"Is Kris the last man on Earth? Why does he live in a shack on a lonely Norfolk beach? What happened to the love of his life Samantha? How does he sur
"Is Kris the last man on Earth? Why does he live in a shack on a lonely Norfolk beach? What happened to the love of his life Samantha? How does he survive alone in a desolate England populated by packs of wild dogs? What event caused everyone to disappear? And ultimately, will Kris die alone with no one to read his story?"
This is a book about what it means to be human. Through first person narrative the reader follows Kris, an unassuming museum curator who suddenly finds himself completely alone. The narrative describes a bleak and difficult existence with the daily struggle just to survive forming the backdrop of the story. The main character discovers reserves of strength and resourcefulness within himself, and it is clear that he is now an entirely different person to the one who existed before the apocalyptic "event". But Kris also makes it clear that just surviving is not enough: he has a need to be with other people which is the driving force of the narrative.
Kris's search for other survivors, while recounting memories of his relationship with his girlfriend, Samantha, define his story. Kris spends a great deal of time reflecting on how he relates to other people and consequently how he defines himself. He struggles to give context to his life by creating the narrative, in the hope that someone may find his story and finally give his existence some meaning.
The character of Kris is well-drawn, and through his reminiscences his girlfriend Samantha comes to live vividly on the page. It's a difficult job for one character to carry off the entire narrative, but Kris's honest ramblings do just that.
I enjoyed the narrative style. Kris's story is written in a series of narrative fragments which give a "stream of consciousness" effect and effectively lay bare the character of Kris. The narrative consequently dwells on issues important to him: less about why he is here and more about who he is.
Kris is a man who is trying to relate to his own existence, and for me the best parts of the book are the small interstitial sections which make it clear that someone has found Kris's story, and is using it to try and make sense of their own existence.
My thanks to Guy for sending me a copy of his book.
"Agents of "Chaos" picks up right where book 1 left off, and stays true to the fast paced, excitingMy thanks to Guy for sending me a copy of his book.
"Agents of "Chaos" picks up right where book 1 left off, and stays true to the fast paced, exciting original. If Book 1 showed Calvin being constantly pushed outside his comfort zone, Book 2 shows how he copes when he is almost entirely alone.
This book broadly follows the same set of characters from Book 1 as they cope with their new circumstances: Calvin as a hunted man, Ronni as a disfigured bounty hunter and Elena as a critically injured fugitive.
I like the way that Calvin's world isn't self-contained, and using his super-powers has consequences. There are some really sharp early sections to the book in which using his powers to escape his pursuers, or to avert an incident, causes Calvin to expose himself to accusations of terrorism. Moreover, his separate acts of super-heroism have been linked, creating danger for him in many major cities.
The book has an atmosphere of the stakes being raised: the pace is relentless, the clashes between the agents and the bounty hunters are gripping. There are inventive scenes with the bounty hunters (most memorably and horrifically at the beach house) and the increased danger associated with Calvin using his powers means he has to think of even more inventive ways of escaping. This stops the book from stagnating, or becoming a re-hash of book 1.
I felt that some aspects of the work stretched credibility: for example, the idea that the Agency of Justice has placed tracking devices inside every newly manufactured car in the world. Still I loved the way the devices themselves made it very difficult for Calvin to evade capture.
I thought some of the female characters such as Ronni and Elena got some nice development in this book, although I felt it was a shame that the Astrid character came along as it stunted the really good work done on the relationship between Elena and Calvin.
As a continuation of book 1 this doesn't disappoint and the ending of the book nicely sets up for a terrific sequel.
This series is moving from strength to strength, and I'm looking forward to reading book 3!...more
This isn't the type of book I would normally choose for myself, but I found it to be an enjoyable and profound study of a man trying to make sense of This isn't the type of book I would normally choose for myself, but I found it to be an enjoyable and profound study of a man trying to make sense of the chaos in his life.
The protagonist, David, and his wife Kaori, live respectable lives as teachers in Japan. After each has their own health scare, they take a journey to Europe to rediscover the past. We relive with David his wild and adventurous youth, and see the turmoil of his life's events. As the couple travel from Amsterdam and down through Europe, the influence of several characters on David's view of his life becomes clear, and we begin to see how he lived through such unsettling times, how his ideas and beliefs shaped his actions, and how he eventually came to settle with Kaori.
David is an interesting protagonist. His experiences are clearly drawn from the writer's own life, and they are the richer for it. The descriptions set in the military prison, and the aftermath of David's release into society, are poignantly drawn and contain a great deal of detail, with vivid characters and well-drawn events. David's reminiscences are the central focus of the work, and though the majority of his experiences are difficult and even frightening, the book is never maudlin or monotonous. The tone is of a man trying to understand, rather than wallowing and even in the prison, there is humour.
