Thursday, 31 May 2012

100 RPM: One Hundred short Stories Inspired by Music

This was released today.


I can’t really review this since I have a story in here and it would be a tad biased. But the stories, as well as some of the songs, are full of awesome.

The wonderful Caroline Smailes says: So, I’d decided that it’d be a good idea to put together a collection of flash fiction stories, all inspired by songs on YouTube. And I’d decided that the collection would be published as an eBook on Amazon with ALL money collected going to the charity One in Four (a registered charity which provides support and resources to people who have experienced sexual abuse and sexual violence).

The collection is called ’100 RPM’, there are one hundred stories by AMAZING authors, each story having one hundred words or fewer. And the collection has an introduction written by the FABULOUS Nik Kershaw. And a front cover designed by the AMAZING Becky Adams and Ifan Bates.

So yeah, you can buy it here (and remember, even if you don’t have a Kindle, you can download a Kindle reader to your computer and read it from there).

I’m so proud to be a part of this.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

The Trial by Franz Kafka (4.5/5)

GoodReads says: Written in 1914, The Trial is one of the most important novels of the twentieth century: the terrifying tale of Josef K., a respectable bank officer who is suddenly and inexplicably arrested and must defend himself against a charge about which he can get no information. Whether read as an existential tale, a parable, or a prophecy of the excesses of modern bureaucracy wedded to the madness of totalitarianism, Kafka's nightmare has resonated with chilling truth for generations of readers.

I say: Oh my word, how I do love me some Kafka. And The Trial merely cemented that love.

It starts off with Josef being arrested in his home for a crime he allegedly has committed, yet knows nothing about, and can get no information about either. He says that he is innocent, and as the men have no instructions to detain him, he goes to his office at the bank as per usual. As the story progresses he finds himself in court, gets a lawyer that tells him he has to file paper after paper, and meets other men who have been trying to prove their innocence for years.

And throughout all of this, he has no idea what it is he is trying to prove himself innocent of.

It’s absolutely brilliant.

One of the reasons I love Kafka is, of course, the way he twists and turns his stories while confusing the protagonist and reader alike. Unlike some other authors who have the protagonist confused, yet give the reader some clues here and there, Kafka doesn’t do that. Regardless of how I turned the dialogue around, there were no clues to be found, which is wherein the brilliance lies.

The reader is free to take away from the story as much as he/she pleases.

Josef goes from being calm and assured that his case is going to be over as soon as he is able to assert his innocence. But as time passes and he seems to be getting nowhere, his calm slowly dissolves into a sort on panicky madness. He starts behaving strangely, is increasingly paranoid since he doesn’t know who to trust, and finds himself in the most random of scenarios.

I laughed so hard at some of the absurdities in this novel.

I always recommend Kafka, even though I know that it’s not everybody’s cup of tea. But even though I don’t like being in a perpetual state of confusion, there is a glimmer of hope in The Trial (and his other works) that keeps Josef (and me) going, because I want to see it through to the end.

And speaking of the end; I’m not going to say more than that I find it poetic.

Unfortunately, Kafka never finished The Trial, which is evident in some parts of the story – especially towards the end. It does take away some of the magic, which is why this gets a 4.5/5, but it’s not enough to render the story completely incoherent.

Well, no more than Kafka intended.

*I downloaded The Trial from, so there is no cover. Instead, I have attached an illustration for the manuscript of The Trial drawn by Kafka himself.

Monday, 28 May 2012

The Iliad by Homer (4/5)

Goodreads says: Rage - Goddess, sing the rage of
Peleu's son Achilles,
murderous, doomed, that cost the
acheans countless losses,
hurling down the house of Death
so many sturdy souls... 

