Thursday, 20 November 2014

Book #50

The Unwritten: Inside Man by Mike Carey & Peter Gross

In this volume, Tom arrives at Donostia prison in Southern France and falls into the orbit of another story: The Song of Roland. Unfortunately for Tom, it's a story that ends with a massacre. .Tom discovers the true meaning of "out of the frying pan" after his escape from Donostia jail takes him to Stuttgart in 1940, a ghost city inhabited by the master liar of the Third Reich, Josef Goebbels, and a tortured soul who's crying out for rescue - or death...

I love that this is all about the power of storytelling over reality; stories shape the world. I liked the artwork; in particular the mixed way of construing the media in different formats to enable the story to be told. Although the Tommy Taylor series is hugely akin to Harry Potter, this allows the reader to understand the obsession surrounding Tom and his father's work. Carey seems to have a vein of satire running through his commentary on the public's obsession with these novels, and although I am absolutely a part of the Harry Potter fan world, I totally get it.

Tom is a strong character, but I haven't warmed to him yet. He reminds me of many stubborn, arsehole men I have met in my life; those who will listen to anything but reason, and believe they know best. Tom knows nothing, and won't let anyone fix this for him. Thankfully, he begins to come to his senses in this volume, just not enough to make me like him.

The last issue of the volume focuses on Mr Bun, a foul mouthed rabbit living with other (much more polite) animals in a Beatrix Potter-like forest. Mr Bun's sole intention is to kill his creator, presumably the author, and he mentions Wilson Taylor's name a few times, implying that he has been put there by the author. This fascinated me, and I hoped it was to foreshadow something we are yet to find out about. Imagine being able to write your worst enemies into a novel, and for that novel to become real. Imagine turning the most cretinous person you know into a fluffy bunny, and sending them into the Hundred Acre Wood. Absolutely wonderful.

I have no idea where this is going, but  I want to find out.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Book #49

The Unwritten: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity by Mike Carey & Peter Gross

Tommy Taylor is the main character in a series of fantasy novels that have become a cultural phenomenon. Fans gather on websites and at conventions to celebrate his magical stories and hope that his missing creator, Wilson Taylor, will someday resurface to write one last adventure. But there's one dangling plot thread: the real Tom Taylor, the son Wilson abandoned. The inspiration for the magical boy wizard, Tom is now worshipped worldwide as a literary legend made flesh. As Tom's life begins to take on eerie and deadly parallels with Tommy's, he's drawn into a strange literary underworld where the power of storytelling is as strong as any spell.

The premise of this is exciting, and it's shaping up to be a really interesting read for me. Tommy Taylor seems to have leapt from imagination into reality, but is still denying this for the time being. The theme here is that the stories we tell shape our reality, and that they are a lot more powerful than we could ever imagine. Perfect.

I really liked the snippets of the Tommy Taylor novels we got to experience here; they had funny little hints to JK Rowling within them, along with some smaller references to other fantasy novels. 

Another highlight  for me was Tom's father teaching him all he knew on literary geography - we saw or spoke of Room 101, the Reichenbach falls, Pianosa, and Villa Diadato. The idea that this geography of stories comes into play much more later in the series intrigues me massively. The most intriguing part of all is, that if Tommy's father created him in Villa Diadato, which also housed Shelley and Milton, then both Lucifer and Frankenstein are his uncles, or siblings. 

The final issue in the volume focused on Rudyard Kipling, his life, and the fact he had been approached by the same secret society as Tommy's father. Their motives are unclear at the moment, however they manipulate writers into creating stories which have an effect on reality.

Despite being a fantasy novel, some of the scenes seemed very real. Carey and Gross manage to capture the mindset of the 'superfan'; either glorifying or castigating Tom as they saw him either as a fraud, or the messiah. I also really enjoyed the depiction of a literary convention at the beginning of the novel; it's strange to see something so familiar jump out at you like that.

Although not without its faults, which were too minor to mention, this is a promising first volume, The literary references are delicious to me, and the idea of fiction impacting reality makes me want to move on to the next volume immediately. Which is exactly what I'll do.


Book #48

Noah Barleywater Runs Away by John Boyne

Eight-year-old Noah's problems seem easier to deal with if he doesn't think about them. So he runs away, taking an untrodden path through the forest.
Before long, he comes across a shop. But this is no ordinary shop: it's a toyshop, full of the most amazing toys, and brimming with the most wonderful magic. And here Noah meets a very unusual toymaker. The toymaker has a story to tell, and it's a story of adventure and wonder and broken promises. He takes Noah on a journey. A journey that will change his life.