The narrative devices employed in the novel feel innovative and appropriate to the work: Many of David's reminiscenses take place whilst he is under the influence of drugs and alcohol, and the prose has an Hesse-esque stream-of-consciousness feel that lets David ramble through his memories and thoughts free of inhibition or structure, and analyse the shapes and patterns that appear.
I enjoyed the way David used his cultural tour of Europe to help work through the events of his life. How he relates to the art and literature he encounters shapes his responses to his memories, and the influence each has on the other culminate in the "ghost" scenes.
This is a book with profound insight into the self, and I thoroughly recommend it....more
This is a book about what children do to other children when they sense weakness, vulnerability, and difference.
in "Xanadu House" Rachael is again forThis is a book about what children do to other children when they sense weakness, vulnerability, and difference.
in "Xanadu House" Rachael is again forcibly removed from her home and the remnants of her family, and thrown into the world of The Exotics. This time she goes not only as their champion, but as one of them. As she begins her bizarre transformation into a gecko Rachael demonstrates that familiar knack for accepting a weird truth, and using it to her advantage. In another writer's hands this could have ended up as an angst-ridden tale about the misery of being a supernatural creature, but De Kenyon makes it a rip-roaring tale about a little girl who will always fight for what's right.
Children everywhere will be familiar with the type of school Rachael moves to. They will know bullies such as Toni and Sergie and they will have felt exasperation at teachers like Mrs Q, who never seem to see the bullies carrying out their mean tricks, but look up at exactly the right moment to see Rachael retaliate. They will also be familiar with Mickey, who knows the difference between right and wrong but is too weak to stand up to his friends. The fantastical events of the book are rooted in the very real everyday troubles and triumphs of ordinary children. Kids will empathise with Babra's attempts to escape the bullies, and absolutely love Rachael's disgusting plan to get back at them.
Rachael is as strong in Book 2 as she was in Book 1: she has firm ideas about right and wrong and never lets the fact that she is up against stronger opponents deflect her from her determination to get justice for her friends. As an adult reader I found it extremely interesting that as the book progresses Rachael ends up taking on not only the children, but also their parents. The idea that the intolerance and cruelty of Toni and Sergie are rooted in the hate-filled philosophy of their parents is a brilliant piece of social commentary, and it is very telling that the most violent acts of aggression are perpetrated by the adults.
This is an action-packed, fun book filled with the type of imaginative (and at times gross) adventures I've come to expect from De's writing. The book is never predictable or patronising and the story itself concludes by neatly setting up the next book in the series. Children's books don't get much better than this....more
"Lilith" is the second installment in what is rapidly becoming the "Wild Child" series. It's a fast-paced, well plotted follow-up which delivers answe"Lilith" is the second installment in what is rapidly becoming the "Wild Child" series. It's a fast-paced, well plotted follow-up which delivers answers to many of the questions and mysteries from Book 1, whilst posing new questions for Book 3.
The stakes are raised in "Lilith": now more lives are at stake than just Briana's and the fallout from the incident on the lake threatens to overwhelm even the two agents, Brawn and Brains. As the characters grow into their new circumstances it's satisfying to see that they still stay true to their roots in Book 1.
I was a huge fan of Kyle's character journey in Book 1 and I thought he developed well in Book 2. He still can't get past the idea that the accident was his fault: he is consumed by guilt and is desperate to make everything better. He knows he made huge mistakes but won't let Briana shoulder any responsibility for what happened. His constant need to atone manifests itself in an urge to take control but because he hasn't learned to trust Briana's instincts about her condition, and because he is unable to read the game of cat-and-mouse with the agents, he makes further, deadly mistakes.
There's a fantastic contrast in this book between adaptability and inflexibility. Kyle is inflexible and mired in his own misplaced guilt. He stubbornly sticks to his approach from Book 1- keeping Brie away from the Green water and keeping everyone else away from her. But as it is increasingly clear that Briana needs the water to live his attempts to "help" her result in increased risk of discovery. Briana is better able to understand the people she places trust in, and it is her actions that bring about the finale of the novel, not Kyle's. As Kyle controlled the finale of Book 1, the transfer of power in their relationship is almost complete. Whilst Kyle fights against the situation and tries to restore the status quo, everyone else adapts to take advantage of or mitigate the situation.
The shifting power dynamic between Brie and Kyle is again explored in this book: Brie is once again powerful, adaptable, and independent. She is beginning to carve out an independent existence for herself. In Book 1 she needed Kyle to help her get back to the water, and to elude discovery. Now, although she values her friend, she doesn't need to rely on him any more. In "Lilith" Kyle isn't the only person who needs to come to terms with the consequences of actions from Book 1.
Guilt and redemption are recurring themes and there are some strong scenes with Kyle's father working through his own guilt, trying to repair the damage caused.