Thus begins the stirring story of the Trojan War and the rage of Achilles that has gripped listeners and readers for 2,700 years. This timeless poem still vividly conveys the horror and heroism of men and gods wrestling with towering emotions and battling amidst devastation and destruction, as it moves inexorably to its wrenching, tragic conclusion. […]

I say: I’ve got two different editions of this book, and my initial intention was to compare the two. However, when I started reading the translated version of the poem, I remembered why I struggled with the Greeks when I was in school. All those names, the rhymes, the names, the choppy translations, the names.

Did I mention the names?

So, I took the easy way out and read the translation by E V Rieu from 1949, which is presented in prose, as opposed to poetic form. Even though I was doing a good enough job with the poetic translation, I was more interested in once again familiarizing myself with the story, and this was a smoother read.

I enjoyed this far more than I was expecting. When we were studying the Greeks in school I always remembered the stories, but could never get the hang of the names. My answer to every question was pretty much he/she/it was Zeus’ lover/daughter/son – it applies to most of them, so I thought it was a good enough a guess as any. But yeah, despite the Glossary at the back of the book, I was still finding it hard to remember all the names. Mostly because they are presented in association with whom their parents were and where they were from. Like so

“Paris killed Menesthius, who lived at Arne and was the son of King Areïthos the Macerman and the ox-eyed Phylomedusa.” – p 132

That irked me to no end. Especially since there were so many people mentioned in this manner who were just being killed off and really didn’t have anything to do with anything. Did Homer really need to mention every single soldier in this battle?

And I am unconvinced that War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy has the most characters of any novel written. I think The Iliad takes that price, but can neither be arsed to research or count.

Apart from the issue with the names, there was an endless array of hyperbole and similes that drove me to near madness.

“At last the armies met, with a clash of bucklers, spears and bronze-clad fighting men. The bosses of their shields collided and a great roar went up. The screams of the dying were mingled with the vaunts of their destroyers, and the earth ran with blood. So, in winter, two mountain rivers flowing in at a watersmeet in some deep ravine, and far off in the hills a shepherd hears their thunder. Such was the tumult and turmoil as the two armies came to grips.” – p 89

Rieu must have had the most awesome time translating this epic poem.

Sarcasm aside, I really enjoyed this. The battle scenes were a ridiculously detailed gory mess that made me cringe, but so fast paced that it was over right after I had uttered my “eeww.” There were so many descriptions of the lifestyle of the different competing armies, and I kept thinking that I want to know more and go further in depth (which I probably will). I fell in love with Achilles and in hate with Zeus.

Seriously, what the hell is his problem?

The arrogance of the gods mixed with the feebleness of the men made for an epic concoction of absolute perfection. I really look forward to re-reading The Iliad, but with a different translation.

*The edition I have is a really nice blue clothbound one with a leather spine that I bought still wrapped in a used book store (both The Iliad and The Odyssey), so I don't have a picture of it. Instead I've added the painting The Wrath of Achilles by Michel Drolling.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce (2.5/5)

Goodreads says: Joyce's semi-autobiographical chronicle of Stephen Dedalus' passage from university student to "independent" artist, is at once a richly detailed, amusing, and moving coming-of-age story, a tour de force of style and technique, and a profound examination of the Irish psyche and society.

Stephen Dedalus is a fictional alter ego of Joyce and an allusion to the consummate craftsman of Greek mythology, Daedalus.

A novel written in Joyce's characteristic free indirect speech style, A Portrait is a major example of the Künstlerroman (an artist's Bildungsroman) in English literature. Joyce's novel traces the intellectual and religio-philosophical awakening of young Stephen Dedalus as he begins to question and rebel against the Catholic and Irish conventions with which he has been raised. He finally leaves for abroad to pursue his ambitions as an artist. The work is an early example of some of Joyce's modernist techniques that would later be represented in a more developed manner by Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. The novel, which has had a "huge influence on novelists across the world", was ranked by Modern Library as the third greatest English-language novel of the 20th century.

I say: Goodness me, this was a piece of work and a half. After reading Dubliners, I felt somewhat assured that I liked James Joyce, but having read this, I’m not so sure anymore.

