Rapid Fire Reviews (5)

Since I’ve found that I read faster than I can get around to writing full reviews of each book, I prefer to do mini reviews that reflect my gut reactions rather than being too analytical. All titles are linked to their Goodreads pages.

A Monster Calls. Patrick Ness.A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

I had heard of this book. I knew there was a film. I knew there were beautifully illustrated editions. But I didn’t know what it was about. If I had, I probably wouldn’t have read this book, because Conor’s mum is dying of cancer, and so was mine at the time I read it. I never expected a fictional monster to be the one to tell me what I needed to hear, but that’s the power of truly great storytelling. As the monster tells us, “Stories are important. They can be more important than anything, if they carry the truth.” This beautiful story carries more than just truth. It carries compassion, hope and the comfort of knowing that it’s okay to let go. Patrick Ness has done an incredible job. If I could give it more than 5 stars, I would.

All the Birds in the SkyAll the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

I really hate giving books bad reviews, but I honestly can’t find anything good to say about this one. I don’t mind books that combine different genres (science fiction and fantasy in this case), but this one was a mess of poorly connected concepts that either didn’t make sense, didn’t flow well together, or were just weird for the sake of it. The writing itself was very poor and I found myself frequently either cringing or frowning with some of the dialogue and amateurish metaphors (the sex scene was one of the worst examples of this and read like it was written by an inexperienced teenager who had read too many badly written fan fiction stories, despite the characters involved being experienced adults). The overall narrative didn’t flow well at all and events seemed to jump around without explanation or clear connections. I’m someone who feels the need to always finish a book, even if I’m not enjoying it, so I stuck it out for the whole 430 pages, but unfortunately this one will not be staying in my collection.

The Blackbird SingularityThe Blackbird Singularity by Matt Wilven

Every so often I like to read a book about mental health to increase my understanding of conditions I don’t have personal experience with. This one was a very well written account of one man’s life with bipolar disorder and the effects of his decision to stop taking his medication after discovering that his wife is pregnant with their second child – an emotional revelation given that their first son died. This decision allows him to forge ahead with his creative writing and to feel things more vividly than before, but it also causes problems with his marriage and other areas of his life. There are times when you’re not sure if what you’re reading is real or part of Vince’s delusions. Sometimes he isn’t aware of the distinction himself, although he accepts that he can’t always trust his perceptions. This kind of narrative gives a great insight into what it’s like to live with bipolar. It reminded me of The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer.

Grief is the Thing with FeathersGrief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter

Considering that I read this less than 3 weeks after my mother’s death, I was expecting this book to resonate with me. Unfortunately, I didn’t like it at all. It’s experimental in terms of narrative style and word choice, and, for want of a better term, it was just too weird for me to feel any emotional connection with it. The concept was very interesting and a unique way of exploring the complex concept of grief, but the execution of the idea just didn’t work for me. Considering that I’m still in the early stages of processing my own grief, I’m willing to accept the possibility that I’m not in the right frame of mind to appreciate or fully engage with this book, so I may give it another read in the future.

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Rapid Fire Reviews (4)

Since I’ve found that I read faster than I can get around to writing full reviews of each book, I prefer to do mini reviews that reflect my gut reactions rather than being too analytical. All titles are linked to their Goodreads pages.

Lexicon CoverLexicon by Max Barry

I was intrigued by the idea of a science fiction thriller based on the concept that words can be used as weapons to persuade and destroy. In this world, people can be organised into segments and controlled (compromised) by specific combinations of obscure words. The wielders of these words are the Poets, members of a secret organisation that controls knowledge and use of the words. Emily and Wil appear to be on opposite sides of a conflict within the organisation, but nothing in this world is what it seems. One of the things I loved about this book was that it gave me lots of “a-ha!” moments when I could connect the small clues and figure out key plot points. I won’t give too much away, but the way the book is structured and told from the perspective of two different characters is significant to the story and makes it even more exciting. There is suspense, conspiracy, romance, danger, interesting explorations into the power and structure of language, along with well-developed characters and a satisfying conclusion. I loved it.

