And so continues my run of gushing reviews. Actually, reading so many fabulous books in a row is making my review writing life so much harder! I alway...moreAnd so continues my run of gushing reviews. Actually, reading so many fabulous books in a row is making my review writing life so much harder! I always find books I loved the hardest to review, although I don't know what it says about me that I find it easier to rant acerbically than gush lovingly.
The Song of Achilles is told by Patroclus, a young man that finds himself shunned by his father and exiled to live with King Peleus in Phthia. Through the first few chapters, I was immensely frustrated by Patroclus. He's rather wimpy, quite self-pitying and could generally do with a good shake. Achilles, demi-god that he is, positively glows in comparison. As their relationship develops, though, it's this balance that makes them so beautiful to read about; Achilles is the greatest warrior of his generation while Patroclus can barely wield a spear but Patroclus is sensitive where Achilles is almost ignorant. Fiction could do with more couples like them - they don't always agree and aren't blinded by the other's sheer brilliance, they bicker and argue and yet it's clear that they always love each other. Really, the characterisation is impeccable and Achilles and Patroclus may well be my favourite literary couple ever.
I also loved the angle from which I got to read about the mythology surrounding the Trojan War. I knew roughly why it started ("the face that launched a thousand ships" and all that...) and I'd been beaten over the head with the story of the Trojan horse at school but I'd never thought that the myth would stretch to the actual fighting of the war that spanned years and with which the Gods persisted in interfering. The fraying tempers of Achilles and Patroclus after days of fighting on the sand and the bitter rivalries between the various Greek kings there to make their name made the story of a war very gripping and very moving indeed.
For a story with a hefty cast of characters, there are still many that stand out (other than Patroclus and Achilles, obviously). There are gods, demi-gods and mortal kings, warriors and sons, many with names that are not too dissimilar. After a few chapters, though, the characters are chiselled out enough that they're easy to keep straight. A special mention should also go to Odysseus. His wit and intelligence make him as light a relief as you're likely to find on a battlefield and I would be one of the first in the queue to buy a book that followed this particular representation of Odysseus through the end of the Trojan War and his voyage home.
In the interests of balance, I've sat and tried to come up with some downsides. I suppose that there are a couple of sex scenes that might offend particularly sensitive readers. Sorry but that's the best (worst?) I can come up with.
I read the last few chapters through the blur of tears. Actually, that makes it sound as though I welled up in a dignified and elegant manner. I didn't. I was pretty much sobbing my way through the final pages, eyes and nose streaming while I tried my best to breathe without snorting too badly. Unattractive stuff but a sure fire sign that The Song of Achilles had burrowed its way under my skin and wasn't going to move on without a fight. I had an idea of what was coming and still Madeline Miller managed to break my heart.
Overall: If you want your heart trodden upon by human and god alike, this is the book for you. If you own a copy of this and haven't read it yet, go and rescue it from your shelves and start it this weekend. Truly, epicly wonderful.
I liked the first instalment in this series, Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, quite a lot. If I had any criticisms of that book, they were that...moreI liked the first instalment in this series, Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, quite a lot. If I had any criticisms of that book, they were that Percy's voice as he narrated the story seemed a bit younger than he was supposed to be and that the character development could probably have been a bit stronger. I loved the story and the twists on Greek mythology but felt a bit...disconnected from such young characters. With The Sea of Monsters, Riordan has strengthened his characters and allowed Percy to grow up a bit without moving too far away from what made The Lightning Thief great. The same nods to mythology but a book I found much easier to enjoy.
Part of the shift up is probably owed no more than to the fact that this is the second in a five-part series. Readers have a bit of background with Percy and Camp Half-Blood and its residents so there weren't any over-engineered social situations to introduce the students to one another. On the flip side, it's clear that Riordan's in no rush to stride through an over-arching story; there is some development of the series but there's also plenty of time for fighting Cyclops, evading harpies and navigating the perils of the Sea of Monsters.
Riordan's relaxed writing style complements the fun side of his books perfectly. The sentences and chapters are short and snappy and the dialogue has what seems to me (knowing no teenagers at all as I do) a quite authentic, cheeky teenage feel. When the story gets going (which doesn't take long) that 'just one more chapter' quality that we always hear so much about kicks in. They're only short books so they're ideal for racing through in big chunks on weekend mornings.
For the most part, I loved the development of the characters' relationships in The Sea of Monsters. Because of the age group that it feels as though the story is aimed at, the focus is on friendships rather than romance and it's a surprisingly pleasant change. There are some hints at a budding romance but in a fairly innocent, child-like way, emerging from a strong friendship. I know, love born out of friendship, what a ridiculous idea...The main new introduction to the series (I assume) here is Tyson, a slightly slow, hulk of a teenager who would do anything to protect those he cares about. I don't want to stray into spoiler territory but the way that Percy handles his relationship with Tyson is weak and selfish. I get that what younger readers might be getting is a lesson in loyalty and such like but the way Percy behaves towards Tyson at times made my heart hurt for him. Then again, the fact that I cared enough to mention it is probably actually a good thing? *sigh* Oh, Tyson...