In Book 1 the idea of conflict was a central theme: Characters pulled against each other instead of working together, and in Book 2 the character Lilith neatly steps into the gap to exploit all of the differences between characters across multiple storylines. As a catalyst for the story Lilith is powerful. Her presence is often felt but seldom seen. Lilith causes conflict between Briana and Kyle and pushes their story towards its crisis point. Her air of mystery, manipulation and menace also cleverly weave into the Brawn/Brains plotline to create a sense of urgency to their goals, and a small amount of sympathy for their predicament. They are starting to become more human.
Mike's writing style is gripping and fast-paced as usual, and the tension has been ramped up in preparation for Book 3. This is a sequel which expands on the story and characters. It begins to flesh out a rich story which continues to move in unexpected directions, whilst remaining true to its roots....more
This is a subtle, poignant novel about the relationships between white and black in 1960s Mississippi. But it is also about the complex world of emploThis is a subtle, poignant novel about the relationships between white and black in 1960s Mississippi. But it is also about the complex world of employer and employee, where the black maids know all of the Society Ladies' secrets, but their employers know next to nothing about them.
Stockett depicts a sweltering, tense, segregated town which is mired in the oppression and abuse of the time; the gentle narrative exposes its ugliness whilst simultaneously highlighting the love, support and hope between individuals in both communities. Much is made of the incident in which white thugs blind Robert, but the black community's support for Louvenia is touching and LouAnne's own quiet contribution is one of the stand-out sections of the book.
These are simple stories, powerfully told. Stockett uses a first-person narrative to tell events from the point of view of three characters: gentle Aibileen, militant Minny, and misfit Skeeter. Each voice is clearly defined and has its own point to make: Aibileen's narrative is a gentle study of love between mother and child, nurse and ward. Minny's story is a study of rebellion against different people and ideals, while Skeeter tells a story about the pain of living in a world that feels wrong. I've read criticism of some of the supportive characters, some people felt they couldn't see the "point" of characters such as Celia, who don't advance the story. But there doesn't have to be a "point" to Celia. This is a character-driven narrative, where the relationships and interactions between the individuals is the central thesis of the book.
As the three women embark upon their project the sense of danger is palpable, and this intensifies throughout the book. The reader is reminded at every point that the women, especially the maids, are taking a deadly risk in pursuing their goal. The suspense and tension are well drawn, and the resolution is satisfying.
One of the most powerful themes in the book is that of influence: Hilly's baleful influence over the Society Ladies; Minny's power over Hilly; Aibileen's and Minny's subtle influence over each other; Johnny's devotion to Celia; Senator Whitworth's unconscious power over the "Patricia" situation; Charlotte's influence over Constantine and Constantine's effect on Skeeter. The novel explores the causes and effects of people exerting the force of their personalities and values over others, for good and ill.
In the opening third of the book the lines of influence are powerful, but as the book progresses unseen lines of rebellion come to the fore.
Throughout the second half of the book we get to see whether people choose to move against the status quo and if so, how. We can judge Elizabeth's spinelessness: she values Aibileen but is too afraid of Hilly to assert her preferences in her own home. We can applaud LouAnne who always seemed insipid, but is revealed to have a steel of her own. And we can see the impact of the fulfilment of the project in both communities. But as a study of rebellion, the most memorable event in the book has to be Minny's awe-inspiring "Terrible Awful", her revenge on Queen Bee Hilly. The horror and comedy in the culmination of Minny's "sass-mouthing" juxtaposes wonderfully with the more weighty issues in the work.
This is also a book about people in difficult times hiding behind stronger people. I've already mentioned Elizabeth: she hides behind Hilly and implements her cruel initiatives, despite at times seeming to hold affection for Aibileen. Skeeter hides behind Aibileen for the Miss Myrna column, but Aibileen also hides behind Skeeter, as the white face needed to write the column. Celia tries to hide behind Minny in order to please Johnny. But the most touching instance again involves larger-than-life Minny, who sacrifices herself and hides the maids behind her "Terrible Awful", in order that the full consequences of the book fall only on her.
The best section of the book, to my mind, was the section dealing with the Benefit. The relationships between all of the women are stretched to breaking point and no-one is seen at their best. The scene perfectly illustrates the tension between individuals and between the races as a whole but is tinged with the comedy of Celia's drunken appearance and the start of Hilly's decline.
Ultimately, this is a book about women and how they relate to each other as mothers, daughters, employers, employees, friends, accomplices and enemies. Although men such as Leroy and Senator Whitworth command power on the periphery of the story, the central changes in the book, the hope and misery, come from the women.
