I didn't enjoy this as much as I'd hoped, partly because I was hoping it was more along the lines of speculative fiction (it certainly hinted at it!)I didn't enjoy this as much as I'd hoped, partly because I was hoping it was more along the lines of speculative fiction (it certainly hinted at it!) and partly because I was reading a galley on my Kindle, and I struggle to interact with stories electronically. The other reason would be that I simply wasn't all that interested in the characters. Deenie is perhaps the central character, but her father, Tom - a teacher at her school - also gets his point-of-view chapters. His side story is his status as bachelor and a vague flirtation with the French teacher. Her older brother, Eli, gets some air time too. No one character was particularly well developed, and the shift between such different characters gave it a choppy, uneven feel.
The plot itself started strongly, and built great atmosphere, but fizzled all too soon. It became fairly predictable, or rather, the build-up at the start created high expectations that didn't hold. That said, I could have had a very different reading experience had I read this as an actual print book. The other issue is that, as a story about young adolescent girls and their complicated psychological make-up, I felt I'd read better, more thought-provoking stories. The Fever didn't add anything or teach me anything new. Overall, simply disappointing.
Read in February 2014. My thanks to the publisher for a copy of this book via Netgalley....more
I love Rainbow Rowell's books and highly recommend them any chance I get. Loving an author, it does tend to set the bar high, and so going into FangirI love Rainbow Rowell's books and highly recommend them any chance I get. Loving an author, it does tend to set the bar high, and so going into Fangirl I was expecting to love this, no matter what. Well, I don't quite love it. It is a much longer story than her previous two, which made me gleeful: more pages of Rowell! But I think she actually writes better, stronger, when she keeps the page count down. Fangirl was a little too long. But it was enjoyable, and the longer page count allowed for well-developed characters and a natural, realistic feel to the gentle-moving plot.
The story is mostly a coming-of-age story for Cath, who, in her first year of university, is struggling to find space in her life for fanfiction - space, appreciation and forgiveness. It's about reaching the cusp of adulthood and our struggle to abandon our childhood, about reconciling two halves of our selves, and giving ourselves permission to hold on to the things that give us joy. Entangled in every coming-of-age story (in real life) is the expectation that we must give up what we enjoyed as kids and teens, that we should "grow out of it" and move on - as if it's something to be ashamed of, or things that will hold us back and prevent us from maturing. Genre fiction, especially Fantasy fiction, suffers greatly from this common, often subconscious social expectation, and we spend years of our adult lives apologising or justifying our appreciation of fantasy stories (and, often, romance, but that's another story). Really, it's not the fans of Fantasy that must change, but society's understanding of what being an adult is.
Using Simon Snow fanfiction - a deliberately clear parallel to Harry Potter and the wealth of fanfiction (and passionate followers) it spawned - provides the perfect vehicle for exploring Cath's conflicted maturity. Or rather, she is always true and honest to herself, but is pained and upset watching her twin sister Wren ditch it in favour of more socially-acceptable (or expected) young adult behaviour. Namely, going to parties, getting drunk and having sex. I could relate much more to Cath than to Wren, and it's easy to see that in reality, it's Wren who has the biggest maturity learning-curve to figure out. She stuffs up and makes big mistakes, and enters that tenuous period where young adults either continue to stuff up or decide to try a different path.
There is romance for Cath, and for me that was a driving force in the story. There were many elements to this that I loved; it was perhaps the fanfiction itself that dulled it a little for me. I'm not a big fan of fanfiction (ha ha), and could never write it myself. I'm very different from Cath in that regard, but it was great seeing it from a real fanfiction writer's perspective. Looking forward to reading Rowell's newest, Landline, next.
Mario is eighteen and living in Lima, Peru, in the 1950s. He lives with his grandparents (his parents live in the U.S.); is studying law to make his lMario is eighteen and living in Lima, Peru, in the 1950s. He lives with his grandparents (his parents live in the U.S.); is studying law to make his large family happy (they expect Mario to amount to something); aspires to be a full-time writer; and works at Radio Panamericana as the chief news editor - which involves reading newspapers, selecting stories and plagiarising them for the hourly bulletins. Helping him at this task is Pascual, who likes to put grisly stories of multiple deaths in the newscasts, even if they're weeks old, whenever Mario isn't around - which is frequently, as he spends most of his time at cafes with his friend Javier; at Panamericana's sister radio station, Radio Central, next door; or having lunch with his Uncle Lucho and Aunt Olga.
It is while at their home for lunch one Thursday that Mario first meets Aunt Julia, thirty-two years old, divorced, and recently arrived from Bolivia. She is Aunt Olga's sister, and she still refers to Mario as a kid, which he hates. All that changes one night when they go out dancing and Mario kisses her, beginning a long and involved but very innocent love affair.
Meanwhile, at Radio Central - the station that appeals to the masses, while Panamericana is considered "high brow" - the owners, Genaro Sr. and Genaro Jr., are having trouble finding scripts for the serials that air on the station. They've been buying them - often damaged and with missing pages - from CMQ in Cuba, but that country is undergoing political upheaval and they can no longer get the serials. On a stroke of genius, they hire a Bolivian scriptwriter called Pedro Camacho. Pedro Camacho is almost dwarf-like, has no sense of humour, hates Argentines, and lives like a pauper while he writes an impressive amount of scripts, from four to ten a day. They are immensely popular and draw such large audiences the Genaros are soon able to raise their advertising prices.
When Mario first meets Pedro Camacho, it's when the small man is taking Mario's typewriter, even though he can't lift the Remmington on his own. But soon Mario becomes his only friend, and it is to Mario that the Genaro's turn whenever there's a problem that they need to tell Pedro Camacho about. Which happens eventually, when characters from the serials start turning up in other serials, when their occupations keep switching, and everyone wonders if Pedro Camacho has lost it or if he's working towards some kind of mastermind work. The public is divided, but complaints keep coming in.
As things become serious with Mario and Aunt Julia, so do things take a turn for the worse at Radio Central.
Based partly on the author's real-life first marriage to Julia Urquidi, Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter is also a satire of Peru's radio serials; the two themes run parallel to each other throughout the story, with each chapter of Mario's life alternating with one of Pedro Camacho's serials.
I have very conflicting thoughts and feelings regarding this novel. I was impressed by it, it's entertaining, often funny, and quite clever. But at a dense 410 pages, it took me forever to read and several times I wondered if it were ever going to end. In fact, I had to skip over the last two serials in order to finish it - I hate doing that but I had reached a point (the halfway point, in fact), where it was like trying to swim against a strong current. Progress was minimal. The Mario and Julia chapters read a lot faster and ... easier, than the soap operas, as entertaining as they are. By the time I finally ended, I was just pleased to have finally finished it. Because of that reading experience, I find myself with little to say about the novel itself.
It was a fascinating glimpse into life in Lima in the 50s (it was first published in 1977), though also one with a narrowly-focused scope, being primarily concerned with family and enterprise. What Peru and Lima were like in the 50s in terms of politics, economics, social issues etc., I know nothing: that wasn't what the book was about, though there are sometimes glimpses, especially economic. Through Pedro Camacho - who, it turns out, was married to a grossly fat and bossy Argentine woman, a singer and a whore according to others - there are several ethnic stereotypes and cultural prejudices in his serials, and when Mario, Aunt Julia, Javier and Pascual scour Peru looking for someone to marry the couple even though he's under age and she's divorced, we get an astute and oft-times ironic look at rural peasant life.
In truth, the many soap operas included in the novel serve as a distraction from the fact that very little happens in this slow-moving story. Also, my preoccupation with how slowly I was moving through the story served as a distraction from what Llosa was really writing about: Two men struggling, in a way, with their passions, their loyalty and their dedication. There is quite possibly something going on with how women are portrayed, but since it's set in the 50s I doubt it's a social commentary and more something akin to historical (and cultural) accuracy, about which I can't really speak.
