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Tag: Frances Denny

Mud and Glass


I received Mud and Glass from Odyssey Books in exchange for an honest review.

This book had me feeling a plethora of emotions. From the first page, I knew it was a well-crafted, solidly structured story. I was in awe. Then, at half-way through, it had me wanting to go out and change the world. But at the end of the book, the unexpected twist brought a sudden realisation, an epiphany if you like, of just how powerfully drawn the protagonist Celeste is.

Celeste is a geography professor at Purple Bay University in the fictional country of Krasnia. We first learn that she stole her best friend and colleague, Pace’s, research because she believed that the research results, they had collected needed to be made public. Pace has not forgiven her, so we are told, even though Pace trusts Celeste to accompany her on her latest research project to uncover an important artefact, the Littoral Cortex. The book is told from Celeste’s perspective and yet we are unaware that what she thinks about Pace contradicts what we see of Pace’s actions. It is only at the end of the book, when our entire understanding of what we believe is flipped. That last scene with Pace and Celeste is short, but gives Pace an intriguing, but unanticipated edge. 

Celeste is a fascinating character in her own right. For most of the book, she’s hiding from the Littoral League, the Praxies (a powerful family), and everyone else who is after the Littoral Cortex. It is not until the final pages that we find she’s also been hiding from herself. I won’t spoil her arc, but the journey of how she comes to terms with the trauma of her past and the events that unfold is sensitively, beautifully and authentically written.

Another aspect of this book that resonates with me is the question it raises, “what happens when your creative freedom is threatened?” This sounds like a dystopian pontification, but this is a very present and ongoing concern. In high school, I remember my critical thinking class being turned into another study session because we had far too many assignments due. Learning for life is what we should be teaching students, not how to cram for an exam. In the past before digital technologies, learning how to absorb large amounts of knowledge was a necessity. Nowadays, learning how to assess and seek knowledge is far more important. The current education system is outdated, and this book starts the discussion on how we could improve.

It also addresses the stigma around the creative arts. In the past two decades, the arts faculties in schools and universities have been grossly underfunded. When I was a university arts student, all our plays were performed in one small studio because the university demolished our theatre and, instead of rebuilding a new theatre, the resources were put into upgrading the engineering and science buildings. It’s great to be pro sciences and technology, but the creative industries are important too and Mud and Glass shows us why passion in a subject is crucial and necessary for our communities. In fact, Russ, the Theatre Arts lecturer, is one of the heroes who leads the rebellion against the founding families of the university. Goes to show us theatre nerds are not bums after all. :p

To sum up, Mud and Glass is a multi-faceted piece of literature, with rich characters, meaningful themes and a topic that brings forth a very real concern about the current education system.

As to whether I recommend this book, “better three hours too soon than a minute too late.” Go read it! It’s a “yes” from me.

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The Colonel and The Enchantress (The Enchantresses #4)

By Paullett Golden 

This is one of the best books I’ve read EVER! It made me smile, it made me laugh, it made me angry and then it made me very happy. 

The Colonel and the Enchantress is about a young couple, Duncan and Mary, from different social classes in the 19th century. Duncan is working class and Mary is the daughter of a Duke and Duchess. Duncan enters the army and quickly climbs up the ranks to Colonel in the hope that he will be worthy enough of Mary’s hand in marriage. However, he returns from active service with a crippling injury that leaves him paralyzed from the waist down. The book’s main storyline is Duncan and Mary’s relationship and how they navigate their life together in spite of Duncan’s condition.

Duncan and Mary are beautifully drawn. Both have flaws that come with consequences and both have strengths that hold them together. Mary is stubborn to the point that she fails to see her mother, the Dowager Duchess’s, position on the relationship in any other light than as one of cold-hearted snobbery. There’s a beautiful scene towards the end of the book where the Dowager Duchess explains to her daughter that she was on her side the entire time if Mary had only listened. Duncan, on the other hand, is caring and kind but sometimes selfish and has a tendency to push people away because of his own insecurities. One of my favourite moments is when Duncan is in bed feeling sorry for himself and he and Mary get into an argument over whether Duncan was “worthy” and “useful” enough to be her wife and Mary says, “I need you, not because I need you to do something for me, but because I need you.

What’s so satisfying about this love story is that it feels real. There are no points in the plot where anything feels forced or contrived. The love between Duncan and Mary, the arguments they have, the moments they make up, all flow naturally, and I don’t once end up rolling my eyes.

Overall, this is a book I would definitely read again, and that I recommend to anyone who loves a good period romance.