This book is primarily described as a book about racial tension and the fight for social justice but it is also about the differences and similarities between women and the power they have to shape their world. I thoroughly enjoyed it....more
Guy Harrison's espionage thriller is a fast-paced exploration of corruption and abuse of power. The central character, Calvin, is isolated from his liGuy Harrison's espionage thriller is a fast-paced exploration of corruption and abuse of power. The central character, Calvin, is isolated from his life through his induction into the Agency of Influence. He is then isolated from this new world when he is accused of murder. Calvin's journey is a simple but powerful one: he is a man being pushed continually out of his comfort zone. When he takes action he doesn't try to regain his old life, he seeks to push his enemies out of their own comfort zones and create a new world order. It's an exciting story packed with twists, disasters and suspense.
Calvin's characterisation emphasises his incongruity with each new environment: he doesn't conform to stereotypes or cliched modes of behaviour, and this pushes his character towards being more original than your average super-spy. On occasion I found the passages expanding his character to be a little clumsy and detail-heavy, with exposition which was unnecessary, as Calvin's actions speak for themselves.
Calvin's induction into the Agency is vivid and imaginative: imbued with special abilities and a specific agenda Calvin's foray into his new existence is intriguing. I did however find that throwing him into heavy cases in a "field" situation with nothing but an instruction manual stretched credibility. Of course it chimes with the wider theme of Calvin being given no support by his agency, and even being set up for failure, but it still seemed to be a little precipitate in the induction process. I likewise found the "influence" exerted over Carla Andrews to be disproportionate to the relationship established with her, and her new determination was at odds with her previous indolence and depression, with insufficient cause to change.
Calvin is a strong character who drives the narrative well, but from a feminist point of view I found the supporting cast of female characters to be a little lacklustre. They are either evil or cold, but as Calvin is usually the focus of attention their deficiencies aren't too distracting.
The powers used by the two agencies add a different dimension to the espionage genre. They are simple but well depicted, and they grow into the central theme and argument of the novel: the nature of power, how people use it and how it uses them.
This is book one in a forthcoming series, and it ably establishes Calvin, the two opposing agencies, and the world caught between them. It's an exciting thriller with plenty of surprises....more
Oh my actual God, this is like, so the worst book I have ever read? and the publishers should, like, totally of been done for false advertising for thOh my actual God, this is like, so the worst book I have ever read? and the publishers should, like, totally of been done for false advertising for that title? Cos it's like, not a tiny bit marvellous. It's like, total wonk? And stuff?
If reading that paragraph set your teeth on edge then I recommend you steer well clear of Dawn French's debut novel. It's a tepid journey through a series of dull events narrated by one-dimensional characters and finished with a "twist" which is about as subtle as being hit in the face with a sledgehammer.
The book is told in a series of head-hopping diary entries: Boring Mum Mo, irritating teen Dora and superfluous dandy Peter/Oscar. As each chapter is told from a different point of view none of the characters have time to develop, and they start and end the book as shallow stereotypes, lacking any form of complexity or growth.
The banal personalities of the characters are rendered even more dull by their bland stories. No doubt Dawn French thought she was tapping into the "Everyman" factor with her characters: depicting events and scenes to which we can all relate. The result is hackneyed, predictable, boring, and lacking insight. Allow me to illustrate:
Dora is an irritating 17-year-old who speaks and acts like a 13 year old (like, so totally, like wak?). She's finishing her A Levels and she thinks the world hates her. Yawn. She "learns" that people aren't what they seem, and that her family loves her after all. Yawn.
Mo is approaching her 50th birthday and is worried about growing old. She is a child psychologist without a clue about her own children. Yawn. A younger man shows interest in her and she wonders whether or not to go off with him. Yawn. She "learns" that people aren't what they seem, and you have to be happy with what you've got.
Peter/Oscar has the beginnings of being a promising character. He is 16 and is fixated with Oscar Wilde. But the fixation extends only to being gay, and dressing and speaking like a dandy. He doesn't actually seem to have read any of Wilde's works, or to link in to any of Wilde's main themes. He "learns" that people aren't what they seem, and true love can be hiding just under one's nose. His inclusion seemed to function as a lazy attempt to nudge the book towards the genre of "literary fiction." As Dora would say: "Yeah, like totally not. You wonk."
The work is boring: the theme of a dysfunctional family is well-worn and Dawn French offers no fresh insight with her obvious characters, limp themes and cliched prose.
I have often ventured the opinion that Dawn French is one of the least funny people to have appeared on television in the last twenty years, and this novel did nothing to raise my opinion of her. The humour in the book falls flat, relying as it does on stereotypes and "comic" speech patterns which just end up being irritating.
If you don't believe me, I will furnish you with one further example. This is how subtle, complex and highbrow the humour in the book gets: The dog is called Poo.