I have to hand it Llosa, though: he has an impressive imagination, since through his character of Pedro Camacho, he juggled multiple story-lines and characters, and seemed to have had a lot of fun later mixing them up. Also, the soap operas themselves were often quite disturbing and really stick in your head: the first is about a young man who has an incestuous relationship with his sister, who faints on her wedding day and her uncle discovers she's pregnant, only her new husband knows nothing about it. Another is about a man obsessed with exterminating vermin, especially rats, ever since rats ate his baby sister alive while he was asleep and responsible for her (that one especially made me want to run into my baby boy's room and make sure there was nothing nibbling on him!); it ends with his family, which he's been repressing, turning on him en masse like rats. And so on. I found it hard to believe that anyone could write these serials in an hour - using just their index fingers to type, no less. I'm also not sure how they translated to the airwaves, as there's barely any dialogue in the serial chapters but obviously, the actors have to perform them mostly through conversation. So there is a small degree of suspending disbelief at work.
Overall, I found it very interesting, well-written, humorous, clever, but way too slow to actually enjoy. Readers who like to savour words and take their time would probably have better luck with this than I did. I'm all for appreciating prose, but not at eight pages a day. ...more
Nina Borg is a Red Cross nurse who works at a clinic by day and by night helps hundreds of illegal immigrants hiding across Denmark. With a history ofNina Borg is a Red Cross nurse who works at a clinic by day and by night helps hundreds of illegal immigrants hiding across Denmark. With a history of abruptly leaving her husband Morten and their two young kids for stints in refugee camps in Africa, Nina is passionate, caring and driven to help the unfortunate. When her old friend Karin calls her with an urgent request one day, Nina doesn't say no. Karin gives her a key for a locker at the Copenhagen train station which contains a suitcase. And inside the suitcase is an unconscious, naked three year old boy.
Nina's first thought is child trafficking, and she has little faith in the police actually being able to help; still, she goes back to the train station to report it. But while there she witnesses a large man violently attacking the very locker she found the suitcase in - and he notices her, the way she was looking at him, like she knew. But Nina doesn't really believe the man is after her and the boy until she arranges to meet Karin at her family's lake house, and instead finds her brutally murdered.
Now on the run with a boy who doesn't speak her language and with no one to help her, Nina must try to figure out the boy's origins in the hopes of reuniting him with his family, before the man finds them and she ends up like Karin.
Such a summary as that only tells part of the story, and there's so much more to it than that. The cast of characters, aside from Nina, includes her husband Morten; a wealthy businessman called Jan Marquart who lives in a fortress-like house on the coast with his wife Anne and son Aleksander; the man who abducted the boy, Jučas, and his older girlfriend Barbara; and the boy, Mikas, and his single mother, Sigita Ramoškienė, from Lithuania. The story moves between Nina's side of the story and Sigita's on two different planes of time until they meet at the end, with Jan and Jučas appearing when required. There are other, more minor characters, and as the story progresses we learn more about Nina and her personality, and why her husband sometimes talks to her like she's irresponsible and incompetent. It also gives Sigita's backstory, and truly, it's all put together so beautifully, like a very clever jigsaw puzzle - and I love jigsaw puzzles.
I'm not a big crime reader, I only occasionally read novels like this, and I almost never read pop fiction thrillers and murder mysteries - Tess Gerritson, Tana French, Kathy Reichs etc. - I had to read some for a course at uni and I found them very boring and poorly written, so, not for me. But these "literary" crime novels, I often enjoy these. There's so much more emphasis on character development, the plots are more interesting and they often speak to social issues, economics and politics. With all of those ingredients present, they're more likely to engage me and get me emotionally invested. Which is exactly what happened here, and why I loved this so much.
First of all, now that I have a child of my own, I'm even more deeply affected by stories involved bad things happening to children and mothers than I was before, which is saying a lot. Sigita's story almost made me sick with fear and panic, though it's never reduced to corny melodrama. Sigita keeps her head, and while she struggles to be taken seriously by the police and feels the crush of hopelessness, the threat of panic - her boy could be anywhere, anything could have been done to him - she is also possessed of that unique drive that comes over women when their children are threatened, that single-minded determination. Even just recalling it while I type this, makes those emotions zing through me. She was a strong, well-developed character, young and isolated and too aware that, after long enough, her son won't even remember who she is.
In contrast, Nina was a less familiar, more unique character, but one who becomes familiar and understandable. When her first baby, Ida, is only five months old, she suddenly leaves her family for Liberia, only telling Morten when she was already at the airport. To have a woman just abandon her husband and baby like that, it seems so cruel and selfish, but throughout the novel we get the pieces to better understand Nina, who has an almost psychological problem, like a mental illness.
Only much later had she succeeded in explaining herself to [Morten], at least to some extent. He had noticed that she was finding it harder to sleep, that she was constantly watching Ida, day and night, that she seemed to be afraid of disasters, real or imagined. He had tried to calm her fears, but facts and rationality didn't seem to have much effect on her conviction that something horrible could happen to the child.
... She led a remarkably efficient one-woman crusade to save the world. It was only her own family who could reduce her to abject helplessness. [pp.169-170]
Perhaps because Nina was caring for this little abducted boy, but I never saw her as a bad mother. Just different, and struggling to not let the horrible things that happen in the world completely overwhelm her. She helps the illegal refugees in Denmark as a way of actively doing something, lest her sense of disaster destroy her sanity. It made sense.
The interesting thing about Jan Marquart, is that when we first meet him at the very beginning, the hints or clues indicate that maybe his son has been kidnapped, and he's being blackmailed. I'm sure that's deliberate. We only gradually, bit by bit, learn more and rearrange our impression of Jan, until it comes somewhat full circle. I went through several hypotheses and didn't quite hit on the right one, though I was close. Truly, it's very cleverly written, and a remarkable achievement considering this is the first crime novel the duo of Kaaberbøl and Friis have written - one a fantasy author, the other a children's writer. I can never really imagine how it works, writing a book together, and this one is so seamless, you can't tell that there are two authors. And with Kaaberbøl writing the English translations, you know that nothing's really being lost in translation, either. The writing is gripping, quietly suspenseful, emotionally engaging and sometimes violent.
Karin is dead, she thought, gripping the steering wheel still harder. She had tried to wipe her hands on a crumbled, jellybean-sticky tissue she had found in the glove compartment, but the blood had had time to dry and lay like a thin rust-colored film over her palm and fingertips.
Unbidden, the feel of Karin's skull came back to her. Like one of those big, luxurious, foil-wrapped Easter eggs Morten's parents always bought for Ida and Anton, and which always got dropped on the floor somehow. The shell under the foil would feel flattened and frail, just like Karin's head. She had ben able to feel individual fragments of bone moving under the scalp as she probed. [p.125]
The novel presents a very urban, European Denmark, a country hiding its flaws and ineffective police force. Through Nina we get her scepticism, her distrust of the system and the camps provided for orphaned or homeless children. We meet prostitutes and foreign women trapped in abusive relationships. It's nothing unique to Denmark, and a crime novel is never going to paint a pretty picture of a place. It is the individual characters - some of them - who shine through with their own moral integrity and compassion. Same in Lithuania, with Sigita. The ex-Communist bloc country is a mix of modern Europe and bleak poverty; makes you want to learn more.
And overall, as someone from an island country which shares no borders with anyone, the politics and social justice issues associated with all the refugees and people trafficking, is something that feels so foreign to me - not because we don't have illegal refugees or, perhaps, people trafficking in Australia, but because, without borders you can just drive across, they're not issues, people, that are an accepted part of everyday life, the social fabric. They're still Big Topics, things to be debated about publicly, discovered, uncovered, and punished (the traffickers, not the refugees, though the politicians don't agree). It's hard to explain, but there is a different way of thinking about your place, depending on the landscape - the political landscape as much as anything else. It just seems so easy, for someone to be abducted and sold in another country, within Europe. It's scary.
Probably my one disappointment with this book was the ending. After the climax, the real ending. The tidying-up. I really wanted to know what Nina told the police, especially since she hadn't reported Karin's death and they'd been looking for her, too. I wanted to know how Jan was explained. It just felt like there were some loose ends left hanging. The tidying-up wasn't very tidy, really. Emotionally, yes, sort of, but not plot-wise.
I will definitely be reading more Nina Borg stories, but I'm also interested in reading some of Lene Kaaberbøl's fantasy fiction, and Agnete Friis's children's books, if they're available in English. If you want a really solid, original and unpredictable crime novel, I heartily recommend The Boy in the Suitcase....more
Shatter Me introduced us to an apocalyptic world not far in our future, a world struggling to get by. In what was once the United States, civilians aShatter Me introduced us to an apocalyptic world not far in our future, a world struggling to get by. In what was once the United States, civilians are organised and controlled by the Reestablishment, a military dictatorship that gained power in a time of disorder and uncertainty, an order that proclaims to be making things better.