The Disappearance Boy CoverThe Disappearance Boy by Neil Bartlett

There are books that are character-driven, books that are plot-driven, and books that manage to be both. This one definitely tries to be character-driven, which means it should feature interesting and engaging characters with compelling stories to tell. Unfortunately, I couldn’t bring myself to care about any of them and found them annoying and uninteresting. The second person narrative really put me off and left little room for my imagination. The narrator was so busy telling me exactly what to think and pay attention to that they didn’t give me the chance to become immersed in the story. A really disappointing read for a book that seemed promising.

Nasty Women CoverNasty Women by Various Authors

I consider myself to be liberal and open-minded, but this collection opened my mind even further and gave me new perspectives I hadn’t considered. I didn’t connect with all the essays, but each one definitely had a distinctive and unique voice behind it and wove an intricate tapestry of what the world is like for women in 2017. My favourite was Jen McGregor’s ‘Lament: Living with the Consequences of Contraception’. In addition to speaking to the reader, she also spoke directly to the Depo-Provera contraceptive she was forced to stop using due to health reasons. Some elements of her story are very similar to my own, and I could feel her struggle through her words. A fantastic collection I would highly recommend to everyone.

The Jungle CoverThe Jungle by Pooja Puri

I was lucky enough to get a signed copy of this book as I bought it at the Society of Young Publishers Conference in Edinburgh a few months ago. The cover really drew my eye and the plot sounded intriguing. I can’t say that it was a terribly engrossing story, but it was well written and easy to read. Rather than a complex plot with a satisfying ending, this book presented a fictional snapshot of life in the Calais refugee camp. It’s about the people more than the politics and the struggles they face having run from one bad situation only to find themselves in another. By the end of the story, most of the characters were essentially in the same place as they were at the beginning, but maybe that’s the point. It illustrates the endless cycle of the refugee crisis and the shattered hopes and dreams of those who find themselves in such desperate circumstances.

Rapid Fire Reviews (3)

My third (and hopefully final!) attempt to make this a regular feature on my blog. I’ve found that I read faster than I can get around to writing full reviews of each book, so I prefer to do mini reviews that reflect my gut reactions rather than being too analytical. All titles are linked to their Goodreads pages.

the-miniaturist-coverThe Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

This book came highly recommended from friends and colleagues and my local indie bookseller (who said it was the best book she had read in 2014, high praise indeed). There are excellent explorations of the female family dynamic and the politics of power, both in the home and in the wider community, including the main character’s personal development as an 18-year-old new wife thrust into a world of lies, societal pressure and the expectations of marriage. There were definitely some parallels to Jane Eyre, which is what I was expecting when I first picked it up. I felt that the conclusion of the novel was a bit anti-climactic and not what I was hoping for, but the lack of definitive answers to my many questions did retain the air of mystery that shrouds the story, particularly the identity and motivations of the Miniaturist, so I suppose the ending did make sense in that regard. While I did really enjoy this one and would recommend it, it wasn’t quite a 5 star book for me.

the-road-headed-west-coverThe Road Headed West: A Cycling Adventure Through North America by Leon McCarron

I don’t normally read any travel writing, so I was quite surprised at myself when I picked this one up, although it probably had something to do with my love of visiting the United States. I’m not one for cycling either, but I thought it sounded like a great way to see a country and I was interested in going along for the ride. McCarron’s writing is engaging, thought-provoking and entertaining. He meets all sorts of weird and wonderful people along the way, who both delight and terrify him, and ultimately help to change his views of the world. I was particularly interested in reading about his impressions and experiences of the parts of the USA that I’ve visited myself (and loved), especially Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Canyon, San Francisco and Seattle. His vivid descriptions of the landscape and general vibe of the places left me with a feeling of comforting familiarity, and a fervent desire to see them again someday. You can watch the trailer for the book here.