If this book had been written by anyone other than a "celebrity" it would never have seen the light of day. Amazon and Goodreads allow you to give 1* as the lowest possible rating, but I feel this would be too generous as there is nothing about the novel that makes it worth that star...more
This is a short, sharp punchy introduction to the "Exotics" series, which follows Rachael Baptiste as she tries to unravel the secrets behind her mothThis is a short, sharp punchy introduction to the "Exotics" series, which follows Rachael Baptiste as she tries to unravel the secrets behind her mother's disappearance.
In Rachael the author De Kenyon has drawn a heroine who is intelligent, brave, fierce and loyal. Rachael is superb: she is an open-minded girl who is able to accept bizarre truths about her existence and the world around her, and uses her new-found knowledge to influence the situations into which she stumbles.
I liked the way that Rachael (who is after all only eight) is unable to deal with the enormity of her mother's disappearance: she frequently "tries not to think" about it, and states early on that she can't do anything about it. But when she is pitched into the world of the Exotics Rachael finds she actually can do something about it, and works relentlessly to free her friends and protect her mother's secrets. Like so many of De's child-protagonists Rachel is on her own, an outsider making her way in a world of the bizarre, often pitted against adults. De doesn't write passive characters and Rachael is no exception. She's faced with the smallest glimmer of hope in an otherwise impossible scenario and not only does she come up fighting but she learns how to win.
Rachael's friend Raul introduces us to the world of the Exotics, but it is Rachael who takes charge and drives the story, sorting out friend from foe and hatching a variety of escape plots to set the scene and the tone of the series.
The story itself is fast-paced and imaginative with the ship and its denizens painted in broad, vivid strokes to create a realistic conflict within its world.
"The Floating Menagerie" serves its purpose as Book One: its own story arc is concluded but wider questions are left unanswered, paving the way for the rest of the series.
De Kenyon writes for children with the creativity of Roald Dahl and the surrealism of Lewis Carroll. This book is exciting and challenging, and everything a children's book should be....more
Will McIlroy told me that "Mischief" was written "to fulfill a lifelong urge to merge a writer's instinct with a love of history" and from the openingWill McIlroy told me that "Mischief" was written "to fulfill a lifelong urge to merge a writer's instinct with a love of history" and from the opening sequence of the Royal Oak disaster through personal documents sent between Churchill and Roosevelt, to the Blitz and the final plan to move technology to the United States, this love of history shines through. I have little interest in fiction centred around World War 2 as I tend to find few "new" angles on the subject, but McIlroy's book rendered some of the main events around the "Phony War" and "The Blitz" interesting and engaging. Through his accessible style in writing about the period I felt that I learned a great deal and these passages were the most engaging and interesting in the novel.
The focal point of the narrative lies in the struggle between the MI5 agent Kast and the enemy Spy. I felt that there were some clever nuances to their battle, and antagonist and protagonist were true to the books' themes of duality and duplicity. The British Spy, Richard Kast, is a half-German who spent a great deal of time undercover in Oswald Mosley's black shirts. The enemy Spy is an Englishman, a Londoner born and bred who spent his life on and behind the stage. These salient character traits are typical of the work: people aren't quite what they seem, they don't act in the way the reader, or other characters expect them to, and in a world beset with shifting lines of allegiance these two characters alone are honest to their causes. I felt that the work would have benefited from showing more of the workings of the Spy: he was more engaging and better drawn than Kast, and their conflict would have felt more equal and tense if McIlroy had portrayed more than the occasional teasers of his existence.
The secondary characters are a movable feast of morality. There was little to distinguish Biddles and Woodley, the two MI5 section chiefs who were more interested in political one-upmanship than working together to win the war. This type of destructive relationship is typical of the characters: rather than working together to defeat a common enemy, characters are caught up in petty feuds and use others as pawns in the battle.
The overriding theme of the book is that the characters cannot trust anybody around them, even those on their own side. Kast can trust neither Woodley nor Biddles, the Spy can't trust Alistair, Johanna can't trust Hermida and no one can trust Llewellyn.
I felt that the best drawn characters were the Spy and Llewellyn, both of whom were under-used. The strong portrayal of Vicars and his wife made their section of the book honest, reflective and gently effective. At times I felt the other characters needed a little differentiation from each other and their dialogue felt overly formal even in the most heated situations which made it difficult to empathise with them as separate personalities.
Overall I felt the book was at its strongest and most confident when exploring historical events along with their causes and implications, and weaving the fictional characters into the incidents. The stand-alone narrative would benefit from a tighter edit to sharpen the dialogue and increase the narrative tension. There were a few anachronisms with British life, such as the clock "clue" in the Watchmaker's house (where the hands are stopped at 10:14, supposedly signifying the date as 14th October, which is not how the British express a numerical date) and the odd sentence structure utilised by the Londoners grated as it rests on a misconceived cliche about British speech patterns.