To be perfectly honest, this bored me to no end.

Especially chapter 3, which dealt with Stephen listening to a sermon told by a priest about the Bible, Christ, heaven and hell and everything that I’ve already heard a gazillion times. Although I understand that Stephen was feeling guilty over the sins he had committed, it felt like Joyce was merely writing about this sermon for the sake of it. I’m sure there are a lot of people who may not be as familiar with Christianity as I am, but even so.

It was all far too much.

Not to mention all the Latin that was sprinkled all over the place without translation; my pet peeve.

I have come to the realization that I like Joyce’s style of writing – when he is writing about something interesting. However, this was, unfortunately, not interesting enough for me.  After warming to young Stephen, he became quite tiresome after he left school the first time; everything after that came in such extremes; from being an utter sinner to wanting to join the church to realizing that’s not really what he wanted to do.

It all felt so compressed, and I can’t get over the possibility that this may have been better if Joyce had taken his time with Stephen’s life.

But what do I know?

2.5/5 because even though I appear to like Joyce’s writing, this is one portrait I’d hang in the basement. Faced against the wall.

Yeah, I said it.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

One Challenge Finished

I have finished one challenge (that I failed last year) and it's only May. I'm as surprised as everyone else!

What challenge, you say?

I was to read 10 Swedish books this year.

It's not much of a goal, but considering that I've had issues with reading in Swedish the past few years, I'm ecstatic that I've manager 10.

And I still have 8 more Strindberg works to read.

For whatever reason, I'm not finding it as annoying hard to read in Swedish this year as I have the years before. Perhaps it's because I've moved back to Sweden and it feels more natural since I hear Swedish on a daily basis, but who really knows.

So yeah, only three more challenges to go.

Friday, 25 May 2012

När Ingen Ser av Karin Holmlund (3/5)

Baksidan säger: PÄLS ÄR MORD skriver jag på skyltfönstret. Jag hukar mig ned till stengrunden, känner pulsslagen i fingertopparna mot sprejburken. De sista bokstäverna blev tunna. Jag skakar burken snabbt. Ljudet av metallkulan ekar efter gågatan. Jag trycker ned munstycket igen. Rött färgdamm och gas. En bil slirar till och bromsar. Strålkastarljuset reflekteras i skyltfönstret.
- Vad i helvete sysslar du med?

Jag säger: Jag vet inte riktigt vad jag tycker om den här boken. Vissa delar gillade jag och andra delar verkade lite för otroliga. Men samtidigt så vet jag inte så mycket om den värld Elin lever i, vilket är en av anledningarna till att jag valde att läsa den.

Elin är tonåring och tror att hon har svaret på allt. I detta fall är svaret att päls är mord och alla som inte gör någonting för att stoppa pälshandeln är en del av problemet. Hon riktar in sig på en specifik pälsbutik och utför ett antal attentat mot dem, men vill ändå inte kalla sig militant. Hon blir rent av arg när folk klassar henne som sådan. Det är när den här svart-vita världsbilden som Elina har börjar trasas sönder som Holmlund fångar mig mest.

De känns äkta, alla dessa tankar och känslor.

Men sedan så bestämmer sig Elin för att ta det ett steg längre, och det är här som jag börjar skruva lite på mig. Skulle detta verkligen hända så här? Utan konsekvenser? Visst målar Holmlund upp en bild där det skulle kunna hända, men ändå.

Jag vet inte riktigt varför, men det tog emot.

Och slutet…

Boken får 3/5 då den är välskriven och fångar Elins känslor och frustrationer väldigt bra, men samtidigt så var det vissa element som jag inte tyckte höll hela vägen. Jag kan lätt tänka mig att läsa den igen om något år, om än bara för den adrenalinkicken när Elin utförde attentaten.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

En Mördare i Farfars Hus av Peter Swedenmark (2.5/5)

Baksidan säger: Ett mord på en ung kvinna i Sundsvall 1959 är upptakt i boken En mördare i farfars hus.

