Monday, 18 March 2019

Book #22

The Shield of Nike by A.P. Mobley

Valeria is in love with her best friend, Greg, and has been for years. But they can’t be together, because after they graduate high school they’ll be on opposite sides of the country. This seems to be Valeria’s greatest dilemma—until a freak storm ambushes the two on a hike a few miles outside their town. 
During the storm, Greg is injured, and a strange shield falls from the sky and knocks Valeria unconscious. When she wakes up, her whole world is turned upside down. Greg is missing, her town has been annihilated, deadly creatures roam, and the disembodied voice of a woman she knows nothing of talks to her from inside her own head. 
The woman says Greg has been taken, but that Valeria can save him and survive the perils awaiting her if she harnesses the “gifts” she was given at birth, and if she uses the shield that fell from the sky. But how can Valeria trust a woman she’s never met? 
She'll have to rely on herself and face horrors she could never have imagined to save her best friend. And, in the process, discover her true identity. 

Last year I read the first instalment of the War on the Gods series, The Helm of Darkness, and loved it. I was delighted when Mobley got in touch again to ask me to review the companion novel, The Shield of Nike.

It’s a gorgeous little insight into the storm we experienced in Helm, and I enjoyed the idea that more people were affected by it than we initially realised. It’s a difficult task to talk about this one without spoiling anything; it’s so short and fast-paced that it’s pretty much impossible to do so.

As with Helm, I loved that our world and that of the Greek gods collided together with confusion, malice, and love. Mobley honourably personifies these mythical beings, and it’s utterly glorious. Our protagonist’s ultimate acceptance of her powers, and her birthright, was wonderfully written. I think demigod is my new favourite word.

The action scenes were a perfect blend of intensity and speed. Nothing riles me more than a convoluted fight, so for our protagonist to polish off these mythical monsters efficiently was a big tick for me. I was far more interested into Mobley’s narrative on the monsters’ appearances and origin. I’ve also always wanted to be the owner of a terrifying two-headed dog; reading about them seems to be my only alternative.

It was wonderful, but really lacking in length. A lot more could have been done with characterisation here, and I do think it could be padded out a bit more. There is, of course, the possibility that this is all part of Mobley’s grand plan, and that this story is a mere cog in the War on the Gods machine - which I imagine is the case. With that said, I found the way the story ended to be horribly intriguing - I’m completely and desperately anxious to find out more.

Many thanks to Mobley again for asking me to read this - please never stop asking me! 

Sunday, 17 March 2019

Book #21

Tyger, Tyger by William Blake

A selection of Blake's most haunting verse, including 'The Songs of Innocence and Experience'.

Another poetry collection from the Little Black Classics range, and another chance for me to feel completely lost, illiterate, and, quite frankly, thick.

My problem with poetry now seems to be that I’m only ever reading it within this collection. Since the collection has filled me with spite for a number of reasons, my patience has diminished considerably, and I’m simply not trying.

So my inability to enjoy this probably isn’t Blake’s fault, but a combination of mine and Penguin’s. May skip the poetry books going forward as this is getting ridiculous.

Friday, 15 March 2019

Book #20

Dreamcatcher by Stephen King

In Derry, Maine, four young boys once stood together and did a brave thing. Something that changed them in ways they hardly understand.
A quarter of a century later, the boys are men who have gone their separate ways. Though they still get together once a year, to go hunting in the north woods of Maine. But this time is different. This time a man comes stumbling into their camp, lost, disoriented and muttering about lights in the sky.
Before long, these old friends will be plunged into the most remarkable events of their lives as they struggle with a terrible creature from another world. Their only chance of survival is locked in their shared past - and in the Dreamcatcher.

I’d like to begin by stating I am immensely relieved to have come to the end of this novel. Not only was getting through the plot an arduous journey in itself, the physicality of the mammoth hardback edition I chose to read made life (and commuting) painfully difficult for a while. It could easily have been 300 pages shorter, and I’d have been saved a whole load of back pain, time, and frustration.

As someone who has only ever read the King greats (think The Shining, Misery, The Green Mile, that stuff), I have never been anything other than impressed with his work. Holy grey aliens from the skies, how the mighty can fall. This was awful.

For starters, although partial to the odd bit of sci-fi, I am yet to find a novel on aliens which really blows my knickers off. I knew I’d be slightly outside of my genre, but I was happy to take a risk. Turns out aliens aren’t actually the problem.