We also met the heroine of the series, Juliette, who's skin-to-skin touch brings pain and then death. Abandoned by her parents into an asylum, she is there in isolation for nearly a year before being released by the Reestablishment - by a young man who controls her jurisdiction, called Warner. The son of the leader of the Reestablishment, he is a beautiful, young, psychotic megalomaniac who appears to relish torture and who looks upon Juliette as a kindred spirit, someone who must surely want to seize power, wreck revenge and use her gift for death for a greater purpose - his purpose. But Juliette escaped thanks to a young soldier and is on the run, leaving Warner with a bullet in his shoulder.
And that is precisely where the novella, Destroy Me, picks up. Warner was always a charismatic character, a young man seemingly without remorse or the ability to empathise. Because of his beauty, his youth and his obsession with Juliette, we all wanted to get a glimpse inside his head. Mafi gives us that, and more.
The interesting thing is, I was expecting something entirely gratuitous (like Midnight Sun, or the upcoming Walking Disaster, both of which are the same story as their companions, merely told from the male point of view), but actually this novella advances the story, or at least, fleshes it out from Warner's side of the action, showing us his efforts in finding Juliette and Adam, his recuperation and near collapse, and how he feels about his father, who comes Warner's division to "fix things". And we get more than a glimpse into Warner's head - we get a no-holds-barred, dirty laundry exposé into his mind and his heart, and coming closer to understanding - and sympathising - with this would-be megalomaniac than we would otherwise.
Warner is a conflicted boy with a man's responsibilities. He has OCD, is extremely particular and doesn't like to be touched - except by Juliette, whose touch he craves, who he dreams about vividly.
My closet is separated into various sections. Shirts, ties, slacks, blazers and boots. Socks, gloves, scarves, and coats. Everything is arranged according to color, then shades within each color. Every article of clothing it contains is meticulously chosen and custom made to fit the exact measurements of my body. I don't feel like myself until I'm fully dressed; it's part of who I am and how I begin my day.
I've had an obsession with cleanliness for as long as I can remember. I've always been so mired in death and destruction that I think I've overcompensated by keeping myself pristine as much as possible. I take frequent showers. I brush and floss three times a day. I trim my own hair every week. I scrub my hands and nails before I got to bed and just after I wake up. I have an unhealthy preoccupation with wearing only freshly laundered clothes. And whenever I'm experiencing any extreme level of emotion, the only thing that settles my nerves is a long bath.
Everything in Warner's life is ritualised, tightly structured, and image-conscious. He is a product of his father, as we learn, and he is a frightening man. We also learn that what seemed like cruel and cold-hearted actions on Warner's part, weren't always what they seemed - though sometimes they were exactly that. Warner is, in a way, a symbol of the Reestablishment, embodying its need for control and order.
The people are still told that these homes [made from containers] are temporary. That one day they will return to the memories of their old lives, and that things will be bright and beautiful again. But this is all a lie. The Reestablishment has no plans to move them. Civilians are caged on these regulated grounds; these containers have become their prisons. Everything has been numbered. The people, their homes, their level of importance to The Reestablishment. Here, they've become a part of a huge experiment. A world wherein they work to support the needs of a regime that makes them promises it will never fulfill [sic]. This is my life. This sorry world. Most days I feel just as caged as these civilians; and that's likely why I always come here. It's like running from one prison to another; an existence wherein there is no relief, no refuge. Where even my own mind is a traitor. [...] I've developed a reputation as a cold, unfeeling monster who fears nothing and cares for less. But this is all very deceiving. Because the truth is, I am nothing but a coward.
In a way, Destroy Me is one revelation after another regarding Warner's inner mind, his true feelings, his character, and yet, at the end, we're not much closer to really understanding him. I'm still not sure what future he's picturing with a willing Juliette at his side, except perhaps one in which they dethrone his father and take over. But it's not even that important. Truth is, despite the unforgivable things he's done, my sympathy for him grew, and he became even more interesting than before. Stripped of his outer shell, we meet instead a scared little boy desperately trying to live up to his father's expectations lest he be killed and discarded like everyone else who displeases the man. A little boy who never mentions his mother, who perhaps never had one, and who yearns for a human touch, and love.
It's not surprising that in this environment, he's grown up with a warped sense of morality, a twisted idea of what love is.
I do not consider myself a moral man. I do not philosophize about life or bother with the laws and principles that govern most people. I do not pretend to know the difference between right and wrong. But I do live by a certain kind of code. And sometimes, I think, you have to learn how to shoot first.
Warner discovers Juliette's notebook from her time spent in the asylum, and reads about her isolation, her silence, her yearning to be held, and loved. They have that in common. He doesn't seem to want to follow in his father's footsteps - he's afraid of the man, and rightly so. Their interactions are chilling, the atmosphere tense. Of his father, he thinks:
I've come to believe that the most dangerous man in the world is the one who feels no remorse. The one who never apologizes and therefore seeks no forgiveness. Because in the end it is our emotions that make us weak, not our actions.
But does Warner feel remorse, for what he did to her? Not really. He hasn't reached that understanding, yet. He is by no means a black-and-white bad guy, nor is he a bad guy who can easily be redeemed like in Maria V Snyder's Glass trilogy. Before reading this, he was a psychotic, rather scary man with way too much power. Now, he's a psychotic control-freak who thinks he's losing his mind - and who seems genuinely in love with Juliette, even if he has no words for it. I loved the intensity of his feelings, made manifest in his hallucinations and dreams. Where things will go from here should be very interesting indeed.
There are two things that continue to disappoint me somewhat: the world-building, which remains thinly sketched-out, and the use of present tense. Regarding the world-building, there are a great many questions in my mind that would be easily answered by showing me life in this world; but also, I don't quite understand the time line, or how things got this way, or exactly what the world is like now. And Mafi does not quite use present tense accurately; mostly, her characters are too self-aware without being actually self-aware: the contradiction is sloppy. They have too much insight, there is too much reliance on "telling", not inferring. It is a tense designed to create a strong sense of "in the moment", and it does, but unlike other writers who misuse present tense by using it as if they were still writing past tense (e.g. Suzanne Collins), Mafi's characters spend so much time reflecting and ruminating and being in their own heads, that our own perception of them and the story becomes stunted. Also, instead of playing with the concept of either Juliette or Warner being unreliable narrators - which of course they are, we all are, and their thoughts are literally all we get - they are presented as absolute. It would read stronger were the reader able to participate, rather than being forced into a passive observer. My least favourite place.
That said, I am really enjoying this story, and at least Mafi is consistent and writes well, in her distinct style. I loved the chance to hear inside Warner's head, to see things the way he sees them. It in no way solves the riddle of Warner, only makes him even more interesting. More than that, Destroy Me is probably going to be instrumental to understanding what comes next, in Unravel Me. This is an important stepping stone in the overall story, and not to be missed if you plan to read book 2. ...more
Alternating between 1971 and 1984 The Good Muslim tells the story of Maya, a doctor who has spent seven years in self-imposed exile travelling the couAlternating between 1971 and 1984 The Good Muslim tells the story of Maya, a doctor who has spent seven years in self-imposed exile travelling the country, helping women and children survive childbirth and common illnesses, and her brother, Sohail, a freedom fighter in the war against Pakistan that ended in 1971. In the 70s, the young country was embracing a constitution and finding its feet, but Sohail is tormented by a girl he rescued from a barracks, Piya, and a man he killed on the road home. In his search for meaning he discovers the Book, and god, in a way he never had before. Maya, an independent young woman who helped in the war and spent her time afterwards helping women get rid of the babies of rape by enemy soldiers, struggles with this new Sohail. She's determined to bring back the brother she knew, a serious but loving brother who read Rilke and collected books. She blames his marriage to Silvi for turning her brother into a religious fanatic, and after Sohail burns all his books she leaves her home and her city for the countryside.
Fast forward to 1984 and Maya has received a telegram informing her of Silvi's death. Now, she feels, she can return to her mother and the life she left behind. But things have changed even more in Dhaka, and with Sohail. He's now considered a holy man, and people - especially women - arrive from all over the world, climbing the ladder to the tin shack he built on top of her mother's house to hear him speak. He has a son, eight-year-old Zaid, who looks like a servant boy in tattered clothing, too-small sandals and grimy hands. He lies and steals but desperately wants to go to school.
