Book review: The long way to a small angry planet

the long way to a small angry planetAlthough I enjoy science fiction, I am more of a dystopia girl than space opera. But I had read a couple of good reviews of the long way to a small angry planet and thought I would give it a go. And I have to say I LOVED it!

Not only has Becky Chambers created a brilliantly realised world with engaging characters and an interesting storyline, she has also managed to tackle the ‘big questions’ head on including racism, gender stererotyping and the ethics of bio-engineering, without being heavy-handed. It really made me think and I felt quite bereft when I finished the novel – I missed the characters!

I hope there’s a sequel…

 

 

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Music and memories: Book review of ‘The Chimes’

The Chimes, Anna SmaillAn unusual dystopian novel, The Chimes is a story of a populace without memories.

Music underpins the lives of the populace of an alternative London; it guides them (tunes act as auditory maps so they can find their way around), it identifies them (everyone has their ‘own’ tune) and it defines their role (additional snatches of melody added to their tune that broadcast their activity). But most of all, it controls them. The chimes of the title ring out from the Carillon several times a day, essentially wiping any memories made and reinforcing the ‘Onestory’ which is all anyone knows.

But there are those that can and do remember snatches of the real story, the whole story not just the Onestory. They are hidden, on the fringes, and they want to give people their memories back.

This novel is saturated with musical nomenclature, an alternate version of musical terms. A strong knowledge of musical terms would help the reader get the most of out this novel, but even without that, it is an engaging read and one that really made me think about the importance of memories and how they form not just our back stories but how they can drive our current attitudes, our behaviour, and our future plans.

 

Magical storytelling: Iain Pear’s Arcadia

Arcadia_Iain_PearsOkay, so the title of this post probably gives away what I think of this novel! I have enjoyed all of Iain Pears’ previous novels and Arcadia can now be added to this number.

It is a difficult novel to categorise so I am not really going to try. The Guardian called it a “fantastical extravaganza” and The Independent claimed that it was a “near-perfect take on the perils of a parallel universe”.

Pears effortlessly intertwines three interlocking worlds and ten characters to create a wonderfully engaging story that celebrates the magic of storytelling. With a spot of time travel thrown in. And an homage (not a pastiche as it is a gentle portrayal not a mean one) to the kind of pastoral idyll found in certain fairy tales. I always find when I read Pears’ novels that I just ‘sink in’ to the writing, it envelopes me and I find myself raising my head dazed having read straight for three hours. And Arcadia was no different.

arcadia appHowever, it is a complex read, so complex that the author developed an app to accompany the book to help the reader keep track of the characters’ as they move between worlds and influence each others’ lives. I decided to forego the app for the first read, but now I am going to go back and follow each character’s story in turn (therefore reading the novel ‘out of sequence’) so I can appreciate even more the cleverness of this novel.

I hope I have’t put off prospective readers talking about the complexity of the plotting; Arcadia is a great read!

Book review: I Let You Go, Clare Mackintosh

I-Let-You-Go-cover-imageI think this may be the shortest book review ever – read this book! I can’t tell you why you should read I Let You Go as the main reason I would give you is the plot.

And the moment I start talking about the plot, I will inadvertently hint at one of the most startling twists I have read ever in a ‘psychological thriller’ (as this book is tagged a la Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train – both excellent by the way, if you haven’t read them) and it would be a real shame if you knew anything about this book before you started, bar what is written on the back cover blurb.

So what CAN I tell you? The main character Jenna is engaging, fascinating and frustrating in equal measure. The main plot twist comes halfway through the book which is a clever use of the ‘big reveal’. I had to read all of Part One again before moving onto Part Two to see where I could have gone so wrong.  It is an excellent portrayal of the reality of police work, the grinding police fact and statement checking that has to go on week after week to get to the truth. And that is all I am willing to tell you about I Let You Go. That and you should flex your hands regularly while reading, as you will be gripping the book pretty tightly by the end!

I will finish this post with a public health warning: Please don’t read this in public if you tend to get emotionally involved when reading a book (I don’t think my fellow tram passengers have ever recovered from the sight of me sobbing loudly when I reached the end of The Time Traveller’s Wife). When reading I Let You Go on the train yesterday, I actually exclaimed out loud and threw the book away from me when I reached the halfway point and stared at it accusingly for about ten minutes, while shaking my head and muttering to myself before I picked it back up again. So I apologise to my fellow travellers on the cross country 17:37 from Oxford for my histrionics but once you read this book you will understand and forgive me my actions…

 

 

Book review: Look Who’s Back

I recently joined a new book club (see my previous post about relocating and using meetup.com to meet people!) and talking about books in a group again has inspired me to blog reviews once more. I have been a bit slack recently as although I have been reading lots I haven’t been blogging. So here goes, first book review for a while. It was a good discussion about a bad book; I read it and really didn’t like it so attended the group in some trepidation in case everyone else loved it but luckily the majority had similar views to me. Bit of a relief considering it was my first meeting!

Look Whos BackLook Who’s Back
Timur Vermes
Warning, this review contains spoilers. This book apparently caused a stir in Germany when it was first published as its main character is Adolf Hitler, the person who is ‘back’ which is obviously a controversial choice. The premise is that Hitler wakes up on a patch of ground in Berlin in the Summer of 2011. To him it was only yesterday that he was in his bunker, so he is rather surprised by the modern world of 2011, not least the fact that Germany apparently lost WWII. However, through dint of his ‘personality’ and single mindedness he ends up managing to make media contacts, get a tv contract, navigate the pitfalls of modern technology before becoming a media star by the end of the book.