The plot was a mess. King dabbles in launching us backwards and forwards in time, showing the four guys as adults, then kids, then back again. I usually like this type of narrative, but it was completely chaotic, confusing, and mind-numbingly repetitive, with King showing us scenes numerous times, for which reason I am yet to determine.

A lot of the central storyline focuses around noxious farts and peoples’ arses with holes blown in them. There was too much of this, just too much. We understood; we got it. Stop describing the smell of farts, please.

His characters also left a lot to be desired. With barely any depth to them, they’re plunged into this nightmare, pontificating, skiing, reading minds, killing extraterrestrial beings, and the whole time I just thought, so fuck. I didn’t care what happened to them. I didn’t know them. I was completely and utterly bored.

I also want to mention the racist and ableist remarks which spilled from the characters mouths infrequently. Although racist characters are a given when telling certain stories, there was absolutely no need for any of this here in order to characterise. It added nothing, other than a slight feeling of your teeth being set on edge. The characters’ treatment of a disabled boy, although masqueraded as a heroic friendship, also wasn’t quite treated as it should be. Some remarks were simply disgraceful, and I checked out.

I’m left with this question: has King now reached such heights of stardom that they will literally publish anything? He’s an excellent storyteller, and he’s proven that. But this book is like the alien disease our characters fought so hard to keep contained - who the fuck let this one out into the wild? 

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Book #19

Wicked Children: Murderous Tales From History by Karen Maitland

Karen Maitland explores some of the real-life cases of dangerous and powerful children which have inspired her own young - but deadly - characters.
I feel immensely cheated by this, but unsure whether I have grounds for this feeling. I downloaded this book free from Amazon (hence the hesitation to feel justified in complaining), believing I was due to be regaled by horrendous and murderous acts committed by children in days gone by. I was not allowed this.

The incredibly short exploration of youthful murderers of yore was akin to an unengaging piece of research done by a sullen and resistant  high school teenager. There was no structure; no defining ideas. The various crimes were presented in a wall of text with no breaks, and no clear indication of sections, making it difficult to differentiate between the children, their deeds, and their ultimate fates. I wanted gore, I wanted shocking motive, I wanted crass depictions of utter horror. I’m actually amazed an account such as this could be so dull.

After the whistlestop tour of evil kids (if there’s anything quicker than a whistlestop tour, please do let me know, as I should be using that metaphor in this case), we’re given a long list of ways in which poisons were concocted in the past. When you think you’ve finally escaped from the monotonous world of the apothecary, Maitland uses another chapter to drone on about the antidotes to such poisons. I almost skipped back a chapter to see if there was anything in my house with which I could use to harm myself.

And finally, the most frustrating aspect of this whole ordeal was the insertion of chapters from a couple of Maitland’s novels. I had no interest in these - I don’t enjoy reading bonus chapters shoehorned into the end of novels - and I’m astounded at the realisation that the entire purpose of this book was to shamelessly sell her other books. I understand promotion, and I’m comfortable with it, but to wade through a load of drivel, in complete confusion, only to be presented with what is effectively an advertisement, is incredibly frustrating.

Like watching the first half hour of a horror film before experiencing an eternal power cut. 

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Book #18

The Stolen White Elephant by Mark Twain

From the father of American literature, four sparkling comic tales of extraordinary animals and parables subverted.

I love Twain. The man’s mind is an utter marvel; so unique and subversive it’s almost difficult to believe such genius could be held within a single mind. And yet, here we are.

This addition to the Little Black Classics range is comprised of four of Twain’s short stories. The titular title, The Stolen White Elephant, was by far my favourite. It tells the story of a government worker who has been tasked with delivering a peacemaking gift to the queen, in the form of a live elephant from Asia. As is to be expected with Twain, madness ensues and the elephant goes missing. The situation flies into disarray as the police are dispatched all over the country to track down the gargantuan beast, and wild sums of money are offered for its capture. Twain’s wit and sarcasm here are beautifully pointed, and utterly hilarious. Such bumbling! Such confused and yet understandable rationalisations! Such deception! I loved it.

We are then treated to two polar opposite tales, one of The Bad Little Boy Who Didn’t Come to Grief and one of The Good Little Boy Who Did Not Prosper. One inherently bad boy who consistently escapes retribution for his misdeeds, and one deeply good boy who gets himself into such trouble simply for being good. Twain makes fun of stories where the opposites are true - where good comes to good, and vice versa. It’s simply not the case in our world, and Twain reminds us of this with each of these bleak little stories.