Picking up her life in Dhaka, Maya is confronted by the new Bangladesh in a different way from the country, where little much has changed. An old friend, Joy, returns from America and Maya resists his quiet determination to marry her. She struggles to unite the different sides of herself, between the old, fierce Maya who performed so many abortions for her country, and this new Bangladesh where everyone wants to forget what happened in the war, and what happened to the countless women who were raped and then shunned by their families. She sees Sohail as an embodiment of this determination to forget, and his seeming lack of interest in his son becomes yet another obstacle between him and Maya.
I didn't know much about Bangladesh before starting this, and to be honest I still feel like I don't, even though this book is rich in Bangladeshi history and culture. All I knew about it before I learned from year 11 geography class, in which we used Bangladesh as a topic country - so my understanding of the country is one of high infant mortality rates, poor standard of living, low GDP, and rivers that flood routinely, depositing nutrient-rich sediment in which they plant their rice crops. That was back in 1996. In terms of history, I only learned when recently reading Tropic of Chaos that Bangladesh is a really new country, relatively, separated from India like Pakistan was. But that's about it, and sadly I think I'm even more confused now.
This book is rich in history, as I said before, but it either assumes readers will come to the book with a lot of knowledge, or it thought it was doing a better job of narrating events than it does, or Anam wasn't trying to teach us the details through this narrative. Whichever it is, I felt more confused than anything else. I understand that they were fighting the Pakistani army and that they won, but that's all. Several different religious and military leaders were named, but I couldn't follow who they were or what happened to them. And why Pakistan was fighting there I wasn't sure about - I couldn't remember from Tropic of Chaos but I had thought that Pakistan was an ally - two muslim countries on either side of India...
When I'm confused about what's going on - especially when it's context like this - it really does detract from the story. I did my best to piece together what I could and ignore the rest, or just glide over it, but I always feel like I'm doing a book a disservice when I do that.
The war is important to the story. There's so much conflict between Maya and Sohail, and the war is at the heart of it. It's rather like a third character - a hazy, ill-defined character that wields enormous power over the others but never comes into the foreground where it can be faced. Like a monster that remains in the shadows, in the guilt-ridden spots of the heart. That it changed Maya and Sohail, and everyone else too, is undeniable and a strong theme in the book. I liked that it didn't overshadow the human story, and it was present very much as an influence and a stage for some horrible, horrible stories, but I would have liked to have understood the scope of it better.
Like the war, the landscape too was described in brief brush strokes, like random jigsaw puzzle pieces that turn up, giving you glimpses but not the full picture. I struggled with this less than the war but I still had a hard time picturing the different places in Bangladesh Maya travels to. In contrast, the people are quite vivid, and very much alive in the quick descriptions of stained teeth, or a heaviness of the body, or the narrowed, disapproving eyes of religious men, seeing Maya's uncovered face.
Which brings us to religion. It's another strong presence in the novel, but like the war and the landscape and even the characters, it's not the in-your-face issue you'd expect from the title and the premise. Maya is not very religious, and feels betrayed when Sohail essentially leaves her for god. She wants him back, she wants him to be the young man he was before the war, without understanding what he faced or what he did during that time that changed him. Maya can be wilfully blind and definitely selfish, but she's familiar and relatable because of her independent and modern she is, especially in comparison to many other characters.
In contrast, it's hard to care for Sohail until the very end, when we finally learn exactly what happened that made him feel lost, and made him turn to god at the exception of all else. Only at the end did I feel something more for him than Maya's anger and frustration, though I pretty much hated him for the way he treated his son, and I disagree with Maya that it was her fault, what happened to Zaid. But both of them were selfish. Both were caught up in their own wants, in their own ways.
I didn't understand some of Maya's actions or motivations, especially around Zaid. When she goes to buy him new sandals and the shopkeeper thinks he is a servant, Maya becomes angry and doesn't buy the shoes. But what confused and bothered me was how she took it out on Zaid. The more pathetic he became, the more dismissively cruel she treated him. And yet, she tried to save him too. If she couldn't have Sohail, she'd take Zaid, but it was more than that: somewhere along the way, Maya had to deal with her own past, her own role in the war and her own guilt over all those abortions. It's complex but feels simple as you read it.
Overall, I'm not sure how I feel about this one. As a story, I liked it and yet wasn't very satisfied by it. As a voice for Bangladesh, I liked it and yet was frustrated and confused by it. Maya is a strong character, but I'm not sure I ever really understood her. My emotions were engaged as much as my head was, but it mostly left me wanting more: a deeper story, a more engaged story, a clearer sense of being present rather than watching through a grimy window.
[After writing this review, I discovered that this book actually follows on from Anam's previous novel, A Golden Age, mostly centred on Maya and Sohail's mother and set before and during the war. It would probably give better background and context for Bangladesh's war of independence from Pakistan.]...more
Sirantha Jax may have saved New Earth and its allied planets from a war they cannot win against the flesh-eating Morgut,This review contains spoilers.
Sirantha Jax may have saved New Earth and its allied planets from a war they cannot win against the flesh-eating Morgut, but it came at the cost of six hundred Conglomerate soldiers. Returning to Venice Minor after changing the beacons in grimspace to prevent most of the vast Morgut fleet from jumping to their part of the universe, Jax quietly lets herself be taken into custody by her best friend and commander of the Ithtorian fleet, Vel, and taken to New Earth for her trial. Fully expecting to be executed or, at best, imprisoned for life, her amazing barrister gets her off all charges.
But Jax can't forget the six hundred soldiers she accidentally killed, even if her actions saved the lives of everyone else in the Conglomerate. And her time spent alone in a cell has given her time to reflect and decide on her next course of action: to make amends. While the vast fortune she inherited from her mother can help appease the families of the soldiers who died, and she's spent six months planet-side, teaching jumpers how to read the new beacons in grimspace, Jax has more personal promises to keep.
First she needs to clone the baby Mareq that died in her care, and return it to its mother. Her other promise is to Loras and his people, the La'heng, to free them of their genetic servitude. But her journey with Vel to right old wrongs leads them to make a momentous discovery that could change everything.
I seem to be the lone Jax fan whose love is waning. I absolutely loved the first three books, but I found Killbox to be disappointing and Jax became, well there's no nice way of putting it: annoying. That hasn't changed with Aftermath, even though it's much more eventful and takes some very interesting turns. Plotwise, I have no complaints.
So what's my problem? It's Jax herself. As Jax learns to be more thoughtful, considerate and less selfish, she's also lost her sense of humour. She narrates - in PRESENT TENSE no less, a tense that DOES NOT FIT the narrative style and adds nothing extra to the tension, adventure and suspense of the story - and we are stuck inside her head, a place I've become more disgruntled with as she matures and supposedly becomes less selfish. I say "supposedly" because it's still all about her, and that's no longer an interesting character flaw or trait, it's just a whole lot of self-indulgent whinging. And therein lies my issue: Jax is self-indulgent to the point of making me want to slap her. I can't stand self-indulgent stories, or self-indulgent people. Jax internalises EVERYTHING, it all becomes about her, in a really whiny, repetitive way. I still like her as a character, but I like her less than I did in the first book, when she was a wild, thoughtless party girl who spoke without thinking and put herself first. Then, she had the potential to grow. Now, she's "grown" but the result - which does fit her character - is more annoying rather than less. She is definitely more self-aware, but I think I'd rather she weren't. She spells out everything for us, and leaves us nothing to infer. We can't have an opinion about Jax because her voice is so loud, there's no room for anything else.