Read The Lightning Thief and not yet ventured on to The Sea of Monsters? You don't need to worry - it's easily as good and I'm looking forward to picking up The Titan's Curse and getting wrapped up in another quest before too long.
Overall: The best thing about this book is that it doesn't take itself too seriously or have any dillusions of grandeur. The Sea of Monsters is good, honest fun and part of a series that I would love to be able to share with younger children just getting into reading; one of few series that I would confidently recommend for both genders and parents and children alike.
I'm not sure what I expected when I started 11.22.63. I don't have a lot of experience of King's work, largely because I imagine his to be the kind of...moreI'm not sure what I expected when I started 11.22.63. I don't have a lot of experience of King's work, largely because I imagine his to be the kind of books that would leave me shaking in a corner and gibbering to myself. Whatever I was expecting, I wasn't prepared for it to be so...sensitive. Sure, there was action and a fair dose of the sinister but there were also devastatingly believable romance and genuinely heart-warming friendships. Clearly there is a lot more to Stephen King as a writer than I had been giving him credit for.
As with much historical fiction, I was wary about straying into a period - you either find yourself learning about a whole new period or you end up bemused. Thankfully, King has assumed no prior knowledge. His research has obviously been painstakingly carried out and the detail is astounding. Woven skilfully into Jake's story are a plethora of historical and political points and anecdotes that enhance the story, rather than diverting from it. I genuinely feel as though I know a lot more about the period leading up to President Kennedy's assassination. It would have been easy to have Jake feign ignorance on the basis that he isn't from the 50s or 60s but King doesn't once take the easy road and I have a great deal more respect for him as an author than I did before.
With all the detail floating around, you might think that you're in for a bit of a stodgy ride. Not so. Jake's story and the stories of those he meets are very personal, moving and gripping and I came to care very much what happened to each and every one of them. Even the prologue-type section made my heart hurt and brought tears to my eyes. Jake meets a heck of a lot of people on his sojourn into the past and every single one has a place in the overall story. The kind of characters that you miss when you've finished the book.
I think what I was aware of most when I started reading 11.22.63 was how time-travel stories are difficult ones to get right - there are countless things that can go horribly wrong and/or seem ridiculous. As much time as went into researching the history must have gone into thinking through the implications of Jake's time travelling. It's hard to gush openly about why I thought it was so clever and how much I loved reading about it without getting spoilery so I'll just say that it's smart and well done and I didn't do any eye rolling or thinking of "Pfft - how silly".
Incidentally, little experience though I have, I'm fairly sure that there are some "rewards" for King's more loyal fan base. Some way through the story, Jake finds himself in Derry, a town that has been plagued by a spate of murders seemingly perpetrated by someone or something lurking in the sewers. I am not (nor will I ever be) an expert on King's horror novels but I'm fairly sure that there are quite a few references to events from It. So if you like King and like books where you get to feel like part of the in-crowd, you'll like this. But actually, if you like King that much, you'll probably already have read this...so really this is just to prove that I was awake enough to spot the neat blending than anything else...*shrugs*
Overall: There is nothing in this book that is out of place. Nothing at all. I can only imagine how much work must have gone into writing it but the effect is something really quite extraordinary. 740 pages without one moment where I wanted to hurry things along or one detail that I wasn't convinced fit? Masterful.
I've had half an eye on this series for a while now but was a little dubious about it at the same time. Sherlock H...moreFirst published atLit Addicted Brit
I've had half an eye on this series for a while now but was a little dubious about it at the same time. Sherlock Holmes is so iconic that playing around with the characters and the stories with which so many people are familiar is always a risky business. Then it appeared in an eBook sale for £1.99 and my arm was twisted. Fortunately, King blends just the right amount of the traditional with the new and creates something that is really rather good.
The opening is a little strange and sets up an unnecessary "Oh, look at these manuscripts I have found in this random abandoned trunk - it looks as though they are telling stories about Sherlock Holmes" premise. Since the rest of the book is told very strongly in Mary Russell's voice, I just don't see the point of starting out on such a weak note. If you pick this up and are put off by the first chapter or so, just ignore it. It's not referred to again so you wouldn't be missing anything at all by skipping it entirely (which is not something that I would usually condone).
So, characters. A lot of them are obviously familiar - as well as Sherlock Holmes, there are also cameos by Dr Watson and Sherlock's brother, Mycroft Holmes. Each of them is subtly different to the "originals", though, which didn't bother me because it works and means that King is free to develop her story without trying to stick too rigidly to the Conan Doyle's outline. The obvious key addition is Mary Russell. I loved Mary. I read one review that criticised her as "too intelligent" - you're reading a book about Sherlock Holmes! Genius is the whole point! She stands up to Sherlock Holmes in a way that doesn't make her seem petty and ridiculous because she's so intelligent. Watching an idiot verbally spar with him would just be embarrassing. She also has a quite sarcastic sense of humour that has her challenging her male counterparts with style. That reads as though I have a bit of a girl crush on her, actually, doesn't it...?