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Protostar (The Star-Crossed Saga)

By Braxton A. Cosby

I have received this arc copy in exchange for an honest review. 

Prince William of the Torrian Alliance lands on Earth on a mission to assassinate the Star-Child, Sydney, only to fall in love with her instead.

In terms of structure, PROTOSTAR is well-paced with a clear and engaging plot. The prologue opens with a punch and each chapter brings more intrigue. 

There’s a shocking twist towards the end that I think fans of the mystery genre will appreciate.

Overall, there are some really engaging scenes with stella characterisation. Henry, Sydney’s father figure and the chief of police, is particularly well-drawn. He is flawed, sarcastic and funny. With him we discover clues about this alien colony that has made contact with Earth.

There are also some nice touches. For example, we are told that Isaac Newton’s ground-breaking theories actually come from Aliens. Quite a funny idea worthy of Doctor Who.

However I do have some issues with the character Sydney. At times her dialogue feels forced and so does her characterisation. Her references to a “Mr Right” and a “Prince Charming” are not realistic. Having recently been a teenage girl among many other teenage girls, I’ve never once talked about or met anyone else who has talked about meeting “Mr Right”, Mr Perfect” or even “Mr Imperfect”. 

There are also certain descriptions of Sydney that I find problematic. Below are some examples:

Hysterical Sydney:

Small explosion of hysteria.

Panicking as she watched her grandmother struggle with the news.

Why is this problematic? Women in history have often been described as hysterical. And the men in this book seem to be able to handle the events much better.

Such are the examples below of the men being seen as the protectors and the women depending on them:

She was nervous but felt safe being with Henry. – Jasmine about Henry.
The only ounce of strength he had left came from knowing Sydney was safe by his side. Protecting her from now on was his new priority. – William

Sydney and boys:

The usual topics of conversation about cute boys, pretty girls and boring homework would have to wait.

“You know how we girls are… He’s no one in particular. Just that certain someone who comes in your life, sweeps you off your feet, and takes you to a whole new level of liking – another world.” – Sydney

She stared at the hand William had kissed. Could this guy really be my Prince Charming?

She nodded as her eyes locked on Earth. “Funny how neither space, distance, or time was sufficient to hinder the power of love. William, tell me more about Star-crossing.”

Why is this problematic? Sydney’s focus on finding “Mr Right” and “love” takes away from her personality and therefore leaves her very 2D because all we know about her is that she loves her grandma and this mystery man in her head. 

Sydney as perfect:

“Well, if I could have anything in the world, I’d like to see my parents”… “But that’s something that can’t be done by anyone on this side of heaven.”

Eyes batted innocently.

Sydney caressed Sarah’s shoulders.

“Oh please do… if you don’t mind.” – Sydney at breakfast.

“I remember that one time you made up that story of stars being parents to lonely kids and that you had a dream one day they would take all the lonely children away to a far-off land to play together.” – Grandma Sarah to Sydney

Why is this problematic? I’m yet to come across a woman, especially a seventeen-year-old girl, who has the mannerisms and speech of Sydney. It’s like she’s reading from a book of how to be a perfect Victorian woman, and yet this is the 21st century, supposedly.

I think the closest we get to Sydney being Sydney is this line her grandma Sarah says to William.

“She’s always making crazy jokes. You know how these young girls are these days.”

However, once it’s established that Sydney is indeed very mature for her age, we get this scene on page 174 where William and she are walking through a forest and Sydney suddenly balances on a wall because she’s bored. Naturally she falls so William can save her.
Usually, having a character do something as silly as balancing on a wall is to show their youth and immaturity – think Dorothy from Wizard of Oz and Louisa Musgrove from Persuasion. Sydney, however, isn’t immature so this action doesn’t appear to be consistent.

Putting criticism aside, I thought the motif of warmth and redemption a breath of fresh air in the YA genre. It’s a message that is relevant to today where there is so much intolerance and lack of forgiveness. 

For example, Sydney’s reaction to William’s apology after he had unwittingly betrayed her to the Torrian Alliance:

“Sydney, is there any way you could forgive me for what I’ve done?” 
She caressed his face. “What’s done is done. Even though all the pain, something inside me knew that you would save me.” 

I found it a powerful and a positive message to send to teens. I also liked that the story ended on a cliff-hanger that made you want to buy the next book.

Overall, I found ProtoStar a well-written YA novel about young love in the face of adversity. I hope in the next book, we see Sydney being more proactive. 

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