The idea that my impetuous behavior might have hurt my best friend makes me ill. Big-picture thinking has never been my strong suit, but I've never been quite so sick over it before. I still stand by my decision, but I am beginning to believe I didn't consider it from all angles. Instead, I led with my heart and just jumped, which is my greatest strength and my biggest flaw. [p.33]
There are countless such paragraphs, plus it feels like every second sentence is a "self thought": Jax thinking about herself, her reaction to something, how something affects her. Like I said, it's not an interesting or quirky flaw, it's just boring. On the other hand, March really has changed. By the end of Aftermath, he's like a whole new person. I'm no longer sure what he sees in Jax - or what Vel likes in Jax, either, to be honest - but matters of the heart aren't all that easy to explain. I always loved the fierce, intense chemistry between them, and there's a touch of that at the beginning, but it seems clear to me that for as long as Jax needs to travel the stars - and that is an inherent part of her, not something she can just give up - they can't be together in a happily-ever-after way. (That makes me think: we associate "happily ever after" with settling down, staying put, being content with where life is at - that's merely a social construct. There's nothing to stop Jax and March, hypothetically, being "happily ever after" AND travelling the stars together.) The problem is that March seems happy to live planet-side and raise his nephew, while Jax goes stir-crazy if she's on land too long and can't relate to a child. So who knows how that'll work out.
To be honest, I read this as the last book in the series (there's one more, Endgame, due out in 2012). It felt final, at the end, with Jax and Vel going off to tie up unfinished business, Jax leaving March behind - "he'll wait for me" she reminds us again, it's a given; she'd be sad if he didn't but wouldn't try to hold him if he wanted to move on: a sign of her narcissism, truth be told, because if someone doesn't have time for her anymore, she simply moves on, keeping those who do. (Yes I know she fought to save March from his demons in Doubleblind, but if I remember correctly, even that was partly for herself. I will say, though, that that I can understand; I'd probably feel the same way. It's not that I'm being extra-hard on Jax, or that we don't all put ourselves first at the end of the day. It's that we don't go on and on about it!) She is trying to be more thoughtful and considerate and caring of others, but her world is and always will be Jax herself. I'm not saying she doesn't have moments of really thinking of others, or that she's fake, or her emotions are false - all I mean is that she thinks of everything in terms of herself, and is rather slow on the pick-up if something doesn't immediately involve her. And I'm not a big fan of people who are only interested in themselves.
Mary, but I'm dying to jump. It feels like I've been grounded forever, and I am losing my mind slowly. It was bad in prison, but there, I knew I had no choice. So I sublimated my need in constant exercise. Here, I function as the school administrator, and I have no outlet for the junkie cravings boiling in my brain. I long to travel to Marakeq and try to make right the damage I've done. Perhaps I never can, but I will think less of myself if I don't try, and I need every scrap of self-esteem these days. [pp.114-5]
I think the story would have been better told in third person past tense, I really do. I wouldn't feel at all annoyed with Jax if the above paragraph was written in third person; I would have felt sympathetic. Also, it seemed like they rushed the publication: it was riddled with typos and missing articles and more, which was very distracting.
I did like the book, though, I want to be clear on that. While I wanted to skip over most of Jax's internal monologues, I did find the story interesting. I thought at first it might turn into a courtroom drama story, which would be an interesting turn, but that only takes up a small portion at the beginning. Once Jax was freed, it became clear that this was going to be a story you couldn't predict: a free agent now, Jax has her own plans and even those go off the rails. It was also great to have more Vel - he's so clearly alien, and I love that Aguirre is faithful to that. He doesn't think or feel like a human, so he remains something of an unknown quantity, unpredictable yet faithful.
It was a bit of an anti-climax, truth be told (I found their discovery a bit of a quiet "Oh. Is that all."), and things seemed to come easily to Jax this time around - part of the science fiction genre, where technology is so "easy" (not only does Jax have nanos in her body mending everything, and translation chips and vocalisers so she can talk in foreign languages, but she gets a baby Mareq cloned in about a day, and Vel, for example, is conveniently an expert in almost everything - very handy) - but it was still an adventure and different from the other books. I won't speak more of it because I don't want to spoil everything.
And that reminds me: it's important to say that, while I have my complaints, I would still recommend this series. The first book is amazing and I gushed stupidly about it; likewise the following two. I don't know why but somehow, between Doubleblind and Killbox, something changed. Aguirre has created a fleshed-out futuristic world and, yes, a strong heroine to lead us through it. There's always something new to learn about, and the characters - the supporting cast - are also well worth the trip. I will definitely read the last book, even though I felt like the story ended here; I must see it through, and for all my whinging, I have a soft spot for Jax, still....more
I never read this as a child, and now that I've read it at the age of thirty-one, I can see that I would have loved it as a kid. As an adult, it didn'I never read this as a child, and now that I've read it at the age of thirty-one, I can see that I would have loved it as a kid. As an adult, it didn't really have the same magic, the same excitement, as it would have had were I, say, ten. On the plus side, I've only ever watched the movie once, years ago, and I don't remember much, so while I can see that it deviated from the book quite a bit, I didn't enjoy the book less for having great memories of the movie. Oh you know what I mean.
Dorothy lives with her aunt and uncle, Em and Henry, on their farm in Kansas, a dry and dusty land, prone to tornadoes. When a tornado comes through and Dorothy doesn't make it to shelter on time because she stops to grab her dog, Toto, she is trapped in the house when it is lifted clear off the ground, leaving her aunt and uncle behind. She travels a long while in the house, caught in the centre of the tornado, and when it settles on the ground again she looks out on a strange and unfamiliar land. Not only is there a group of strange people there to welcome her, but it turns out her house has landed on the Wicked Witch of the East, killing her and freeing the enslaved people of that land, the Munchkins.
Dorothy learns that she is in the Land of Oz, and the good Witch of the North, who explains it to her, tells her she should travel to the Emerald City to see the Great Wizard, Oz, who will help her get home. To get to the Emerald City, Dorothy and Toto set out on the yellow brick road, and along the way meet three very strange characters: the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion. The Scarecrow wants to have brains, so he goes with Dorothy to ask the Great Wizard for some. The Tin Woodman wants to have a heart so he can love again, and the Cowardly Lion wants to be brave. With these three companions, Dorothy arrives in the Emerald City. But the Great Wizard is a hard man to pin down, and he sends them off on a new task: to kill the Wicked Witch of the West. Only then will he help them.
I have no recollection of where the movie goes from the time of them finding out the truth about Oz, but the second half of the book didn't feel familiar so I assume it's different. The book is surprisingly busy, eventful, and reminds me of a Roald Dahl story without the silliness and the humour. It is a fun story, and full of original characters and settings - like the miniature land of china, where everything is made of china and the little china people are terrified of Dorothy because of how easily they can break.
It has something of the feel of a book that's made up as it goes along, which makes it unpredictable (in terms of what they will encounter) but also fun in its randomness. By page 50 you can clearly see that the Scarecrow already has brains - he's always using them - and the Tin Woodman has a heart (he's afraid of stepping on ants because it makes him cry, which makes him rust), and the Cowardly Lion is brave (I was rather surprised that Dorothy would find him cowardly for scaring off enemies instead of killing them - she's a strangely bloodthirsty little girl!), but they don't believe in themselves, and buy into the image of how they're made - a great metaphor for our own habit of stereotyping and pigeonholing and seeing people for their surface qualities, in a superficial way.
Speaking of Dorothy being blood-thirsty (she's not really, just in regards to the lion), there is certain death and destruction in this book, a fairly surprising amount, not to mention slavery (even the Great Wizard's people are forced to wear green-tinted glasses all their lives, locked in place - I kept thinking how hard it would be to live like that!) of both people and animals. Again, that sense of a story being made up as it goes along - and not necessarily well-thought-out in advance - pervades, but Baum did write this for his kids so it explains a lot.
I'm glad I finally read it, and know what it's all about - especially as it means I can read Gregory Maguire's Wicked now and find out why so many people hate it so passionately! It's a great book for young children, and would encourage them to free their imaginations and get creative. Which, granted, they're already predisposed to do, but if The Dark Crystal and similar movies and books had such a huge influence on me as a kid, I can see why The Wizard of Oz would likewise be a much-loved tale. ...more
[Note: This book was published in the US under the title Home to Woefield.]
I have just finished reading this book; I read it between yesterday afterno[Note: This book was published in the US under the title Home to Woefield.]
I have just finished reading this book; I read it between yesterday afternoon and this morning and it was just what I needed: fun, funny, endearing, and didn't require a great deal of concentration. (I am such a flake with my reading these days - somehow, being pregnant makes you lazy mentally - or rather you're just too tired to focus on the page.) I'm letting this book jump the reviewing queue (have finally caught up with March books, but still have April and May to do!) so I can submit it for the Canadian Lit Challenge this month.