The opening chapter is relatively engaging but as far as I am concerned it goes downhill from there. The novel is meant to be a satire on the cult of personality, a witty riposte to the modern obsession with the latest celebrity ‘on trend’ who spouts nonsense but I just didn’t feel it when reading the novel. I didn’t find it witty, funny or satirical. The situations are contrived, the media consultants cardboard cut-outs and ‘Hitlerisms’ jammed into conversations. The novel is told from Hitler’s point of view, which gets wearing really quickly as the author takes every opportunity to use this narrative device to tell us what he thinks Hitler would think of the Internet, smartphones, etc. One of the only successful pieces of writing in the book is the ‘transcript’ of one of Hitler’s speeches to the media crew. It is typeset in free verse and is just phrases strung together, ‘inspirational’, all high emotion and fine-sounding but no real depth which, to me, accurately reflected what eyewitnesses have reported they felt when they listened to Hitler speak.

And, the cherry on top for me is the editing of this novel. Having a background in publishing, I found the constant typos a distraction. I also found the novel just didn’t seem to flow; it’s difficult to judge whether that’s the authors’ fault or the translator’s. However, kudos to the designer, it is a very striking cover.

Would I recommend this? No. But if you read Look Who’s Back in the original German, please let me know what you think of it. Maybe I missed something in the translation…

Unread, now read book 14 – Every Day, David Levithan

Every Day

For all of you who have fond memories of watching Quantum Leap in the early 90s, Every Day is for you! A 16-year-old, wakes up each morning to find himself in a different person’s body. Every day. They are always the same age as the protagonist (known as ‘A’) but that is the only common denominator: pretty, mean, gay, jock, emo’, suicidal, happy; ‘A’ experiences each person’s life from waking up to falling asleep, approximately 16-18 hours, before then waking up as the next person the following morning. Apparently ‘A’ doesn’t remember a time when this hasn’t happened to him. He has never spent more than one day with a family as far back as his memories stretch. Luckily (and usefully for the plot!) ‘A’ can access the person’s memories and use these to get through the day.  It’s also helpful that ‘A’ has access to an email account as this means that he can keep track of his real ‘self’ across his daily transitions; he frequently emails himself information and notes on the people he was ‘in’ and thoughts he has about his predicament to give himself continuum (and then cautiously wipes all internet history from whosever computer he has used). ‘A’ has also set himself rules, and constructed a coping mechanism to help him with the transitions day after day:

Follow the person’s daily routine.

Don’t draw attention to yourself.

Don’t interfere.

Respect the person you are ‘in’ and keep them safe by making good decisions.

Don’t leave traces of yourself.

Don’t fall in love.

But of course, one day he meets Rhiannon. And ‘A’ breaks all of his rules.

Rest assured, this is not a soppy coming of age, a Romeo and Juliet-esque doomed romance novel. Every Day intelligently explores a fascinating concept and makes the reader think about what makes ‘you’ you, what drives people to make choices, and reminds you that no-one should another judge another on appearance alone.

I think I would class this as a YA novel, but only because the main character(s) are teenagers and the novel centres around everyday issues that teenagers face. It would be a fabulous text for use in schools to discuss ethics, or in English Literature when discussing ‘issues’ such as bullying, or how to analyze character. Because ‘A’ is always someone else, as well as himself, it teaches him to be tolerant and thoughtful of others. And some of the moral/ethical dilemmas he faces are genuinely tough; for example, he wakes up one morning as Kelsea Cook who has some form of mental illness and is suicidal. ‘A’ finds her journal and realises that she is planning to kill herself in six days’ time. What can he do? He will not ‘be’ her after that day so has to take action instantly. Then there is ‘Day 5998′ (chapters are titled as consecutive numbered days) when he wakes up as a drug addict.

Anyway, I could list all of the people’A’ ‘inhabits’ and what happens to him and Rhiannon… but I think you should read it and find out for yourself!

Unread, now read book 13 – Goodbye Columbus, Philip Roth

Goodbye Columbus

Out of all the impulsively bought books that have been languishing around unread for the last year on my shelves, this probably has the silliest reason as to why I bought it. Put simply, it’s because Julian Morrow in Donna Tartt’s The Secret History makes a sly joke to Richard Papen about English freshman needing to purchase a copy of Goodbye Columbus for their course. Told you it was silly.

For some reason, that literary reference always stuck with me even though I didn’t know anything more about the novel than the title, not even who it was by. So when I saw a copy in a secondhand bookstore and noticed it was written by Philip Roth who I have read and (kind of) enjoyed, I decided to buy it. Like I said I have read other novels by Roth (Portnoy’s Complaint, made the mistake of reading it in public and blushed quite a bit; American Pastoral, which I liked a lot) so I assumed that Goodbye Columbus would have similar themes and focus on a Jewish male protagonist who had some sort of angst going on.

And now that I have read it, I don’t have a lot more to say about Columbus than that! It’s always interesting reading a novel written at/set in an earlier time to which you currently live; the social mores portrayed are usually very different, particularly what men and women respectively want from life, their attitudes towards sex and marriage, etc. And Columbus is no different. But it didn’t really hook me; I didn’t get interested in any of the characters, who all felt a little two-dimensional. But then, it is his first novel; if you read some of his later novels, such as American Pastoral, his writing is highly accomplished. So there you go, not a novel (well novella, it’s pretty short) I would reread but it wasn’t a ‘bad’ novel. And for those who are interested, apparently it was made into a film, starring Ali McGraw and Richard Benjamin in 1969.