Det är en annorlunda skildring av en stad, ett mord och en tid, men främst är det en berättelse av en uppväxande tonåring. Om hans morfar, bagaren, om faster Elsa med moralen och om farfar - som faktiskt hade mördaren i huset.

Men det var innan han blev mördare...

Jag säger: Jag vet inte riktigt vad eller hur jag tänkte när jag köpte den här lilla boken; jag tyckte om omslaget och undrade väl lite om den här mördaren. Tyvärr så vet jag inte riktigt vad jag tycker om det jag fick heller. Trots att jag inte direkt förväntade mig någonting, så kan jag inte komma ifrån att jag känner mig lite besviken.

Det jag tyckte om var Swedenmarks sparsmakade sätt att berätta. Det var lite hackigt, okronologiskt och nästan lite så där i förbifarten ibland. Han pratar om sin familj, stundom lite kliniskt och faktatroget, och vid andra tillfällen med mer känsla. Och det är nog här som besvikelsen kommer in.

Om Swedenmark hade valt att fokusera på sin familj och sina egna upplevelser så hade jag gillat det här mycket bättre.

Istället så väljer han att prata om Sören, mördaren som bodde i hans farfars hus – innan han blev mördare – och vad han kan ha tänkt innan han blev mördare. Det var mycket spekulationer om en människa som Swedenmark ju inte kände, och trots att jag ju förstår att mordet varit en stor del av hans liv, så förstår jag inte riktigt meningen bakom att berätta om honom. Detsamma gäller alla små notiser om vad som händer i staden, i Sverige, och runtom i världen. Visst hade det betydelse för Swedenmark, men varför undra över hur Sören reagerat på dessa händelser.

Kanske har jag missat hela meningen med den här boken.

Kanske den bara inte är skriven för mig.

2.5/5 får den, och om jag skulle snubbla över någon annan av Swedenmarks böcker så plockar jag gärna upp en och läser, men jag tänker nog inte söka upp dem.  

Monday, 21 May 2012

My Latest Obsession

I am absolutely obsessed with the Underground New York Public Library blog.

It's basically just pictures of people reading books in the New York Underground/Subway, but there's something incredibly fascinating about matching the book to the person reading. I keep thinking "oh really" and writing down titles of books simply because the person reading looks interesting.

Or trying to guess where in the story they are in the books that I've read.

I know, I know... more reading, less staring at other people reading.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Swann's Way (In Search of Lost Time Vol I) by Marcel Proust (4.5/5)

GoodReads says: Marcel Proust whiled away the first half of his life as a self-conscious aesthete and social climber. The second half he spent in the creation of the mighty roman-fleuve that is Remembrance of Things Past, memorializing his own dandyism and parvenu hijinks even as he revealed their essential hollowness. Proust begins, of course, at the beginning--with the earliest childhood perceptions and sorrows. Then, over several thousand pages, he retraces the course of his own adolescence and adulthood, democratically dividing his experiences among the narrator and a sprawling cast of characters. Who else has ever decanted life into such ornate, knowing, wrought-iron sentences? Who has subjected love to such merciless microscopy, discriminating between the tiniest variations of desire and self-delusion? Who else has produced a grief-stricken record of time's erosion that can also make you laugh for entire pages? The answer to all these questions is: nobody.

I say: Usually, I know and can remember the exact moment I fell in love with an author, but with Proust (and Sylvia Plath) it seems as though they just snuck into my consciousness without my knowing. Therefore, I’ve wanted to read In Search of Lost Time for the longest time, but have always been extremely daunted by the total immensity of the tome. However, last November I finally bought this beautiful Everyman’s Library Edition and have been staring at it longingly ever since, until I finally decided to just go for it.

And how glad am I for that, let me count the ways.