I enjoyed McIlroy's afterword, which put the story into its historical context and summarised the key factual events upon which the narrative is based. McIlroy then states: "History well told is never simple. My intent is for the novel to accurately portray the complicated social, political, military and economic conditions of 1939-1940 and the fervent if often misguided emotions on both sides. The war was an awful necessity and its impact on millions an awful reality."
While I felt that the book was hampered by weaker secondary characters and a heavy narrative, overall I would say that McIlroy succeeded in his intentions and has drawn a vivid and realistic picture of life during the period. I was impressed at the depth of the research and the accessible style of its depiction.
**spoiler alert** These are stories where the kids are in charge. The cohesive family unit is important, but the kids are the ones who are empowered t**spoiler alert** These are stories where the kids are in charge. The cohesive family unit is important, but the kids are the ones who are empowered to save the world. The adults are largely helpless. Astra's Dad is physically helpless, he's been injured and can't work, which forces his daughter to take matters into her own hands. Neil's parents don't know the right way to kill zombies. Cat's parents are frozen with horror as the Sushi monster attacks and Marina's parents are eaten by Nibbles the giant rabbit. These children can walk into a world of the unknown and come up with a way to win. probably the best example of this is Connor, who is absorbed into a world of robots and works out how to win their war. De's characters are flawed, vivid and real. They are gutsy, intelligent and brave. I loved every one of them.
Scary stories for children abound in cliches around what makes something scary. I loved the way De turned these cliches on their heads. The zombies aren't scary: Neil isn't afraid of them, he hates them; and the resurrected class pet isn't scary, it tries to help Dawn and Sampson. In "Which is Bigger, the Moon or an Elephant? And Other Stupid Questions" De explores fear, the nature of scary things and what actually makes them scary. The atmosphere of tension as the children create their costumes is palpable. And in "A Picture is Worth 1000 Chomps" digital pictures on a laptop come to life in terrifying fashion, gobbling up everything in sight before being thwarted. De explores and subverts the conventions of fear, with the result that some of her stories are genuinely scary, whilst others are rib-ticklingly funny.
For her themes De pulls on a range of traditions and genre conventions. "Sushi Monster" and "Bunny Attack" are delightfully B-Movie-esque; whilst "Class Pet" tackles urban myths around ghosts and murdered pets, and "Zombie Girl Invasion" batters the Zombie Apocalypse. It is fantastic to see some aspects of adult genre fiction in there, handily bridging the gap between children's fiction and grown-up fiction, whilst leaving room for reinterpretation.
"The Society of Secret Cats" and "the Last Voyage of the Mermaid" touch on more serious themes: the first story deals with the perennial problem of the child, being trapped in nightmares, and the latter is a truly touching tale of an old man recapturing the imagination of his youth. Imagination is a theme that runs through all of the stories: exploring the effect imagination has on resolving problems and the trouble imagination gets you into. In a couple of cases I felt there was a delicious ambiguity about whether the events were "real" or "imaginary", but in true Lewis Carroll style, the two are interchangeable.
This a fast-paced collection of tightly-plotted stories which any child will read with frightened glee....more
**spoiler alert** I've read mixed to negative reviews of this book, and my opinion is that it contains more intelligence and subtlety than its detract**spoiler alert** I've read mixed to negative reviews of this book, and my opinion is that it contains more intelligence and subtlety than its detractors will allow.
There is a melancholy tone to the story and the narrative proceeds at a simple, understated pace which at intervals expands Rose's idea of the world and forces her to reassess her attitudes to the people around her.
At the start of the book Rose is a self-absorbed nine-year-old who is aware of troubles within her family, but is unfazed and unaffected by them. The discovery of her gift awakens her to the turmoil of feelings within her mother, but also makes her more aware of the troubles of Joseph, her brother, and her father. Rose continues to develop her ideas in relation to her gift, and particularly in relation to her mother but is conflicted between exploring the possibilities of her gift and shielding herself from the pain she inevitably experiences with every meal.
Rose falls into the family pattern of isolation: once she has come to terms with her gift and discovered a way of living with it she reverts to her self-absorption until the discovery of other gifts in her family force her once again to reassess her opinions of their actions, and the nature of her own gift.
As the narrative shifts to focus on Joseph the sense of isolation intensifies. Joseph's struggles push themselves into the forefront of the story, overwhelming even Rose's issues with food, until his part in the story reaches a dramatic conclusion. I enjoyed Joseph's part to the story. This is Rose's tale, about her coming of age and her growing awareness of the people around her, but part of me wanted to hear a little more about Joseph in his own words. I do appreciate, however, that this would have reduced the impact of Rose's final experiences.