I felt the final story, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calavera Country, was a poor choice by Penguin. It lacked the same mirth of impact as the previous three, and featured such an ambiguous and vague ending that its positioning as the final story in the collection felt a bit off. Although still an enjoyable and funny tale, it would have worked better being placed at the beginning here, or even added to a separate Twain collection of similar short stories.

Oh, if Little Black Classics had chosen to feature prose, and only prose, I’d be such a happy wee lassie.

Monday, 4 March 2019

Book #17

The Legacy by Katherine Webb

Following the death of their grandmother, Erica Calcott and her sister Beth return to Storton Manor, where they spent their summer holidays as children. When Erica begins to sort through the house, she relives memories of her childhood - & of her cousin, Henry, whose disappearance from the manor tore the family apart.

This is a story filled with secrets, and peppered with the consequences of keeping these to yourself. You will go mad entirely.

Webb tells two stories here. One set in the early 1900s which focuses on Caroline, the lady of an English manor house who, in the early stages of the novel, we witness leaving a young child in the woods. The other is set in the present day, in the same house, where two sisters have inherited the manor from their grandmother, and are there to prepare the manor to be sold.

The use of narrative in each of the stories differed hugely. Where Caroline’s tale begins at the end, it nevertheless follows a fairly linear path afterwards, portraying  the events which led up to her most heartbreaking mistake. The present day narrative is much stranger, relying heavily on flashbacks to reveal the secrets of the two sisters, as they recall events from the childhood summers spent in the manor.

I found the story quite difficult to engage with in the beginning. Webb loves to describe setting, and although she does so beautifully, I became impatient with what felt like every single tree branch being depicted in miniature. Once I’d become more acquainted with her style, however, I was able to appreciate the true value of her portrayals, and most importantly, the way in which she was lining up her mysteries.

Although the plot - both plots, actually - were wonderful, I’d be hard pushed to pick a character I actually liked. All of them felt deeply flawed and selfish to me, and few of them experienced any sort of development which made them any less irritating. I believe this was the point - we are inherently selfish, and we keep secrets to protect ourselves, without realising a secret kept inside can implode.

An excellent slow-burner with explorations of family relationships and mysteries, although absolutely one to approach with patience. 

Tuesday, 26 February 2019

Book #16

Two Can Keep A Secret by Karen M. McManus

Echo Ridge is reeling.

This picturesque town, nestled near the Canadian border, experienced its first tragic loss in 1995 when high school senior Sarah Corcoran vanished while walking home from the library.

Then five years ago, homecoming queen Lacey Kilduff was found dead in the aptly named Murderland Halloween park.
Now, the killer claims to be back.
A small town that keeps losing its homecoming queens.
Two murders, still unsolved.

I read McManus’s debut One Of Us Is Lying last year, and was blown away. I let a friend borrow it recently, which prompted her to buy Two Can Keep a Secret. It’s very rare people lend me books, so I was delighted to borrow this one.

This little sister has a similar feel to its predecessor; high school, mystery, death, and (my champion of narrative devices), alternating perspectives. I was really into the plot and, since I was desperate to solve the mystery, devoured this in a few days. It’s sure to do well in the YA community with its active storyline and tense undercurrent. 

Despite the above, there was something a lot slower in this plot. It ticked along nicely, and engaged me, but there was a lack of the what the fuck twisty moments, red herrings, and total curveballs I so loved in One of Us Is Lying. Where the debut featured multiple perspectives, Two Can Keep a Secret gave only two, relatively similar, views on the murderous goings on. Here, you know who to trust.

Where One Of Us Is Lying had characters mostly fitting neat stereotypes, McManus has done well here to give us a far more diverse cast in terms of race and sexuality. Although race and sexuality varied across the characters, each of them came across as pretty underdeveloped; I think some more exploration into each of their personalities would have had an excellent benefit into what McManus was trying to achieve here. 

And then I got to the utterly chilling final sentence of the novel, and I was struck by this masterstroke. What a way to leave a reader, what a diabolically frightening way to end a novel. It was glorious, and I screamed on the train.

A good murder mystery which only really suffers from the syndrome of having to live up to an older sibling. I enjoyed the fast pace and the simple narrative here, and although it isn’t the most jaw-dropping thriller to grace YA fiction, I think it’s a worthwhile use of reading time.