It’s been a few weeks since I finished the first part, and I told myself that I wasn’t allowed to start the second until I had reviewed the first. But the thing that I had not anticipated was the difficulty in putting everything into words. Which leads me to this moment in time: I want to read more, yet have to talk about Swann’s Way first.

Where to even begin…

First of all, I somehow feel biased whenever I talk about Proust; since I love his style of writing so much, it’s almost as if I’m rehashing things I’ve already said. I love words. I love the English language. And even though I am aware that I am reading a translation (the C. K. Scott Moncrieff version, of course), I still cannot get over the sheer beauty of the language. Proust has the ability to pinpoint with exact precision every single emotion that the narrator feels and transform that into such a striking prose.

I, literally, found myself gasping and putting my hand over my heart over and over again (because I’m dramatic like that).

I could go on for days years about his prose, but I’ll stop there.

The story starts with the narrator eating a madeleine cake with his tea and thus starts remembering his childhood; in particular a night when he wouldn’t be able to get a goodnight kiss from his mother because Mr Swann was visiting. From that moment he goes on to remember more and more. In Swann’s Way, we get to know the narrator and his family – but no name (which I’m used to from reading all those Russian novels) – as well as Charles Swann, and other characters who remain somewhat in the background. As can be deciphered from the title of this first part, the narrator focuses on Swann’s history; his relation to the narrator’s family, his upbringing, friends, and how he met his wife, Odette. Later on it focuses on the narrator playing with the Swann’s daughter Gilberte.

Thus far in the story, I’m not very much liking the Swanns, and although I realise that everything the narrator tells us is second hand information, as he was too young to know the couple intimately at the time, their relationship is built on so much pretence, I somehow dread to think how the daughter will turn out. There is a great deal of gossip being shared, and since a lot of the people are, for now, minor characters, I’m finding it hard to pay close enough attention to everything they say. This will probably prove fatal in the future as everyone has some form of connection with each other, but I still don’t know if that connection is important or not.

I guess it’s hard to tell when you’re only 417 pages in out of 3500.

As insipid as this review is (and believe me, I know), I’m finding it hard to say something intelligible since it feels like I’ve barely scraped the surface of this story. I’m extremely excited to start the next part, Within a Budding Grove, and I suppose I’ll talk write more then.

4.5/5 because there was a little bit too much gossip that I, so far, don’t know whether or not is relevant. I know that it’s sort of unfair to grade the first part when it’s not to be read as a standalone book, but it sort of had to be done.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Love and Other Near Death Experiences by Mil Millington (4/5)

The back says: Rob Garland is getting married in two months. Oddly, however, this is the least of his problems. More vexing than the seating arrangements, the choice of wedding stationery - more even that the savagely obscene expense of everything - is the fact that Rob should be dead: and he knows it. He should have been sitting in a pub at the very moment it was wiped from the earth… but he wasn’t – thanks only to a series of pointless coincidences.

Now he’s paralysed by the knowledge that every decision he makes, no matter how tiny, has potentially enormous, and even fatal, consequences. Faced with an ultimatum from his girlfriend to either sort himself out – which means taking less than two hours to choose a pair of underpants – or call the wedding off, he sets about trying to come to terms with the fact that he's still inexplicably breathing.

After pouring his heart out to the listeners on his late-night radio jazz show, he soon finds himself teamed up with others who really ought not to be alive either. And that's when things become yet more worrying: because it turns out that their search to understand why they've each remained oddly alive might very well end up killing them all.

Life; death, defining moments; existential angst and whether or not you should take sugar in your coffee – Love and Other Near Death Experiences is a jack-knifing comedy about those things which are no laughing matter.

I say: Oh goodness me, how I laughed and laughed while reading this. It was incredibly funny, and Millington’s witty, and often utterly ridiculous, writing is right up my alley. Before going on about how hilarious I found this, I feel I have to point out that I would classify this as a very British type of humour.

Perhaps The Office more than Monty Python – but I’m no humour expert.

