Fun fantasy for all the family. Magical Elves, terrible trolls and mysterious gemstones. Beebop, Nana, Aidan and Maggie are your stereotypical loving family, they don’t have to worry about anything except school and what they might be having for dinner. Yet when Beebop and the kids go rock hunting they come across a mysterious stone in the shape of a cross. Intrigued, they take it home with plans to study it further. But there is something unusual about it, and one evening before Maggie goes to sleep a spectral figure appears begging to be released. Alarmed, Nana insists they get rid of the stone, but the children cannot quell their curiosity. They smash it freeing an elf named Findecano, he tells them of a word of magical creatures, feuding clans and ancient gemstones. The family cannot believe their ears, but when their house is ransacked by an angry troll they are forced to accept that the stories are true. Findecano, worried for the families safety, leads them back through the veil to the elven world where they will embark on an epic journey to restore the balance power between the two worlds.
This book is so fun and cute in every way! But lets start with the writing.
Stuart has a great style that lends itself really well to the fantasy genre, it actually reminded me a little of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust. Everything has an air of lighthearted fun and magic, settings and people are described with an almost childlike wonder that makes the story feel fresh, and you can’t help but get swept up within the first few pages. The book is aimed at youngish children and the writing reflects this, it’s simple and easy to understand but without talking down to the reader or becoming patronizing.
There are however, a few issues that need to be ironed out that I’m sure will come naturally with practice. I found some of the descriptions difficult to follow at points, specifically in reference to the gemstones. This was probably because the author knew exactly what he was talking about, but to me as a reader with almost no knowledge of them I did get confused with some of the terminology. There was also a lack of contractions during dialogue(hey check me out, I learnt a new word!). For example “We are all sleeping in here. I will stay up and keep an eye on things," this would be totally normal for description, but as speech it’s quite jarring as most people don’t speak like that during everyday life. We’re lazy, we like our apostrophes’! I also felt that changing this could make the distinction between the humans and elves more prominent.
The final issue I had was the lack of synonyms at certain points in the novel. The majority of the book was very well written and flowed perfectly, yet there were some passages sprinkled throughout that were overly repetitive. While in theory this may not seem like a big issue, each time it happened I found myself catapulted out of the story because it didn’t flow, and this was quite frustrating.
I thought the plot of this book was excellent! I’m not sure why I had a preconceived idea, possibly because the book was aimed at children, but it was detailed and complex! All the storylines were well thought out and the world building was impressive. I loved the idea of gemstones with different properties, strength, protection, etc and Stuart’s own additions to elf mythology. The concept of elves living as long as it took them to fulfill their purpose whether 20 years or 200 was intriguing to me and the feuding clans made a great backstory. Equally the Celtic folklore on the Kelpie (a magical beast in the form of a horse that lures travelers onto its back and drowns them) was a really interesting as I had never heard of it before, and I’m always interested in discovering new mythical creatures! The parallel’s with the human world and the idea that an unequal balance of dark and light on the elves side was affecting our world in the form of natural disasters and global warming felt really innovative too.
What I loved best about this book though was the characters. They were all so crystal clear in my mind that I could picture exactly what they looked like and how they would sound, not from their physical description but from their personality which is how it should be. Beebop an ex navy submarine operator makes the perfect grandfather with his sense of humor and quirky hobbies. He is always finding ways to entertain his grandchildren from rock hunting to teaching them how to drive. His wife is probably the most badass nan I have ever come across. Not only does she blog, she also knocks out a troll with a frying pan without a moments thought. Go Nana! I also liked the fact that the two grandchildren, Aidan and Maggie although not as developed, were given strengths in different areas. While Aidan relied on muscle during the book Maggie’s power laid with her mind, but both showed large amounts of courage in the face of adversity.
Findecano the elf was also a very entertaining character, and his interpretations of the human world and their customs often made me chuckle!
The Gemstone Chronicles: The Carnelian is a fun book that would make perfect family bedtime reading. As an idea audience I would recommend it to children ages 7-13, as the characters Aidan and Maggie will reflect their own secret fantasies, wishes and dreams. However, this book does not have limited appeal, as a teenager I really enjoyed it, and I think many adults would enjoy it too! I am looking forward to seeing what happens in the next book. While there are a few writing issues that need to be sorted, this book is getting a happy 4 stars because my heart says so. :D
*Please note: This was originally reviewed on http://beckysblogs.wordpress.com/2013... and was offered to me in exchange for an author interview, book giveaway and an honest review.*
Gripping, hilarious, disturbing. The story of a psychologically unstable individual.