Thursday, 21 February 2019

Book #15

The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy

A carefree Russian official has what seems to be a trivial accident.

Russian literature is both feared and underrated; I have been guilty of both in my time. It’s untrue; completely untrue - the truth is Russian literature is masterful. I am yet to find a Russian novel that didn’t throw me around with its satire, commentary, and genius.

Even so, I underestimated this one from the beginning. I didn’t expect The Death of Ivan Ilyich to be a satirical look at elite society, an immoral display of artificiality, and a pure message to just live your life

Ivan Ilyich is a respected professional, flying high in society. He lives as his peers would expect him to, furnishes his home in the way everyone else in high society does, and behaves exactly the same as everyone else. After an accident, and a long illness, he finds himself staring Death in the face, and is forced to examine his life and how he truly lived. His transformation was incredible.

My favourite of Tolstoy’s manoeuvres here was his clever use of structure to ring the death knell. Beginning the novel with the death itself, and transporting us back in time to witness the accident renders the death inevitable from the beginning. He describes the years of Ivan Ilyich’s life as a young man spanning several chapters, yet after the accident, speeds things along remarkably, even starting chapters with lines such as “A fortnight passed,” hurtling us towards the irrevocable outcome powerlessly. In addition, the twelve chapters each become shorter and shorter as we progress, creating a chronological claustrophobia, and working nicely with the way Tolstoy begins to sprint through Ivan Ilyich’s remaining days. Death is almost here, he says, and we feel each of Ivan Ilyich’s regrets and remonstrations keenly.

I found some factors here reminiscent of A Christmas Carol, and was delighted to learn afterwards that Tolstoy was a huge Dickens fan. It’s likely he’s taken some inspiration from the famous tale of Scrooge - I love the thought of this.

Another wonderful addition to the Little Black Classics range. I will continue my crusade of Russian literature promotion and dispelling of fears. Absolutely gorgeous.

Monday, 18 February 2019

Book #14

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

Enid Lambert is terribly, terribly anxious. Although she would never admit it to her neighbors or her three grown children, her husband, Alfred, is losing his grip on reality. Maybe it's the medication that Alfred takes for his Parkinson's disease, or maybe it's his negative attitude, but he spends his days brooding in the basement and committing shadowy, unspeakable acts. More and more often, he doesn't seem to understand a word Enid says.
Trouble is also brewing in the lives of Enid's children. Her older son, Gary, a banker in Philadelphia, has turned cruel and materialistic and is trying to force his parents out of their old house and into a tiny apartment. The middle child, Chip, has suddenly and for no good reason quit his exciting job as a professor at D------ College and moved to New York City, where he seems to be pursuing a "transgressive" lifestyle and writing some sort of screenplay. Meanwhile the baby of the family, Denise, has escaped her disastrous marriage only to pour her youth and beauty down the drain of an affair with a married man--or so Gary hints.
Enid, who loves to have fun, can still look forward to a final family Christmas and to the ten-day Nordic Pleasurelines Luxury Fall Color Cruise that she and Alfred are about to embark on. But even these few remaining joys are threatened by her husband's growing confusion and unsteadiness. As Alfred enters his final decline, the Lamberts must face the failures, secrets, and long-buried hurts that haunt them as a family if they are to make the corrections that each desperately needs.

This was a leap of faith for me. Almost seven hundred pages from an author I’d tried once before (The Discomfort Zone) and hated. I was going on the basis of the praise emblazoned on the cover, and the excellent reviews I’d read; both of which, I know from experience, are seriously untrustworthy.

Gloriously, wonderfully, magnificently, The Corrections turned out to be a labour of love. Franzen explores the Lambert family’s depths and disasters. He throws out entirely the idea of a plot, of anything remotely linear, in fact of anything resembling a structure whatsoever. It’s an analysis of relationships, health, and how we relate to one another.

Each of the Lamberts are deplorable in their own way. The parents exude a selfishness, a blatant refusal to accept change, a maddening yearning for how things used to be, and a firm belief in their own moral standpoints. The (grown up) kids are merely guilty of inheriting selfishness from these two, projecting it into adult life, and finding the consequences of such behaviours didn’t actually suit them. It was gorgeous.

As I learned more about the characters, and as I traversed with them each idiotic mistake they made, I was able to connect these with their childhood, and with the rest of the family. Each reaction, each predicament, could almost be predicted due to the vast level of knowledge I had on each of them - except one.

