main characters seem to speak in the same voice and these pages drastically slow the novel's otherwise exciting pace. I enjoyed the mad plot twists and inventive storyline, but think some extensive pruning is needed to make Kelpie Dreams as thrilling as it could be.

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Books by Steve Vernon / Fantasy / Books from Canada

The Kite Family by Hon Lai Chu
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

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I received a copy of The Kite Family by Hon Lai-Chu from its publishers, East Slope Publishing Ltd, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.

I don't think that I have read any Hong Kong fiction before so I was interested to try this highly praised short story collection by Hon Lai-Chu. The book consists of six stories including an award-winning novella which gives the collection its name, The Kite Family. Unfortunately, I struggled to understand what the author was trying to say in most of the stories. Forrest Woods, Chair is perhaps the most accessible and, in this tale, a man who is unable to find any other employment trains his body to take the form of various types of chair so he can hire himself out for other people to sit on. Surreal and weird, but I think I managed to comprehend everything that happened. For the final story, Notes On An Epidemic, I understood the general gist - a woman recovering from a type of influenza caused by living alone is forced to cohabit in a pretend family environment in order to recover - but feel as though I missed layers of meaning that were in small details. The other four tales were way over my head and, even though I read then slowly from start to finish, I couldn't figure out how their disparate elements connected or what the underlying plot was so found them very frustrating and unsatisfying.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Hon Lai Chu / Short stories / Books from Hong Kong

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