Joseph's final disappearance throws into stark relief the family's real problem: it isn't Lane's affair; Mr Edelstein's long working hours or even Rose's gift. It's communication. The individual family members are unable to articulate to each other their pain, their hopes and their worries. At various intervals of the book they have the opportunity to hold honest conversations with each other and alleviate each others' troubles, but they choose not to. Joseph knows about Rose's gift early on, but never discloses his own to her. Mr Edelstein knows he and his father both have "skills", but doesn't spend enough time with his children to discern theirs. Rose tries to explain things to her mother, who is too caught up in Joseph to listen. The issues with conversation are highlighted by Aimee Bender's decision to eschew quotation marks for her dialogue sequences.
A salient theme in the novel is absence: Joseph's frequent disappearances; Mr Edelstein's work; George going away to college; the fact that the most interesting things happen to Mrs Edelstein "off-stage" and this, coupled with the communication issues breed the isolation at the heart of the novel.It is only at the end, when Joseph returns and all gifts are disclosed in full conversation, that Rose comes into possession of the full picture and turns her gift to a positive use, offers her father advice and her brother support.
The simplicity with which this book is written veils more complex layers in the narrative and characters which reveal themselves upon reflection.
If you're looking for a story with well rounded characters and a coherent, logical plot, then this really isn't the bookThis book is perfect nonsense.
If you're looking for a story with well rounded characters and a coherent, logical plot, then this really isn't the book for you. If you've a taste for the bizarre, a talent for willingly suspending your disbelief and a hankering for verbal acrobatics, then this book will make you chortle with glee.
"Alice" is a short book, and this is a short review. My chief enjoyment in this story came from the verbal wranglings between Alice and the people of Wonderland, among which the best is surely the triumphant and memorable scene at the Mad Hatter's Tea Party. The book twists, turns inverts and mocks common phrases and sentiments, challenging some of the universal truths that children are taught to believe without question. The level of wit almost reaches that of Oscar Wilde, and children who read the book are exposed to, and encouraged to emulate, a freedom with language and a lightness of the imagination that can only serve to enrich their literary experiences.
My only complaint against "Alice" is the feeble ending. Alice's abrupt awakening and instant return to normal life undermines the influence of the madcap events in Wonderland. It's possible this is intentional, the "only a dream" idea may have made the book more palatable to straight-laced parents in Lewis Carroll's day. But I felt it was like cramming all of the book's previous exuberance into a box, and tucking it away out of sight. The subsequent daydream of Alice's sister did little to dispel the notion.
Despite this flaw the book is still light years ahead of most children's books today. It is still a classic because it is rich, imaginative, humorous, irreverent and challenging. Everything a book-and especially a children's book- should be.
I couldn't finish this book. The story wasily engaging and in parts humorous or ironic.
The writing style is intensely irritating. The author feels thI couldn't finish this book. The story wasily engaging and in parts humorous or ironic.
The writing style is intensely irritating. The author feels the need to constantly define words in the text. I get that the book is aimed at children, but if he didn't feel the word was appropriate for the target audience he shod have used a different word. If he felt it was appropriate he should have not defined it, but trusted to his readers to either know the word or look it up.
As a child I came across a lot of words I didn't understand. I asked my mother what they meant. She told me to look them up. I did. And now I am confident in reading and in finding out information.
Because of this terrible habit of the author's, which is frequent, and almost never ironic, I will not be reading the rest of the series. It's a shame because I was otherwise prepared to stick with it. ...more
I don't think I have ever had as complex a reaction to a novel as I have to this one.
My immediate and enduring impression of the work is that I don'tI don't think I have ever had as complex a reaction to a novel as I have to this one.
My immediate and enduring impression of the work is that I don't like it. The main character is arrogant, unlikeable and relentlessly lecherous. The early stages of the book are characterised by overblown, adjective-littered pretentious prose, the plot is banal and the occasional lifts from mediocrity are scuppered when plot points are resolved in a mundane fashion, or simply abandoned. The novel seems to intentionally set out to irritate, with distracting footnotes and ridiculous celebrity name-dropping.
But once I began deconstructing the form of the book, I began to understand what Boyd was trying to achieve and though I still do not personally like this book, I have extreme admiration for its construction and the integrity of its message.
Boyd presents us with the diary of an ordinary man, living through the extraordinary events of the 20th century. The diary form, complete with its "edited" notes and interjections is the key to understanding what Boyd is trying to achieve. Boyd is striving for ultra-realism, presenting a chronicle of a human life rather than a novel: the attendant banalities, dead-ends and digressions are all part of conjuring this image.
As a protagonist Logan Mountstuart is despicable, with very few redeeming qualities. He abuses his friendships, allows his mother's decline without significant intervention, and is responsible for the collapse of two of his three marriages. The diary shows us "LMS" laid bare: it isn't a memoir which is intended to be read by other people, presenting the author in the "best light", nor yet is it a balanced biography written by a third person. It is one man, jotting down his thoughts more or less as they come to him, with no thought as to the opinion a reader would form of him. This renders the tedious lechery and unfinished plot points absolutely vital to the integrity of the piece, and although I personally did not enjoy reading about the character I felt that Boyd achieved his aim: Logan Mountstuart became human, as the hero of a novel seldom does.