At first, I thought Rob was a tad annoying; he was a whiny and wishy-washy, and even though I understood his dilemma, it felt like he took too far. It wasn’t until his fiancée told him to sort himself out that I started really liking him. He didn’t really change as a person; he just went from a man paralysed by the most miniscule (in)decisions to a man that just went for it.

Went for it regardless of how outright absurd it was.

Last year I read The Society of Others by William Nicholson, and this very much reminded me of that; especially the slight Kafkaesque quality of the plot. I couldn’t help but read it in one sitting because I was determined to find out how it would all end. And not just whether or not our anti-hero would get killed, but more specifically, if he survived, would he stop second guessing every decision he’d face for the rest of his life.

There’s a lot more to this book than just the action and humour; Millington does offer a lot of varying options/opinions on fate, chance, belief, and pretty much all of the major questions we ask ourselves from time to time. And also the questions that we may not ask ourselves that often, unless you’re as neurotic as I am, like why am I still here?

So, a 4/5 because as much as I loved this, there were times when the plot went a little too far, and times when I thought Rob was being a little unbelievably thick. I would actually love to see this made into a film and then bitch about how the book was so much better.

Go ahead. Get your torches. I’ll be waiting.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Dubliners by James Joyce (4/5)

The back says: In Dubliners Joyce draws on the complete spectrum of his Irish roots and, with meticulous attention to detail, creates an intimately observed portrait of a city and its people at a time of radical social and political change. It is an undisputed masterpiece and is essential reading not only for those seeking an understanding of life in the Irish capital at the turn of the century, but for all who seek an insight into Joyce the artist and his work.

I say: I’ve wanted to read this for the longest time, and I find it so weird that I never got around to doing so. Actually, that’s a bit of a lie; the reason I’ve been putting it off is because I’ve read quite a few bad reviews about Joyce and his writing. However,

I was pleasantly surprised by this collection of 15 short stories.

The book does exactly what it says on the tin; we get to follow a set of different Dubliners for a few hours or days in their lives, and I’m glad that I’ve lived in Dublin as that meant that I knew which streets they were walking on, or some of the places they were talking about. As this is the first thing I’ve read about Joyce, I’m not particularly familiar with his writing style, but what I really liked was the warmth and care with which he handled these stories. Perhaps that was because he was from Dublin, making it easier to speak fondly of the places he had visited throughout his life.

According to Wikipedia the collection as a whole displays an overall plan, beginning with stories of youth and progressing in age to culminate in The Dead.” This is nothing that I noticed as I was reading, but I have to somewhat disagree, since the first story, the Sisters, deals with death as well as youth. So, I guess it all comes full circle in the end.

I always find it hard to review short story collections because I can’t really go too into any of the stories, and usually there’s a difference in the style of writing and feelings invoked. I really enjoyed this collection because of Joyce’s ability to make me feel as if I was there watching these people – the entire collections reads like a film. All of the major life issues are dealt with here, but there are also elements of random silliness, like the old man that the two schoolboys meet in An Encounter. You don’t have to be a lover of (or even interested in) Dublin to enjoy these stories. As with everything, it merely enhances the experience.

All in all, it’s a great collection. It gets a 4/5 because some of the stories were not really to my liking.

Favourite stories: An Encounter, After the Race, Two Gallants, and A Painful Case.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Immortal Remains (Weirdsville #2) by Rook Hastings (3/5)

The back says: “You see the girls that died – it wasn’t by accident. They were cursed, every one of them. Cursed to meet a horrible death…” Charlotte swallowed. “And I’m going to be next.”

Four freak accidents.
Four mysterious omens.
Four signs of trouble.

Shadows are getting darker and the town of Woodsville is getting creepier by the hour. Something is coming, something old and evil.

I say: Having unexpectedly enjoyed the first book in the series, Nearly Departed, I thought that this was going to be just as good. But it wasn’t. Something about it felt very contrived, and where the previous book had given me chills and really held my suspense, this merely felt like a bad horror film.