Albert, the Lambert patriarch, was an enigma. Battling with Parkinson’s and the onset of dementia, Franzen paints a devastating picture of the impact they had on Albert. The subtleties increasing until the family could no longer refuse to accept the situation was executed perfectly, and evoked a lot of emotion in me. It was very well done.

This isn’t a book for everyone. It needs investment, patience, and an expectation to encounter a study rather than a story. I found it so worthwhile, and I feel more energised to take more poorly informed leaps of faith in future.

Thursday, 7 February 2019

Book #13

To Be Read at Dusk by Charles Dickens

Three ghostly tales from a master of the form, 'The Signalman', 'The Trial for Murder' and the title story, 'To Be Read at Dusk'.

This was a joy. Although, what else can one really expect from Dickens?

Anyone who’s had the pleasure to read A Christmas Carol can appreciate the mastery Dickens applies to a ghost story. Penguin have included three of his haunting short stories in this addition to the Little Black Classics range. And, since I’ve been growing increasingly disinterested in the range itself, I was very glad they did.

Although none of the three can be described as terrifying, there are underlying tones of tension and unease throughout all of the stories. Dickens knows how to unsettle, how to perfectly add feelings of the unnatural, and how to expertly garner engagement. I’d never thought to seek out any shorter works of Dickens, but after writing this, seeking out more (ghostly or otherwise) is the first thing I’ll do.

I couldn’t pick a favourite of these three; his skill permeated each of them in equal measures. His stiff upper lipped protagonists being faced with the inexplicable was just completely gorgeous, and his writing, as ever, was completely flawless.

An utter master of fiction, and my one true love. Happy birthday, baby.

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Book #12

The Silver Mask by Christian Ellingsen

The gods and goddesses are dead, killed two hundred years ago. 
With their destruction the moon split apart, the sun dwindled and the land was devastated. Civilisation has re-emerged from the carnage, but twisted creatures still prowl the savage Wildlands between the city-states. 
In the skies above the city of Vasini, a falling star, a fragment of the dead moon goddess Serindra, heads to earth. In the Palace district, Dame Vittoria Emerson, darling of the city, has been found dead, lying amongst her own vomit. 
As Captain Marcus Fox of the Inspectorate hunts the killer, Dr. Elizabeth Reid searches for the remnants of Serindra determined to make sure the poisonous quicksilver it contains is not used. With Vittoria’s death threatening to draw the city’s political elite into a war of assassins, Fox and Reid must rush to expose the secrets that lie within Vasini before they tear the city-state apart. 

What an utter marvel this is; I’m still in awe. 

I’ve read a lot of fantasy recently, a lot of it being through authors requesting reviews as Ellingsen has done here. The Silver Mask is utterly unique in its charm; not many fantasy novels feature murder mysteries alongside falling stars and terrifying hybrid creatures, yet here we are. There is something in this fantasy which doesn’t feel fantasy at all - it feels real, and this was Ellingsen’s triumph.

His crafting of Vasini is stellar. Their political factions, their rebels, their elite, their peasants - all were given to us in a beautifully believable box, and I loved learning about this society. Ellingsen peppers the pages with letters, newspaper articles, and other documents to help us learn of Vasini’s history, and to help us understand the motivations of his characters. This felt very much like a ‘show don’t tell’ approach, which I’m always irrevocably on board with.

My only complaint here is in relation to these documents. I was sent a digital copy, and most of the letters and articles are maddeningly difficult to read in this format, purely due to size. It would be helpful if they were enlarged slightly; this would have stopped the stares in public as I sat with my nose inches from my Kindle, reading the words aloud. Although there are worse sights on Glaswegian public transport; I have seen them personally.

The plot is fast moving, engaging, and completely addictive. Ellingsen favours short, snappy, sectioned off chapters, flitting through locations and perspectives to give us a rounded view of what we’re dealing with. He organically brings characters together, raising tension, and making the story one which is absolutely impossible to tear yourself away from.

The characters were gorgeous, raw, and magnificently flawed, yet slightly lacking in backstory. I’m torn with this thought as I’m unsure whether in-depth explorations of their pasts would have added to the plot, or have slowed it down and affected the deep engagement I had in the storyline. It’s also worthwhile remembering this is the first of a series, so perhaps deep dives into the characters’ past lives are still to come.