Prudence Burns is twenty-four and living off a small allowance resulting from the death of her parents when she was a child. She has aspirations for sustainable, organic farming that her small Brooklyn flat can't quite satisfy, so when she hears that her only living relative, Uncle Harold, has died and left her his farm on Vancouver Island, Prudence wastes no time in packing up and moving across the country and into the Canadian west.
The farm is aptly named Woefield, being a measly 30 acre paddock of scrub and rock and one depressed sheep, but Prudence is unfailingly optimistic and full of plans, even though she knows nothing about farming. That's alright though: the property comes with one Earl Clemente, a grouchy old man who lives in a little cabin at the back of the farm. It takes Prudence a while to realise Earl doesn't know much about farming either, and neither did Uncle Harold - the "farm" has never produced anything and Harold's debts are high. Prudence only has a few months to make enough money to meet the mortgage and credit repayments or the bank will foreclose. She'll take any help she can get, too, including that of Seth from across the road.
Having lived like a hermit in his bedroom since a scandal with his high school drama teacher, twenty-one year old Seth spends his time updating his two blogs, a celebrity gossip rag and a heavy-metal blog, neither of which gets much traffic. His mum, who enjoys a good drink quite frequently and spends her time on "crafts" that litter the small house, moves her boyfriend Bobby in in order to kick Seth out. With nowhere else to go, he crosses the road to Woefield and offers work in exchange for board. Not knowing that Seth is easily the laziest and most useless person around, Prudence accepts.
Also joining their small farming operative is eleven-year-old Sara Spratt and her beloved show-worthy chickens (frizzles and white crested non-bearded black Polish). Forced to find a new home for them because her dad doesn't want them around anymore - he's been surly ever since he lost his job due to embezzlement and has to work construction - Sara bosses Earl around until he builds their coop to her exacting specifications.
With barely any soil on the property, and the raised beds of radishes not making much progress, Prudence comes up with a desperate ploy to get the bank to give her more time. With the aid of her increasingly dysfunctional helpers and one very sexy vet, Prudence has one last idea to pull off; if it works, it could save the farm and her dreams of being a environmentally-responsible farmer.
This was such an endearing book, a sort of seachange of the utmost silliness that has a heart of gold. I love books set on farms, the ones with an eclectic cast of characters and funny situations. Having grown up on a sheep farm in Tasmania (we had chickens too, some of them quite funny-looking), I miss it a lot and love the antics of people who know nothing about farming (covering up shearing nicks with maxi pads!). There's just something about farms, or the country, or rural life, that creates such interesting people, ripe for satire - and who enjoy taking the piss out of themselves better than anyone. The writing group in particular made me laugh, and every reference to the food in Bobby's moustache made me want to look away as if it were right in front of me. None of the characters were spared the satiric eye, and there's an element of self-mockery in the way they talk about themselves, though not deliberately.
Each of the four main characters take turns narrating from their own perspective, in their own voice, so you get a fully three-dimensional visual and understanding. Sometimes they share their own version of the same scene, but never in a way that feels repetitive. Mostly, you get to know them from the inside and the outside, and it can be hilarious and sweet how they see each other. I'd be hard-pressed to say who I liked the most, though Sara would probably be it if I had to choose. I also loved seeing the completely disparate foursome draw close together and become a kind of surrogate family.
Each of them, except maybe Prudence, has their own troubles or demons. Seth has the affair with his high school drama teacher which, while that was kept secret, what he did when she broke it off torments him still and keeps him afraid of the public eye and reliant on alcohol. Earl has a secret past and a missing brother that plagues him still; and Sara's parents are clearly in the middle of an unhappy and deeply troubled separation that just hasn't quite happened yet, but gives Sara anxiety pains in her stomach nevertheless.
While their ignorance of farming and livestock sometimes made me cringe, it's mostly amusing and totally believable. Of course they would think that you needed to keep the dirt out of a sheep's shearing cuts (you don't). Of course they would be alarmed at the happy rogering of the rooster with his harem (hens get depressed if they don't have a rooster, or a "performing" rooster, and you can't judge chicken sex by our own standards of foreplay and consent!). I felt pretty bad for poor Bertie the sheep - Earl was right when he said she was depressed and needed other animals around. Sheep love companionship, and it doesn't have to be other sheep, but they do prefer animals, ones they can sleep alongside. Horses, cows, whatever, they're not picky. Harold had got some very dodgy advice from a Kiwi that you should only shear one half of a sheep at a time, leaving Bertie looking very sad indeed.
I would have liked more detail of the setting - never having been to Vancouver Island, I only have the odd photo and off-hand description to go by, but it seems to be a beautiful place that I would like to know more about. I had trouble picturing Woefield in such a setting, though. I could picture it easily as a random paddock back home - there are plenty of rock-filled, scrubby paddocks that are good for little more than brief grazing for sheep. And aside from the absolutely apt description of shopping at Home Depot (the only thing I'd change is that, rather than having the employees run away from you every time you want to ask where something is, in my experience they are extremely patronising because you're female - please, you're barely eighteen with spots and don't know one end of a hammer from the other!), there was little fleshing-out of the town or community. While some of the locals were introduced - and were also ridiculous and hilarious in their own way, or just sad - the setting is clearly focused on Woefield and its unhappy, struggling workers.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It's the perfect thing to tuck into when you want to escape the heavier, more depressing fiction (which, let's face it, Canada has plenty of). It's quirky but is full of "home truths" and redemptive characters without being in any way moralising or corny. If you, like me, enjoyed Cold Comfort Farm, then I think you'll delight in this one....more
Will Wiles' debut novel finds our unnamed narrator arriving in an unnamed Eastern European city to house-sit for his friend Oskar, a talented composerWill Wiles' debut novel finds our unnamed narrator arriving in an unnamed Eastern European city to house-sit for his friend Oskar, a talented composer and serious neat freak whom the narrator befriended - or was befriended by - during their days at university in England. Oskar has left for Los Angeles and divorce proceedings started by his American wife, Laura. His flat is ultra-modern, minimalist, aesthetically cold, and expensively renovated; in particular, Oskar is obsessed with the floors. He had floors of French oak laid, at great cost, and "they must be treated like the finest piece of furniture in the flat, apart from the piano, of course." - says Oskar in one of the many notes he's left for his friend in the flat.
The narrator spends eight days house-sitting the flat and Oskar's two cats, Shossy and Stravvy. He has little interest in the city, taking a day to sightsee and finding the most memorable sight to be the bullet holes in the exterior wall of the museum. He doesn't speak the language and he knows no one. A copywriter of informational pamphlets for councils - on things like recycling - he came with the idea that the enforced solitude would help him sit down and write creatively, perhaps even start a novel.
But he doesn't have that kind of focus. Instead, as we learn through his reminiscences of knowing Oskar at uni and afterwards, piecing their odd friendship together, the narrator is quite the opposite of Oskar in every way. He's "messy and chaotic and disorganised and to be frank rather lazy," as Oskar tells him in his honest way [p.78], he's not successful, he lacks ambition and he's a serious procratinator, he's single and quite unhappy with where he's at in life. And he likes to drink wine. It takes no time at all for our friend the narrator to leave a small wine stain on Oskar's precious floor. From there, you know it's going to get worse before it gets better, but in this farcical black comedy of a novel, you'll find yourself ruefully laughing even while the tension winds tighter.
This is a deceptively simple novel, understated in premise, literary in execution, and quite hilarious in a "comedy of errors" sort of way. The farcical humour is underlined by a darker, more sinister tone or atmosphere: here we are in this unnamed city, representative of many such cities in many such Eastern European, ex-USSR nations, with a chaotic street plan and monstrously ugly concrete buildings mingling with beautiful old churches. Underground bars and strip joints, a ruined industrial quarter, polluted rivers and a population of old people tightly buttoned into patched coats. His trip to the museum is telling:
Few of the explanatory timelines mustered the strength to get past 1975. In a nod to the interactive, touch-screen age, many of the glass cases needed the dust wiped off them to reveal the treasures within.
One hall was devoted to depictions of traditional peasant life through the ages in different parts of the country. This led to an enfilade explaining the national story through serfdom, monarchy, industrial revolution, republic, fascist republic, people's republic and democratic republic. All these phases were packed into the twentieth century. The proceeding epochs were simply a grim routine of invaders, pogroms and home-grown rulers with soubriquets such as 'the gouger'.