kids-pf-appetite-coverKids of Appetite by David Arnold

Although I’m certainly not one of those people who thinks that YA novels are only for teenagers, I am guilty of using them as easy-read palate cleansers between other genres. I usually enjoy them, but I don’t tend to become invested in them or feel particularly connected to the characters. Kids of Appetite is one of the better ones and I did find myself wanting to keep reading. The flashbacks made the narrative more interesting, and I liked how all the elements of the plot tied together. The main cast of characters were all distinct individuals and I was happy to join them on their journey. It won’t be going on my favourites shelf and I don’t feel like it’s left a lasting impression, but it was probably the best YA book I’ve read in a long time.

the-circle-coverThe Circle by Dave Eggers

This book has been on my TBR for well over a year and I finally got around to reading it. I found the plot scarily plausible given the direction that the world is heading in. I was more aware of my social media use while I was reading it and I could see how something like The Circle could have grown from the likes of Facebook and Twitter. The ending wasn’t what I was expecting (or hoping), but it did tie in well with the overall message of the story. The social commentary aspect was more transparent than most of the dystopian science fiction novels I’ve read, and there were elements that were too repetitive (I don’t feel that we needed to see Mae answering customer queries quite so many times). That said, it made for addictive, fast-paced reading and I would recommend it. I’m really looking forward to seeing the film adaptation in April (you can watch the trailer for it here).

Rapid Fire Reviews (2)

My family and I have been having an awful year, so, although I’ve been reading quite a lot, I haven’t been writing a lot. I’m trying to get back into it now, and these are the three books I’ve read recently that I have strong feelings about and feel like commenting on. All book titles are linked to their Goodreads pages.

schtum-coverShtum by Jem Lester

This book was important to me on a personal level and I was really keen to read it as soon as it came out. It follows the battle of a father to get his autistic son the specialist care he desperately needs, which is a battle my own parents fought for my brother. It’s part-fiction, part-reality for Lester, who has an autistic son himself. His fictional protagonist, Ben, must navigate marital issues, a sick father he’s never been able to talk to, and Jonah, his severely autistic son, who makes daily life an incredible challenge. The book included letters and reports relevant to Jonah’s case, which really added to the story and helped to express the frustration that endless bureaucracy can cause in these situations.  The book was well written, emotive and illuminating. Having experienced home life with an autistic brother and watched my parents fight for him the way Ben does for Jonah, I can say that Shtum is a very realistic portrayal of what it’s really like – the highs, the lows and the heartbreaks.

the-loneliness-of-distant-beings-coverThe Loneliness of Distant Beings by Kate Ling

I was really disappointed with this book. It had the potential to be interesting. The main characters are part of a generational ship’s crew whose sole mission is to seek out the source of a distant signal received by their ancestors on Earth. In order to ensure their continued survival, they have a breeding program that selects who they will have children with, leaving no room for love or personal choice. Seren, the protagonist, rebels against this idea when she has a chance encounter with her shipmate Dom (and 5 seconds later decides he’s the love of her life even though they’ve barely ever spoken). This unrealistic love connection is described as being ‘that quick, that strong, that beautiful and … also totally impossible.’ Well, it’s also the reason I found this book ‘totally impossible’ to like. 350+ pages of teenage angst and instalove really wasn’t for me.

the-long-way-to-a-small-angry-planet-coverThe Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

I LOVED this one. It has everything I look for in science fiction – interesting and well developed alien cultures, cool futuristic technology, fast-paced adventure and complex and relatable characters. There was also a broad acceptance of cultural diversity and cooperation, homosexuality and individuality that I appreciated. Each of the characters came from different backgrounds (and species) and were distinct individuals, but, for the most part, they functioned together as one family. There was conflict, secrecy and misunderstandings (it would have been boring and unrealistic without those elements), but I did love the bonds that existed and developed between the Wayfarer’s spacefaring family. There is a sequel to this book, however it’s a stand-alone that only features two of the supporting characters from The Long Way (which I liked, but didn’t really connect with), so I don’t think I’ll be reading that one, at least for now. I feel very satisfied with how The Long Way ended, so I’m happy to leave it there.