I think the book took itself too seriously.

Again, I feel the need to reiterate that I am far too old for these books, but something about the dialogue in this one was off. It was cartoony and sounded like something The Scooby Gang would say. Even the characters themselves seemed dull this time around; it didn’t feel like there had been any substantial development at all.

Oh, and trying to cram in some sort of love triangle x2 really made me roll my eyes.

The plot itself was interesting enough until [not sure if this is a spoiler or not, but highlight if you want to know] it turned out to be about witches. How very mundane. It seems all sort or paranormal/supernormal shows always end up there at some point. And do understand the connection, but it bores me.

3/5 because it was an ok sequel, and there was one minor plotline that really had me thinking. I’m not sure when the third one is going to be released, but if I stumble upon it I’ll read it for a, hopefully, nice conclusion.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Nearly Departed (Weirdsville #1) by Rook Hastings (3.5/5)

The back says: “I’ve seen a ghost,” said Emily. “Well, not seen one exactly. Heard one. At least, I think I have...”

Woodsville is not like other towns. Night falls a little earlier there, the shadows are darker and denser, and everyone knows it’s a place where strange things happen. Even if they won’t admit it.

Bethan would prefer to be anywhere but here. Jay has his theories, but isn’t ready to share. Hashim sees more than he’ll say, while Kelly’s demons are all too flesh and blood. But Emily’s freak-out brings them out of their denial and face to face with the supernatural.

Anywhere else, Friday night would be date night. But not in Weirdsville.

I say: I’m not a big fan of horror or paranormal/supernatural, and I only really picked this up because it was on sale and seemed like a quick enough read of a genres I generally ignore. Thus having no real expectations, I was pleasantly surprised.

Here’s the thing, ghosts freak me out. And I mean proper ‘wait, what’s that sound and I’m not going to sleep at all tonight and just stay awake reading’ freak me out. So naturally, I started reading this at 4 am when I couldn’t sleep – as you do.

To be honest, I didn’t think it was freaking me out at all until I received a text and nearly had a heart attack.

Good job, Hastings.

This was a quick and rather easy read; probably aimed at a younger audience than the YA I normally read, but the plot was still good enough. Although there were some elements that I thought were a little ridiculous, I really did not see the conclusion coming at all. I read it in one go, and like I said, it had me on edge from around the 100 page mark right through to the end.

There’s not really that much to say about the characters; they’re all pretty much your stereotypical youth of any school. The football lover, the geek, the popular girl, the girl who likes to study, and the quiet and mousy one all come together and form an unlikely alliance to find out what’s really going on in Woodsville. It’s all pretty clichéd, and the writing or dialogue isn’t much to comment on, but like I said, it’s aimed at a younger audience – maybe kids around 12 or so.

This gets 3.5/5 because I did enjoy it and I will actually read the second part since I bought that at the same time (I probably wouldn’t have bothered otherwise). Supposedly this is intended as a trilogy, so we’ll see what happens next.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson (4/5)

The back says: What’s wrong with me?

What kind of girl wants to kiss every boy at a funeral, wants to maul a guy in the tree after making out with her (dead) sister’s boyfriend the previous night? Speaking of which, what kind of girl makes out with her sister’s boyfriend at all?

Lennie Walker – sisterless, lasagna maker, Heathcliff-obsessed and hopelessly in love…

I say: “Gram is worried about me. It’s not just because my sister Bailey died four weeks ago, or because my mother hasn’t contacted me in sixteen years, or even because suddenly all I think about is sex. She is worried about me because one of my houseplants has spots.”

So starts one of the most piercing and original Young Adult novels I’ve read in years.

And I loved it.