Again, a marvel. I am so pleased to have been asked to read this, and I am very much looking forward to reading more about Vasini. 

Thursday, 31 January 2019

Book #11

Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss

Now, we all know the basics of punctuation. Or do we? A look at most neighborhood signage tells a different story. Through sloppy usage and low standards on the internet, in e-mail, and now text messages, we have made proper punctuation an endangered species.
In Eats, Shoots & Leaves, former editor Truss dares to say that it is time to look at our commas and semicolons and see them as the wonderful and necessary things they are. This is a book for people who love punctuation and get upset when it is mishandled. From the invention of the question mark in the time of Charlemagne to George Orwell shunning the semicolon, this lively history makes a powerful case for the preservation of a system of printing conventions that is much too subtle to be mucked about with.

I have very high standards when it comes to grammar and punctuation. I’m no pedant or stickler, and would never angrily accost someone for errant use of an apostrophe, but I do like things to be done properly. I recognise, however, I am no superwoman, so bought this book in the hopes of learning something.

There was some really interesting information on the origin of punctuation, on uses which have now fallen out of fashion, and on the poor members of the punctuation family who have now become extinct. I found this insightful, and (I have to be honest), quite exciting. Write me off immediately as a saddo; I don’t care.

My problem was the main thing I learned here, which is Lynne Truss is a horrible person. I worked this out quickly (reading a couple of pages of the introduction should do it), and it marred the book for me entirely. No one wants to listen to someone they dislike, and let me tell you I disliked Truss.

Her commentary reeked of her own self-importance, she slagged off anyone with the audacity to make a punctuation error, and even threatened people with death, guns, and violence should they incorrectly punctuate a sentence. There is no fucking need.

She seems to forget not all of us are from the same background. We’re even treated to an anecdote of a punctuation novel she was reading whilst all the other girls her age were out having abortions. I’m not kidding. This holier than thou attitude permeated through each page, completely disengaging me and, frankly, making me hate her. And she ticked every single dirty box in my book - classist, ableist, sexist, even racist. It was foul.

Although peppered with interesting tidbits, I would happily forego anything I learned from this to go back to a life where I had never read it.

Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Book #10

Hannibal by Livy

The remarkable account of Hannibal crossing the Alps with his elephants and winning the Battle of the Trebbia.

I struggled with this. Perhaps the disappointment began when I realised this wasn’t an account of the life of our favourite cannibal. Instead, it details the Carthaginian invasion of Rome.

My assumption is that there’s military insight here, alongside political commentary. I can’t really confirm, as my eyes were glazed over the entire time. I can barely remember a thing; I was thinking about what I was going to have for dinner. Not even the macabre notion of bringing elephants along to cross the Alps appealed to me here. I was out.

The plan is to continue the Little Black Classics range until I’ve read each one I’ve already bought. After that, no more. They are taking up precious reading time and provoking an irrevocable ire in me which I no longer wish to feel. 

Tuesday, 29 January 2019

Book #09

Paper Towns by John Green

Quentin Jacobsen has spent a lifetime loving the magnificently adventurous Margo Roth Spiegelman from afar. So when she cracks open a window and climbs into his life—dressed like a ninja and summoning him for an ingenious campaign of revenge—he follows. After their all-nighter ends, and a new day breaks, Q arrives at school to discover that Margo, always an enigma, has now become a mystery. But Q soon learns that there are clues—and they're for him. Urged down a disconnected path, the closer he gets, the less Q sees the girl he thought he knew.

So I picked up a John Green novel with the expectation that I wouldn’t like it. I didn’t like it.

Paper Towns follows the journey of a high school boy, Quentin, who is love with the girl next door. When she goes missing, he becomes obsessed with finding her due to reasons of the heart, and also due to him being a romantically-intense sort of creep. 

The characters were incredibly stereotypical. Slightly geeky guy who is on a lower rung of the social ladder in school (which Green referred to as the ‘caste system’ which I found a touch distasteful), the incredible and mysterious girl next door who absolutely cannot be touched, her hot sexy arsehole  shagger of a boyfriend, her prissy girlfriends, and of course, the token black guy. I love this shit in 90s movies, but I need something more in my novels.

And the plot! Holy hell, it took an age to crawl through the pointless scenes and unnecessarily lyricised writing in order to actually get somewhere. There’s a road trip involved where each hour is given its own separate section, mostly involving people sleeping or needing to pee. STOP.