The particularly potent version of hell that the Nazis and Soviets inflicted on Eastern Europe was handled in a curiously modest fashion, with little bombast or horror. And the final three panels of the exhibition were visibly recent insertions, pale patches on the wall betraying the outlines of their predecessors. Presumably the originals had extolled the glorious strides made by the people's republic towards the socialist nirvana envisaged by its leader, the father of the nation. Instead, they extolled the collapse of the Soviet east. Walls fell. Assemblies were stormed. Street names changed. The advertisers arrived.
The history was the newest thing in the building. [p.43]
It's this poignant echo of tragedy and the signs of dilapidation everywhere that add a hefty dose of sadness - an almost nostalgic sadness - to the story, to the people the narrator meets, adding a layer of depth that's both understated and vivid. As the narrator slowly makes a mess of the simple task he's been given, and the cleaner and concierge, a "batfaced" old woman called Ada, continually confronts him with suspicion, rage and disapproval, you can almost see Oskar's oasis of a flat - with every modern convenience, spotless and sleek and shining - as a metaphor for the potential of a country, buggered and discarded and trampled by a succession of "house sitters" (i.e. rulers and leaders) who have visions and ideals that do little to take into account the people, their individual right to some measure of happiness and economic stability, or the land itself. The narrator, in such a flimsy comparison as the one I'm describing, is somewhat colonial, not even bothering to learn a single word of the native language. But it's not a clear metaphor, or allegory, which is why it works; otherwise, it'd be a weak cliche, a story that was trying too hard to be meaningful. Instead, Wiles has created a situation and two familiar, recognisable, vivid characters, and let the scenario play out.
The narrator's internal dialogue, his thought-process, make what is a simple story highly entertaining. That, and Oskar's notes. The two are antitheses of each other. And when the narrator learns that a friend of Oskar's called Michael usually cat-sits for Oskar, while Ada keeps the flat clean, he starts to wonder: Why did Oskar ask me to do this? Why would a man obsessed with keeping things clean, neat and in their correct places, ask a person known to be messy, disorganised and, frankly, a bit irresponsible, to look after his cats and his precious floors? Take the little utility room:
As Oskar's notes made clear, nearly all contingencies had been accounted for. I had no doubt that if, for instance, the power went out, I would find candles and matches. The air was pregnant with admirable qualities such as diligence, self-discipline, organisation, planning - in short, the sort of qualities I lacked. I did not have a career to speak of, just a succession of freelance assignments. I was single. I had neglected to buy a flat or save anything. And here I was, in the realm of all the tedious self-satisfed animals that came out on top in the fables - assiduous ants, industrious squirrels, tenacious tortoises. [pp.173-4]
From the very beginning there is a sense of impending disaster. And it's not that the narrator is completely useless, or even unintelligent. He would probably do quite well if he didn't drink, but even drunk there are worse situations he manages to avoid. We understand him only through Oskar's understanding of him, and his own understanding of the world. His personality comes across in how he interacts with people and the world around him, the decisions he makes, and his flyaway imagination. Many of his thoughts and sensory experiences (such as when he's lying in Oskar's bed, possibly still asleep, with the increasing impression that the bed is expanding, he has shrunk and the ceiling is an invisible horizon) are actually quite familiar, and thought-provoking, even the small details. In particular I loved this insight into rudimentary graffiti:
I set my glass down on the blotter on the desk and drew my finger across the top of the piano. It trailed a path in the traces of dust. Next, I attempted to write my name amid the particles, but there were too few to make it out clearly, and I wiped it away. It's a strange instinct, to want to sign one's name in misty windows, wet concrete, snow. It is like animals marking their territory, particularly in the case of men inscribing snow. But I do not think it is a possessive, exclusive act: 'This is mine, keep out.' When we were a young species, the world must have seemed so unlimited and trackless, and to leave traces of oneself must have been to reach out, wanting to connect with others, strangers who would always remain strangers. To make one's mark then was an expression of how deeply we longed to see the signs of others. [pp.64-5]
It's true, too. It reminded me - not of cave drawings, which it could have done, but of the beginnings of the alphabet, and how certain groups of people, like slaves who weren't allowed to learn to read and write, developed their own code which they would leave as markings on rocks for fellow slaves to find (read The Alphabet by David Sacks, about the history of every letter in the alphabet, which includes this story - I can't remember the details now, sorry!). On a practical level, it's very true: gangs leave their scrawl-like words (I'm never sure what they really are, especially since they're unreadable to the uninitiated) for other gangs to read, or for their own gang members. On a psychology, anthropological level, they're also trying to dispel the loneliness that, I imagine, partly drives a person to join a gang in the first place.
Care of Wooden Floors might take you a while to get into, especially as not much happens for about the first quarter or third. Instead, it's deftly setting the scene, establishing the characters, and exploring a psyche - of Oskar, our narrator, and also the city itself. I still want to know which city, which country, this is, because I always want to know details like that (same goes for the protagonist's name!), but when you strip away the city's name, and the country's, you see it as part of a bigger picture: the eastern bloc, the great swathe of land that was raped by the Nazis and then shat on by the Soviets. It is not an appealing picture: the descriptions in this book do not make you want to visit, wherever it may be. But it does make you sympathise, and the contrast between the dilapidated, somewhat ugly city and Oskar's perfect flat are stark, even jarring. Since the basic premise could have been set just as easily in England or some other English-speaking, western country, you have to see the city as another kind of character, and appreciate that there is a purpose to the narrator being in this land. As Oskar says about his homeland:
'You are funny, the English. You are always in a worry for ... What? You say "going to the dogs." This fear, yet you have been happy sitting on this island and Armadas and Nazis cannot reach you. My country is a shifting shape on the map, and empires and armies walk across it, it disappears and moves, just a patch of colour, a story. Still I know, and my people know, that my country will always be there. But you English think the world has collapsed if they get rid of the old red telephone boxes.' [p.42]
There is a lesson for the protagonist in all this, though whether it will change anything for him is hard to say. And possibly beside the point. His comical antics, escalating in desperation, are all the more sympathetic and humorous precisely because they are realistic, and we can imagine it all too clearly. While most of us would probably be able to avoid ruining Oskar's floor in eight days, it would happen sooner or later. Not to mention the fact that, it's unpleasant living in a place that is so tense and anxious, expectant of disaster. I know the feeling because it's how I feel when I visit my in-laws. It's not a home, it's a magazine spread on design.
I sometimes found the detail-heavy narrative a little sluggish, but overall Will Wiles' debut novel is a work of great insight, a farce of understated proportions, a black comedy and a novel to truly delight in.
Elena is investigating someone selling info about werewolves but finds her contacts to be a pair of witches iA wonderful, wonderful sequel to Bitten.
Elena is investigating someone selling info about werewolves but finds her contacts to be a pair of witches instead, wanting to warn her about a secretive organisation who are abducting creatures of the otherworld: witches, shamans, half-demons, who want a vampire - and a werewolf.
After dealing with her incredulity (for some reason, despite being a werewolf herself, she never considered the possibility that there'd be other supernatural races around), she and Jeremy, her Pack Alpha, attend the meeting between the two witches, Ruth and Paige, a shaman called Kenneth, a vampire called Cassandra, and the half-demon Adam. Alliances are formed but Jeremy intends to make his own strike with or without their help - until Elena is taken and locked in an underground cell.
There's more gruesomeness in Stolen, and one horribly sadistic billionaire funding it all. It was actually painful to see a strong, proud person like Elena made to almost grovel in order to stay alive - I so wished she would just tear the place and the people apart, but that would hardly be sensible. Plus I got my wish in the end.
I really saw the similarities between this series and Keri Arthur's Riley Jensen books - Arthur was no doubt greatly inspired by these slightly earlier books, and the influence is there. I love both series but this one is more satisfying in its prose and characters.
Maybe it was because I wasn't expecting much, but it's more likely because the previous couple of books in this genre that I read - Be Still My VampirMaybe it was because I wasn't expecting much, but it's more likely because the previous couple of books in this genre that I read - Be Still My Vampire Heart and Guilty Pleasures - were unremarkable and boring, in that order, that I enjoyed this so much. See, low expectations :)
Lachlain is king of the Lykae and after spending 150 years of imprisonment and torture beneath the streets of Paris breaks free when he smells the scent of the woman he's been waiting all his life for. Almost completely mad, he is horrified to find she's a vampire - a parasite, in his book.