The plot wasn't quite what I was expecting but it was a nice surprise. From the afternoon that Mary trips over Sherlock Holmes while walking and reading at the same time (a feat of co-ordination I will not be attempting!), they strike up a friendship that morphs into an apprenticeship and eventually into partnership. As Mary is learning from the master, she ends up solving petty crimes and smaller mysteries in her local area under Holmes' watchful eye. An over-arching mystery does materialise though, with some neat links to earlier events that keep it from being too much like a series of random events. Because I am a nerd, I liked reading about the methods of detection and watching the characters and their relationships develop but those of you looking for a more traditional mystery story with just one cheeky villain might be a little frustrated by all of the meandering.
In amongst the fake beards, rogues and adventuring, there is also some lovely writing. Mary's narration is completely charming and King has done a really remarkable job of ageing her as the story goes - the tone of the early chapters is that of a precocious teenager and it gradually grows in maturity throughout Mary's time at Oxford University and beyond. Younger Mary and Sherlock Holmes banter about in a witty and entertaining fashion, while mature-Mary is a little more introspective and serious:
"The First World War has deteriorated into a handful of quaint songs and sepia images, occasionally powerful but immeasurably distant; there is death in that war, but no blood. The twenties have become a caricature, the clothing we wore is now in museums, and those of us who remember the beginnings of this godforsaken century are beginning to falter. With us will go our memories." [Page 12 in my eBook copy]
Oh, and the more eagle-eyed Sherlock Holmes fans might be wondering how he has managed to retire to keeping bees in the country after the ending of The Final Solution. It is mentioned and explained after a fashion but the explanation isn't particularly substantial so if you're prone to finding such things irritating, you have been warned :)
Overall: So far there are 12 books in this series, all of which I will hunt down and devour happily if they are as good as this one. The Beekeeper's Apprentice maybe won't sit well with devout Sir Conan Doyle fans but if you can stand to look slightly differently at the famous detective and his friends and family, you're in for a treat.(less)
I kind of hate it when I come across a synopsis that so perfectly describes a book because I then try in vain for...moreFirst published at Lit Addicted Brit
I kind of hate it when I come across a synopsis that so perfectly describes a book because I then try in vain for ages trying to come up with something better. Or even as good. Wise, compassionate, haunting, wildly entertaining and disturbing. The Penelopiad really is all of those things at the same time and it's a heady mix.
I originally 'picked up' (i.e. loaded up on my eReader) The Penelopiad because it combined two of my favourite bookish things of 2013 so far: Margaret Atwood and twists on Greek mythology. It turned out to be a riot of literary forms, styles and techniques and has firmly cemented Margaret Atwood onto my list of favourite authors.
Telling the story of Odysseus' wife, Penelope, this glorious novel moves from verse to prose, Ancient Greece to the modern day and from comedy to pathos without ever feeling scattered or disjointed. In some ways, it's more like a collection of short works of fiction on a common theme, tied together by a single voice. There were styles and sections that I preferred to others (as with any collection of short stories and the like) - generally speaking, I'm not a huge fan of poetry so, although I actually did find the verse/song sections more enjoyable than I expected, I still preferred the prose.
Penelope's perspective of Odysseus' questing and Helen of Troy's beauty is witty, self-deprecating and really very entertaining. After years spent in her cousin's shadow and playing second fiddle to her husband's love of a good war, she's wryly bitter:
"If you were a magician, messing around in the dark arts and risking your soul, would you want to conjur up a plain but smart wife who'd been good at weaving and had never transgressed, instead of a woman who'd driven hundreds of men mad with lust and had cause a great city to go up in flames?
Neither would I" [Page 21 of 119 of my eBook edition]
Still suffering from unfavourable comparisons in the underworld, Penelope is sarcastic, biting and funny. I really loved her and was dying to drag her off the pages, listen to her rant about her wayward husband and the nastiness of men in general and then give her a big hug. I know that it's supposed to be the 'lowest form of wit' and all but I will always love characters who are liberal with the sarcasm. The sarkier the better, to be honest.
There's really not much more to say really. A feminist view on a classic myth with a hefty dose of snark. I've read some reviews that dismiss the book as too much of a mish-mash of styles or as somehow unfaithful to the myth on which it is based. I couldn't disagree more; The Penelopiad is almost a companion to the original, breathing life into those that were left behind while their husbands were off battling for a golden fleece or trying to outsmart a cyclops or two. Cracking stuff.
Overall: I know it's a cliché but here it's true - there really is something for everyone. It's a quick read (the eBook is 119 pages) but has plenty to keep you interested with a plethora of clever turns of phrase and creative spins on a familiar story that make it prime for re-reading. Highly, highly recommended and part of a set of twists on myths (Canongate myths) that I can't wait to explore more.(less)