There was a lot of commentary and dialogue here which was screaming out to be interpreted as profound. I found it meandering, and difficult to grasp. I skipped a number of pages towards the end which were saturated in this type of pseudo-philosophical nonsense; it read like garbage.

Although I understand this is a YA novel for teenagers who are running around with a thousand emotions clashing with a million hormones within them, I also believe it’s patronising to make excuses for Green based on his target audience. YA readers are a lot more intelligent than many authors give them credit for, and no author should be writing down to them.

My humble opinion: a shit book’s a shit book no matter the audience. If you enjoyed this, then all power to ya. 

Friday, 25 January 2019

Book #08

The Sea Raiders by H.G. Wells

A disgusting account of a school of giant squid attacking a seaside resort, and two other examples of Wells' extraordinary imagination at work - 'The Magic Shop' and 'The Land Ironclads'

I was excited for this one after reading another collection of story stories by Wells - A Slip Under the Microscope. This one disappointed me for a number of reasons.

The first story, The Sea Raiders, was an uncomfortable tale of deep sea monsters attacking an English coastal town and gobbling up some of its inhabitants. This should have been terrifying for me, a desperate individual fearful of anything dwelling in water, even goldfish. Despite a few truly disgusting and unsettling passages, the deeply factual narrative seemed to eradicate all tension and suspense from the prose.

I read around half of the second story, The Land Ironclads, and gave up. I had no idea what was going on and was horribly disengaged. Something about big scary machines.

And miraculously, gloriously, The Magic Shop saved this entire book. A man and his son stumble upon a shop of magic tricks in London and wander inside. As you can imagine, wonderful, awe-inspiring things are shown to them. Beautiful displays of magic the likes of which would enthral any character. The deeper into the shop the two travel, the faster things become more frightening and macabre. This was tension; this was engagement. I adored The Magic Shop and its ambiguous ending, allowing our thoughts to continue to collide for hours after turning the last page.

There is still no denying I was in the presence of the father of science fiction here. Nevertheless, I would absolutely recommend A Slip Under the Microscope over this one, unless you’re prepared to seek out this book only to skip to the shortest and best story of them all. 

Thursday, 24 January 2019

Book #07

The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver

Plucky Taylor Greer grows up poor in rural Kentucky with two goals: to avoid pregnancy and to get away. She succeeds on both counts when she buys an old car and heads west. But midway across the country, motherhood catches up with her when she becomes guardian of an abandoned baby girl she calls Turtle. In Tucson they encounter an extraordinary array of people, and with their help, Taylor builds herself and her sweet, stunned child, a life.

Okay, full disclosure: I have no idea how this book came into my life. It’s been sitting on my shelf for years, slowly working its way up my reading list, and the beginning of this week was it’s moment. I wasn’t excited; the cover and the blurb combined allowed me to generalise this novel into something I knew I wouldn’t enjoy. 

Then I read the first line - I have been afraid of putting air in a tire ever since I saw a tractor tire blow up and throw Newt Hardbine’s father over the top of the Standard Oil sign - and I knew I had something special in my hands.

And, truly, it’s that first line which epitomises our narrator. She’s something else. The entire narrative was peppered with odd thoughts, sarcastic comments, and naive (sometimes contrasting) ideas. I loved her. Although she was sassy, she was so pure of heart, so raw. The lessons she learns throughout the pages are important, but what’s more important is how she reacts to them. Her growth was stupendous, and yet she kept her perfect personality right up until the last line.

On the surface, this book is about motherhood, and females holding each other up. Digging deeper, however, there’s commentary on human rights, on immigration laws, and just plainly comments around how a person is a person, no matter their origin story. Taylor’s naivety in these particular areas was powerful; her confusion at America’s refusal to allow people to settle, and that the government actually hunted these people down, was pure as hell, and difficult to disagree with.

Each of Kingsolver’s characters had their own purity, despite their flaws. I loved each of them deeply, and Kingsolver’s expert way of writing their dialogue was a huge factor in that. They were so realistic, so utterly human, that it was impossible for any other emotion to come out. I may even end up naming my first child Turtle.

A beautiful, gorgeous, masterpiece of a book. I could go on forever about how much I loved it without actually pinpointing what I loved in particular. I feel this review is a failure because I can’t seem to articulate what that was. It was everything, it was glorious; I’m devastated I’ve come to the end. 

It’s the kind of book you finish and mourn because you feel as though you’ve left your friends behind.