The language and writing style is cleverly constructed to mirror LMS's journey through life, and his changing thoughts in relation to himself. I found myself intensely irritated by the opening chapters, but settled into the style as LMS matured, and again this is all part of Boyd's clever working of his character and his story.
I initially struggled to tell the difference between the characters Peter and Ben, but I later came to realise this was another of Boyd's clever devices: the friends grew from the homogeneity of youth towards separate lives, culminating in different deaths and varied obituaries. I found this transition through character, language and life events to be masterful.
I was extremely bothered by the ending to the Switzerland plot point. I had wanted to see LMS hunt down his betrayer: I also wanted him to solve the mystery in the Bahamas and I wanted him to uncover the sinister secret at the heart of Sainte Sabine. These were the three most interesting incidents in the book, but they had mundane endings which I found frustrating, until I realised they contributed to the ultra-realism at the heart of the book.
The one point I cannot reconcile is the issue of the irritating name-dropping in thr early stages of the book. I found the number of famous people who just "happened" to walk into the story to be preposterous. The exceptions to this are the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, whose contribution was rich and colourful, a marked contrast to the otherwise monotonous processsion of celebrities.
Boyd's wider point is that life is ordinary. Even in interesting times, humans are caught up in banalities such as their budget, their love life, their dinner. When we ask questions about why certain events in our lives have happened the answer is sometimes straightforward, logical and unexciting, and sometimes there is no answer at all.
The type of book I like to read is flamboyant, magical and bohemian: the complete opposite of this book which focuses instead on ultra-realism and the mundane.
My chief issue with the book is that I already know that life is ordinary, having so far lived quite an ordinary life myself. I know that sometimes boring things happen, because they happen to me quite frequently. From a personal standpoint I want a novel to reach into the extraordinary, to show me something new or unexpected, and to pursue areas of interest towards a, well, interesting conclusion. So I didn't enjoy this book on the whole.
That said, upon reflection I am entirely in awe of Boyd's effortless manipulation of language, character and plot to create his overall effect which maintains its integrity until its final page...more
**spoiler alert** I'm not a fan of Horror. I usually find works in this genre to be by-the-numbers gore, with the only variation being in the level of**spoiler alert** I'm not a fan of Horror. I usually find works in this genre to be by-the-numbers gore, with the only variation being in the level of imagination, and the amount of escalation, applied to the deaths.
And at first my opinion was confirmed. Page one starts with a grisly killing, and the early section of the book treats the reader to an impressive variety of horror-movie style shambling zombie attacks, near misses, zombie heads exploding and people getting jumped out at, left right and centre. And if that's the sort of thing you like, you'll be very happy.
Once the zombies have taken over and survivors begin banding together I was only mildly interested in the traditional horror-movie fightback. Then the character Jack Nation played his hand, and I was absolutely hooked.
Once the survivors work together and make a concerted effort it seems that they are able quite easily to fight the zombies, take back territory and even return to some semblance of normal existence. As the humans adjust it became clear that the main battle lines in the book were to be drawn not between human and zombie, but between human and human.
The tension between the Police Station and the Farm was well depicted, and the subtle nuances of human behaviour well illustrated. I particularly enjoyed the fact that although Johnny's community was more civilised the majority of the population chose to remain under the tyrannical rule of Jack at the Farm. I felt this section had a lot to say about the herd nature of the community, their attraction to strength, and their obedience to commands. Most of them were bland and nondescript and perfectly echoed their undead counterparts.
We don't know any of the characters before the advent of the apocalypse, and we are reminded of this fact late on in the book. Our previous judgements, which have been based solely on the response to the crisis are slightly revised and a note of caution enters.
The main characters Johnny and Summer didn't really engage my attention. There was a little too much bland heroism, and I felt Johnny's darkness could have been explored more deeply. I didn't really believe their love story as its beginnings were skated over, and lacked subtlety.
The two most vivid characters were Jack, and the criminally (pardon the pun) under-used Lester, whose life is rebuilt as the world crumbles around his ears. These characters were explosive, humorous and sinister by turns and I would have liked Lester's early research to yield more results, and his part in the story developed more strongly.
You never really find out the cause of the apocalypse, which normally would have bothered me. But in this book it's actually not that important to know the hows and whys, it's not a deconstruction of the zombies, it's an exploration of the atrocities humanity inflicts upon itself, even when facing extinction.
I thought this was a well-paced, tightly plotted novel and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. The various plot lines were introduced with skill and perfect timing and the late additions of the Kateyana and Alice/Trent issues helped to develop Johnny's character.
Although the book would have benefitted from a little tighter editing I found it to be a strong work which bucked against the trends of its genre. ...more