Emmaline is actually half-vampire, half Valkyrie, and has had a very sheltered life. In Paris to discover who her vampire father was, she is overwhelmed and frightened by the monster-man who won't let her out of his sight. And on top of that, she's being hunted by vampires and vampire demons.
This is not a new paranormal romance plotline, but I love what Cole did with it. The beginning reminded me a bit of Jacques in Dark Desire, but Lachlain is so much more appealing and sympathetic. I mean, I felt for him. The car trip reminded me a bit of The Bourne Identity, but is quite fun.
I loved the growing relationship between the two, and how they changed, grew, matured and adapted. Lachlain is dominating and possessive, but makes far more of an effort than any Carpathian in Feehan's books to meet Emma halfway and be less overbearing. He's not smothering, which I like, but is rather very considerate by the end. I thought Emma was going to drive me nuts but she didn't, and I didn't see the ending coming at all - I hate it when a book is so obvious I can predict without wanting or trying to.
It's well written, a similar style and tone to Kathy Love, and the pacing is spot-on. Cole separated perspectives clearly, which I appreciate: it gives you a breather from one character's thoughts and get to see what else is going on without getting confused (something I hate about Feehan's books). A Hunger Like No Other has great passion and a wonderful mix of fantastic creatures and races and history. Will definitely read more of Cole's books!...more
Being a HUGE fan of Cole's Immortals After Dark series, I wanted to try something else by her and this trilogy seemed like the best place to start. SeBeing a HUGE fan of Cole's Immortals After Dark series, I wanted to try something else by her and this trilogy seemed like the best place to start. Set in the 1850s, each follows a different MacCarrick brother in their escapades and love adventures. To create hardened men of them, Cole introduced that old trope, the family curse.
The curse states that the three brothers - Ethan, Hugh and Courtland - cannot marry or have children, and the death of the eldest brother's fiancée seems to have proven it (as did the death of their father directly after the brothers reading the curse for the first time, which it also predicted).
Now the youngest brother, Courtland, is a mercenary fighting for General Renaldo Pascal, an exile from Spain sequestered high in the Pyrenees, plotting his victorious return with his army or deserters. When Court decides he's had enough of the slick, charismatic but double-crossing and devious Pascal, the General tries to have him killed. Escaping by jumping into the river, the current carries his bruised and broken body to the land of Lady Annalia Llorente, who against her better judgement nurses him back to health. There's plenty of chemistry between them, but as long as Annalia sees Courtland as barbaric, dirty, and a thug who kills for money, they turn their energy into confrontations - which are worsened when Courtland's band of Scottish mercenaries descends on her home and takes it over.
With her brother a prisoner of Pascal, Annalia does the only thing she knows to do: give herself up to Pascal. A descendent of the Spanish royal line, Pascal intends to marry Annalia to cement his claim - but is thwarted when Courtland steals her away. With trained assassins hot on their heels - and Annalia's life now in danger - Court decides to take her back to England where he can better protect her, and he knows her brother will follow her there. The journey is not without its dangers but perhaps the worst to Court's peace of mind is when Annalia decides to seduce him.
While I didn't enjoy this as much as Cole's other series, this certainly had her sense of humour and care for historical accuracy stamped all over it, as well as her light romantic touch and her quest for originality within the genre. There is a bit too much arguing and stoic stubbornness for my liking, but it does have logic behind it rather than being just a formulaic device to keep tension high and to bring about a climactic declaration of eternal love. (I can't help it if the genre makes me cynical towards the formula - it's hard not to get tired of something that doesn't even work that well to begin with!)
The setting was certainly different from anything I've read before, and the historical context - Spanish civil war - is also unusual, but definitely welcome. It created a situation of danger and adventure, but there were points where I found my mind wandering. The characters didn't grab me as well as they should have, and the story was so much more straight-forward than what I've come to expect from Cole; there were no twists and layered subplots, so the pace is actually quite slow considering the length of the novel.
It began very strongly but once it was just Courtland and Annalia, my interest waned a bit - I was surprised to find myself wanting more action rather than less, since it can often get in the way of character growth. Annalia had spirit and wasn't above braining an assassin with a rock (that was meant for Court) when the need requires. She was spoilt and classist to begin with, and also troubled with an idea of her deceased mother that she felt she had inherited (namely, that her mother slept with stable boys and that's why she got sent away to Andorra to marry a mean old man, Annalia's father, and later sent away again when caught sleeping with a servant once more) and which she believed gave her a passionate nature that she should try to repress. I always feel rather angry at characters who repress their sensuality and believe it's bad - not their fault, no, but it still makes me mad.
I have less to say about Courtland, who didn't have much of a personality beyond grunting, and that was a big disappointment. His thoughts were fairly repetitive and not terribly interesting, and I had a struggle with his name; it gives me the willies and it's hard to say why. I did like him well enough, and I especially sympathised with his dream of paying off the mortgage on the land he'd bought in Scotland; mercenary work was a means of paying the bills. His brothers, which you get to meet towards the end, seem more interesting. Certainly more intense.
I would still recommend it to fans of historical romance, though - especially if you're more than tired of the Regency period! There's not a lot of sex either, if that's not your cup of tea (unless my idea of "not a lot" is WAY of kilter! ;) ), and there's the kind of detailed description and character development that I love and wish genre fiction had more of. ...more
Richard Mayhew is an ordinary young man working in London, with a fiancee, Jessica, a small flat and a life more-or-less figured out. By Jessica. He'sRichard Mayhew is an ordinary young man working in London, with a fiancee, Jessica, a small flat and a life more-or-less figured out. By Jessica. He's not a particularly brave man, or imaginative, and Jessica has his life all sorted for him.
Everything in his life is turned upside-down - quite literally - when he stumbles across an injured girl on the footpath who asks for his help. Despite Jessica's insistence that he leave her there for someone else to take care of, he carries her back to his flat and at her behest, goes in search of someone called the Marquis de Carabas.
By involving himself in her life, her world, he becomes invisible in his own. After the girl, Door, has gone back to London Below, Richard finds that no one can see him or hear him, that they've removed his desk at work and are renting out his apartment while he's in the bath. Jessica can't remember his name. The only thing left for him to do is seek out Door in London Below and somehow get his life back.
The world of London Below is vivid, labrynthine, confusing, other-worldly, bizarre and smelly. The sewers, the Underground (the Tube) and a vast plane of tunnels, caverns and bunkers form curious homes for curious creatures, most of which Richard has trouble believing are real. To say he's a bit slow would be an understatement.
He gets caught up in her mission to find out why her family was murdered and who wants her dead. Door has a unique talent - she can open any door, can create doors where they weren't before, and someone wants this skill badly enough to send two violent things after her, called Mister Croup and Mister Vandemar. She enlists the aid of a bodyguard, the famous Hunter, and goes on a quest to find the Angel Islington.
-------------------------------------- I can't quite decide if I liked this book, really liked it, or thought it was just ok. It is fast-paced and peopled with numerous eccentric characters, and I did enjoy the book. It won't be a favourite of mine, though. I think, at the end of the day, I really need to know the characters in a book, and feel for them. I grew to like Door, and even Richard (who was never as whiny as Arthur Dent but was pretty annoying at times). de Carabas was a treat, and I loved the Tardis-like quality of the Earl's home on the subway carriage, where the outside is defined and confined but the inside is larger than it should be, things like that. I love the concept of creating doors where there aren't any, and the flat-out bizarreness and unpredictablility of London Below.
The book itself is a bit predictable at times, but not enough to spoil it. One thing that distracted me was that I couldn't tell if they were above ground at times. It seemed like they were, like the first Floating Market that was held in Harrods, it mentions them walking across the pavement, and the second one is held on an old ship. Only, later, Hunter reveals she can't go to London Above. There were a few others spots too where it wasn't clear if they were above or below.
So my main concern with Gaiman - and yes, this is only based on the two books of his that I have read, Stardust being the other - is the mocking way he handles his characters. It makes it hard to really like them, because they're not presented as likeable characters. It also puts a bad taste in my mouth, like Gaiman is scoffing at this story he's written because he's afraid of putting confidence into it in case everyone hates it and leaves him looking silly. I can't really explain the strange, uncomfortable feeling I get reading his books any other way. ...more