The story Underneath follows a disturbed man named Hugh with a love for squirrels and garlic flavouring. He is antisocial, violent and a complete and utter sociopath with no regard for those around him. In the past he has made attempts to take part in society with regular office jobs and participating in clubs, but it is never long before the cracks in his mask begin to show and those around him see the terrifying truth of what lies underneath. So when he sets his eyes on a beautiful girl on the train, who knows what disaster could ensue?
Meanwhile two police officers Robert and Clare spend their days patrolling and sorting out petty crime, it is only a matter of time before their paths cross with Hugh. The question is, who will come out on top?
I was totally hooked by Underneath from the very first page! Cargill managed to balance the line between sinister, entertaining and humorous very well. The first scene features Hugh walking around a park and his thought processes were so bizarre and frank that I was thrown, and from that moment on I had to keep reading. I was drawn in once again by the strong narrative voice which was a mixture of cynicism, humour and insight. It could be argued that Underneath dips slightly into satire at points with its comments on society and the way it pokes fun at its characters.
There may not be any super fancy sentence structures or massive words but for this sort of novella it is not needed. The writing pace is snappy and there were some brilliant descriptions, especially the ones of food (seriously, THEY MADE ME HUNGRYYYYY) and the imagery.
I did feel that some sentences were awkwardly phrased and could have been improved. A few sections became repetitive at times, for instance there was one big paragraph where every sentence began with the word ‘he’ which could have been enhanced by using some different synonyms, restructuring the sentences so they varied a little more or just leaving some ‘he’s’ out, but these kinds of issues were in the minority as most of the prose flowed smoothly! Although it may seem like I took a while to finish Underneath, this was simply because of the format (I don’t have a Kindle so I use my PC) but when I did get the opportunity to read it I didn’t want to stop because I was so immersed in the story, I finished it in three sessions.
The plot was great; there may not be any immediate action at the start of the story but there is definitely enough to reel you in, small incidents occur that make the reader curious about the mysterious main character Hugh and I loved how the further you got through the novella the more subtly serious the incidents got until they had escalated to dangerous proportions. Switching between Hugh and the two police officers perspectives was a clever idea and broke up the story well preventing the narrative from becoming repetitive. I thought it was a fun idea the way the author wrote the story so that the two groups just kept missing each other, sometimes by a matter of minutes without either party having a clue. I love it when storylines collide like that! For some readers the plot could be considered flimsy as it isn’t that complex, but I feel it works and the real reason to read this book lies with the fascinating characters, so I didn’t find this to be an issue.
I also loved how realistic the plot felt, I can imagine two police officers searching for a psychologically challenged individual out there right now and I think the little tidbits of social commentary on the UK police force really added to this. The comments on sexism and the misconception of race being linked to higher and lower crime rates were thoughtful without going overboard.
Hugh’s character is by far the most compelling aspect of this story. It would have been easy to just do a big info dump at the beginning explaining all his weird traits but Cargill is smart enough to make the reader work for it, slowly adding multiple layers. For instance, I loved his weird habit of picking up useless objects like some plastic straws, then half an hour later realising how useless they were, chucking them over his shoulder and carrying on, it was a great way of portraying how quickly his mood could change. We are never told exactly what is wrong with Hugh, he’s definitely a sociopath but there are some other factors like post-traumatic stress in there too and I liked the fact that we were never told his exact issue, it leaves the interpretation up to the reader and makes him more of an enigma.
The two police officers Clare and Robert were great; Robert’s supposed inability to go without food or tea for longer than an hour was hilarious and took the police doughnut stereotype to a whole new level, and I loved that Clare one of the only females in the story was the best in her police fitness training class and often shown to be in more control than some of the male officers (you go gurrrrrrl). The banter between the two of them was a lot of fun. Even some of the minor characters were hilarious.
The only critique I really have is that all of the characters had the exact same sense of humour, the mother of a druggy teen, the police officers and the sociopath while feeling like separate characters laughed and spouted the same cynical and crude type jokes as all the others, and this made them feel a little less well rounded.
I would recommend this book to anyone 16+ who likes crude humour (although I’m not a big fan usually but I still really like Cargill’s work), trying to work out the logic of bizarre and disturbed characters and those who enjoy thrillers. This is a great story to pick up for a quick, enjoyable read. :)
*Please note: This was originally reviewed on http://beckysblogs.wordpress.com/2013/06/01/underneath-by-michael-cargill-review-45/ and was offered to me in exchange for an author interview, book giveaway and an honest review.*