I read a lot of YA (obviously) and it often feels like it’s the same plot that’s being told in different ways, and what I loved about The Sky is Everywhere is that it didn’t follow the pattern. Obviously this deals with grief, but it’s neither the ‘woe is me, I miss my sister’ or the ‘I’m going to rebel and pretend it never happened’ – it’s an emotional journey that feels genuine because there so many stages of grief that Lennie goes through. Maybe I loved this so much because it reminded me of how I felt when I lost someone close to me, and therefore could really relate.

I don’t know and won’t dwell on that.

So, we have Lennie, a seventeen year old girl who is obsessed with Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights (and offers terrible spoilers, thank you not one bit), who loses her sister, and with her, so many other things. Throughout the book she’s trying to deal with her classmates, friends, grandmother and uncle (who she lives with) as well as her attraction to the new kid in school, Joe Fontaine, and the only one she feels can relate to her sorrow; her sister’s boyfriend Toby.

The issue with Toby sounds a lot more unseemly that it was, in my opinion. When I read the blurb at the back of the book my initial instinct was “how on earth could she do that?” However, as I followed Lennie’s thought process it wasn’t that crazy a recourse.

*insert platitude about grief making people do weird things*

I need to put aside a little space to talk about Joe Fontaine and how he is the ultimate guy (if I were a seventeen year old girl, that is). Nelson has managed to create a character that was so lovable, considerate, and just freaking perfect, I was almost totally crushing on him. But then again, I’ve always had a thing for musicians.

One of the things that were so magical about this book was that throughout the book there are little scraps of paper inserted that coincide with what Lennie is feeling. I’m not sure if elaborating would be a spoiler, but she writes parts of conversations, questions and poetry to her sister; and I really loved how the story about them ended.

So much love and still “only” a 4/5?

Yes, because there is something that happens somewhere in the middle that I thought was a little too predictive. I saw it coming and was hoping Nelson wouldn’t turn to that cliché, but she did. Also, the story about the missing mother was weird and anticlimactic. I could have done without either.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Trumpet by Jackie Kay (4.5/5)

The back says: The death of legendary jazz trumpeter Joss Moody exposes an extraordinary secret. Unbeknown to all but his wife Millie, Joss was a woman living as a man. A novel about the lengths to which people will go for love, Trumpet is a moving story of a shared life founded on an intricate lie, of loving deception and lasting devotion, and of the intimate workings of the human heart.

I say: Every now and the I read a book that manages to slowly creep under my skin without my knowing, and it’s not until I’ve finished it that I realize how utterly subtly I fell in love with it.

This is a book just like that.

The book changes perspective between Millie, her son Colman, a journalist trying to tell the story of Joss, and a few other people that they meet during their journey. I really love that this is the way that Kay chose to tell the story, since it offers different perspectives on the way that Joss touched their lives. We have Millie who tells us how they met and how it came to be that she decided to live her life with a woman pretending to be a man; but also how she is, not only dealing with the loss of her husband, but also the sensationalism of the revelation. And then we have Colman who is trying to deal with how his parents could betray him for so long; the anger, confusion and need for revenge that turns his entire childhood upside down. Lastly there’s the journalist Sophie, desperate to tell the story for her own personal reasons.

I loved Millie’s parts because I fell in love with her person and all the sacrifices she made for her husband. When I ordered this book it was mostly because I couldn’t understand the concept, but as Millie slowly unraveled their story it felt so natural; how could it have happened any other way. It felt like a woman, at the end of her life, confessing all her sins, mistakes and betrayals – not because she’s looking for forgiveness, but because she wants to look through the pieces and see if she did the right thing.

There are so many beautiful and heartbreakingly melancholic passages in this book; through all of the different characters we are exposed to an array of emotions, and I absolutely adore the way that Kay made them all jump off the pages and straight into my heart. The only reason I’m not giving this the full 5/5 is because of the parts with Sophie that were a bit too personal for my liking – I didn’t care enough about her to want to know everything we got to know about her; I just wanted more of Millie, Joss and Colman.

I will now look for more works by Kay. And, as per usual with me, I look forward to re-reading this in the future.