I love reading children's fiction. It's usually so creative, imaginative, and fantastic, with excellent morals and teachings. I like exploring kid's books for myself, but also imagining what a younger mind could take away from them. Although I don't do it often, I quite like to delve into a little fairy tale such as this one to keep me in touch with the better, more magical world of children's fiction.

This story is incredibly random. So random, in fact, I was surprised when the finale turned out to be something other than 'and then he woke up'. There wasn't any explanation as to why, when Noah ventured only a little away from home, he ran into talking animals, trees who cried when you pick their apples, or furniture with personalities. I'm not stupid - I need to hear why things are like this; kids are exactly the same. 

Although it isn't a sad story, Noah's reasoning for running away from home really tugs at the heartstrings once we work out the reasons why. At the beginning of the novel he refuses to even think about it, meaning the reader is kept entirely in the dark, however he can't keep his thoughts hidden for long. The story comes with a good message about running away from our problems, and regrets that could come from doing this. Not only this, but Boyne also lightly touches on bullying, aging, being careful what you wish for, and the importance of family. This seems like a lot for a kid's novel, but Boyne deals with each message sensitively, almost subliminally conditioning the mind of the reader.

I can't say I liked this book, and I can't say I didn't like it. It would work best read aloud to children, with the reader providing extra commentary to make it exciting. I felt that the bizarre in the novel was all that was keeping my attention - although the message was deep, there was no real plot to hook a reader.

A real shame. I had exactly the same love-hate relationship with The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, and now I'm not so impressed by this one; it seems my John Boyne explorations are over.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Book #47

Captain Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Bernières

Captain Corelli's Mandolin is set in the early days of the second world war, before Benito Mussolini invaded Greece. Dr Iannis practices medicine on the island of Cephalonia, accompanied by his daughter, Pelagia, to whom he imparts much of his healing art. Even when the Italians do invade, life isn't so bad--at first anyway. The officer in command of the Italian garrison is the cultured Captain Antonio Corelli, who responds to a Nazi greeting of "Heil Hitler" with his own "Heil Puccini", and whose most precious possession is his mandolin. It isn't long before Corelli and Pelagia are involved in a heated affair--despite her engagement to a young fisherman, Mandras, who has gone off to join Greek partisans. Love is complicated enough in wartime, even when the lovers are on the same side. And for Corelli and Pelagia, it becomes increasingly difficult to negotiate the minefield of allegiances, both personal and political, as all around them atrocities mount, former friends become enemies and the ugliness of war infects everyone it touches.

This is a book of two halves; two halves for which I have different feelings for entirely. The first half seeps us in history, throws us into a war, introduces us to some heartwarming characters, and maps us out a love story that grips hold of our hearts. The end of the first half gives us an ending which, although not the happy ending one might hope for, is a 'could've been worse' ending typical of wartime. We then drag ourselves through the second half of the tale, which has a niggling feeling of being an afterthought, or a word count enhancer. The change in the writing style is stark, our beloved characters turn irksome, and it becomes more and more difficult to read in the same way. Then we find the ending to be pretty pathetic, and feel hard done by. 

I loved the setting; it was so ridiculously European. Every mention of the beautiful island, the glorious weather, their goats and terracotta pots had me longing to get away from the murky climate I'm in at the moment. The characters lived an enviable, spartan lifestyle, in a close-knit community. Bernières described wonderfully neighbourly acts of kindness, cultural events and oddities, and small town gossip. Until the Italians arrived, it seemed an incredible place to live.

The book initially takes some getting used to, with Bernières changing scene or narrator every chapter or so. It's jarring, but begins to make sense the longer you persevere, with the stories interlinking beautifully together, and our characters building up. Until, of course, the second half.

I'm absolutely not the kind of girl who appreciates a love story. I like a story where things happen other than a relationship, and I'm quite partial to a relationship stemming from some kind of mutual circumstance. I enjoyed reading about the war and its consequences, but once the war was over all that was left to resolve was the lost love. It's disappointing when you can predict the ending of a story just because you've read so many stories in the past. A book shouldn't be like that; it's an incredible waste.

A number of people have told me this is their favourite book. Many have said it's wonderful. I would like you all to tell me why. I truly feel if the book had ended where I believe it should have ended, this would be a much bigger masterpiece, but based on the opinions of others, I expected a lot more. When I will I learn?