Friday 17 June 2016

Book Review: The Sirens of Falkeld by Julie Tuovi

The Sirens of Falkeld


Kade Finley, of the Scottish Isles, was raised on legends of the sea. His Gaffer, Toran Finley said, that beneath Muireall’s wind-swept cliffs, deep under the waves, there lived a legend as old as the Highlands themselves. Of ManannĂ¡n Mac Lir, the sea god, and his beautiful sea maidens, the maighdean mhara, who swam the tides, luring sailors to their deaths.

But they’re not just legend. 

Kade saw one on his ninth birthday. On that day, a fierce storm swallowed half the island, and his da, Aidan Finley, was never seen again. 

It’s been nine years since Da disappeared, and Gaffer is dying. 

Desperate to save him, Kade decides to capture a maighdean mhara, of whom the stories say will grant one wish if caught. But Admiral Gilbert Owen, commander of the island’s WWII naval base, complicates things. In his quest for power, the Admiral has enraged the maidens, making it dangerous to be human in maighdean mhara infested waters.


When an author creates something out of pure fiction, it has to be written with authority. The characters have to be believable. Most of all, any preconceptions one might have had about the story have to be discarded right from the outset.

The Sirens of Falkeld is the debut novel of Julie Tuovi, but you wouldn't know it from the writing. Here is a story that has rather incredible world building. The author really has a talent for describing literally everything in the book. The titular Sirens, of course, are nothing like the Disney mermaids. It's a risk to describe them as Miss Tuovi has done in her story, but the payoff is wonderful because the main Siren, Cora, is no airhead waif. She's actually something to be respected, and yes - something to be feared.

The style of the book is interesting given its shifting perspective, chapter to chapter. Our hero, Kade, is threatened with death more times than seems fair by the shifty, arrogant and pompous Admiral near the start of the story. Kade's perspective is quite formulaic so we can relate to him easily. Initially, he is not an overly complex character. But as the story advanced and he interacts with Cora, we get a glimpse of the man in this youngish-boy. 

Cora seems too advanced, too wily, too clever and yes - too dangerous for Kade to interact with her.
But inbetween these wonderful character developments, we really are swept along by the author's engrossing story. Not once did I think 'this is a fluffy story about mermaids.' 

"It's the very best kind of story, a wonderful mix of myth and legend that will pull you down to the depths of the sea and demand that you read it to the very end."

However, I did find the book a challenging read at times. The first third of the book takes a little while to find its 'sea legs', but once it does, it rewards readers with action, danger, romance and thrills. 

This could be said of many a debut author's story, so it is no slight on the author, who has created an incredibly detailed and believable world. I like the authentic use of the Scottish language, it's well done and never grates. 

One thing I really loved and rounded off the book just perfectly was the author's notes. I know, some of you will skip that part but I urge you to read it. The author is honest in her influences for her story, which I could see early on in the book. Thankfully The Sirens of Falkeld grows into its own very deep rewarding story.

It's the very best kind of story, a wonderful mix of myth and legend that will pull you down to the depths of the sea and demand that you read it to the very end.

Sunday 5 June 2016

Book Review: Coping Mechanisms by Tracy Black



Coping Mechanisms demonstrates how adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse can cope with stresses that occur in their everyday lives. Adult survivors can find life to be a bit more difficult, and feelings of isolation, fear, loneliness or being frozen in time are not uncommon. The casual or innocent things which trigger flashbacks bring back painful and unwanted memories. A simple sound or a smell can trigger the brain and transport you to 'that time or 'that' place. A number of survivors have contributed by writing about their personal experiences and how they cope. They bravely share their stories and explain how motivational exercises and self-help have made their lives manageable. Coping Mechanisms examines the practical ways of coping and explains how you can implement them. Don't allow the demons from your past to haunt your future.


                    "In the future, when a woman's crying like that - she isn't having any fun."

Louise (Susan Sarandon), to a would-be rapist from Thelma and Louise (1991)

In the difficult world we often find ourselves in, the pull of fiction, to read something of fantasy, or something uplifting seems to be far more attractive than to read the subject matter in this book. Child sexual abuse is no laughing matter, and so any words I choose in writing this review has to be done correctly. This is not an easy task, but I think it's important people know my viewpoint, then, whether you are the kind of person who reads reviews and makes a judgement on a book, rather than read the book first and make your own judgement - then I had better get this right.

Over the years, what has been considered 'normal' in society has shifted. Perhaps it always has. But I believe 'normal' is whatever you are exposed to. For example, if you lived in a rural area, it would be normal to see the odd car pass by. But take that same person and put them in a built up area of a busy town or city, this person would see swathes of cars and people. To them, it would not be normal. It would not be what they were used to.

It wouldn't feel right, and they would want to scurry back home to the open fields.

This is a normal, healthy and completely understandable reaction.

In the UK in the 1960s it was still a criminal offence to be homosexual. Now in the recent years the UK Goverment passed the Same Sex Marriage Act.

For some of us, this won't be normal. For others, it won't be normal but they can accept it because it doesn't affect them. (I am neither for or against it, I am married to a woman and what others do have no bearing on our lives).

So what is normal anyway, and how can we cope with others sense of normality being forced on us? This is the question that raised its head when I was reading this book.

For the offenders in Coping Mechanisms, clearly their 'normal' differed from most people. They believed they had the right to perform sexual acts on others without their permission. They believed it was okay to force themselves as adults, onto children. They believed that because they were in a position of authority, that it was okay, it was their 'normal' to force themselves onto others.

I've read some of Tracy Black's other books on this subject and I have to say that this is perhaps the most revealing one. I could feel her sense of anger and betrayal when she tells us (in an early passage) that her search for books on this subject left her 'an emotional and mental wreck'.

You might think she is overreacting. But if you've never been a victim of sexual abuse, especially when you were a child, you cannot underplay just how angry she was feeling.

"So what is normal anyway, and how can we cope with others sense of normality being forced on us? This is the question that raised its head when I was reading this book."

That is not to say Coping Mechanisms is a depressing read. It's a thoroughly engrossing work that gives you Tracy's view, a leading psychotherapist's view, followed by the views of individuals who have contributed to this remarkable volume.

Who is this book for? Well, if you want to read a well written book with articulate prose and some never to be forgotten passages, read Coping Mechanisms. It is the very definition of a hard-hitting book, so newcomers to the author may find it a very uncomfortable read. The author doesn’t have to apologise for that and the reader in question should have the maturity to handle the contents.

The author takes us through a number of myths and busts them up for us. Quite right, sexual abuse is not something you ‘get over’….but you do learn to cope. That’s why this book is THE essential read for survivors of sexual abuse.

The section on triggers is particularly powerful. But there is something in the book that pretty much any reader can appreciate, even if they have not experienced such horrors. I also like the individual stories were kept in their raw, original state. I liked some writing style far less than others, but the fact is, it was kept raw and real - it's a far better book for it!

It may not be pretty, it will be far from easy, and survivors see many black clouds amongst the blue skies.

But there is a hope out there of a better life and it’s not trite or unrealistic to say that.