Rapid Fire Reviews

I’ve been so busy lately that I haven’t had much time to write. That really bothers me, so I’m trying to spend this weekend catching up on a few posts. Rather than writing separate reviews for the books I’ve been reading recently, I’m going to do a quick rundown of each of them. I’m calling it a rapid fire review post. Considering how behind I tend to get on my book reviews, this might become a regular feature. I think it’s a good way of going with my gut instincts rather than being too analytical.

All the Bright Places Cover All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

“The story of a girl who learns to live from a boy who wants to die.” That line is on the cover and it drew me to the book right away. Violet is dealing with the grief of losing her sister, while Finch is trying to find reasons not to kill himself. When they meet on the ledge of their school’s bell tower, they strike up a friendship that has a profound impact on both of them. I enjoyed the parallel journeys of the two characters. While Violet was rebuilding her life, Finch was rapidly losing control of his. I really liked them both and their struggles felt real and relatable. This isn’t a feel good YA, but it’s definitely worth a read.

 

Our Endless Numbered Days CoverOur Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller

Peggy is only eight when her father takes her to live in an isolated cabin in the wilderness, after telling her that the rest of the world has been destroyed. What follows is a fascinating exploration of the father/daughter dynamic and the effects of extreme isolation and deprivation. I did see the twist coming, although I was hoping I was wrong. While I would recommend this book, it was quite disturbing at times, so it’s definitely not for everyone. I really enjoyed it though, and I think Fuller did a great job of dealing with the psychological effects on a young girl who matures into a woman with only a mentally disturbed father for guidance.

 

The Serpent King CoverThe Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

This one came highly recommended from Stefani over at Caught Read Handed. It’s centred around the lives of Dill, who is struggling to escape the prison of his family’s past; Lydia, who has aspirations far beyond the boundaries of her hometown; and Travis, who escapes his violent home life by taking refuge in his love of a Game of Thrones style fantasy series. Up until the twist in the middle of the novel, I was enjoying it well enough but it wasn’t really affecting me emotionally, but the second half had me rooting for the characters and hoping to see them happy. It was a good read overall.

 

The Water-Babies Cover The Water-Babies by Charles Kingsley

A fairy tale about a boy who runs away from his cruel employer, gets turned into a water-baby, and has lots of strange adventures in the underwater world. I really didn’t like this book. It was written in 1863, so the style of language was quite different. I studied literature for years at university, so that’s not something that would usually bother me, but in this case I found the style of writing jarring and annoying. My main thought as I was reading it was, “this book is just weird for the sake of it”, and that really didn’t work for me. The talking turnips whose sole purpose was to learn lessons and be examined (or die), were the last straw!

Book Review – Interred with Their Bones

IMAGETitle: Interred with Their Bones (Kate Stanley #1)

Author: Jennifer Lee Carrell

Publisher: Plume

Date: August 2008

Format: Paperback (405 pages)

Synopsis: Jennifer Lee Carrell’s highly acclaimed debut novel is a brilliant, breathlessly paced literary adventure. The action begins on the eve of the Globe’s production of Hamlet when Shakespeare scholar and theatre director Kate Stanley’s eccentric mentor Rosalind Howard gives her a mysterious box, claiming to have made a groundbreaking discovery. Before she can reveal it to Kate, the Globe is burned to the ground and Roz is found dead…murdered precisely in the manner of Hamlet’s father.

Inside the box Kate finds the first piece in a Shakespearean puzzle, setting her on a deadly, high stakes treasure hunt. From London to Harvard to the American West, Kate races to evade a killer and solve a tantalizing string of clues hidden in the words of Shakespeare, which may unlock one of history’s greatest secrets.


This is the second book I’ve read from my Modern Mrs. Darcy’s 2016 Reading Challenge list and came under the category of “A book you own but have never read”.

I didn’t get too far into this story before it began to remind me of The Da Vinci Code and other thriller/mystery novels by the likes of Sam Bourne and Chris Kuzneski. That’s not a bad thing as I really enjoy stories where the characters are on the hunt for artefacts and answers while dodging assassins and various attempts to thwart their quest. I was happy to go along for the ride as they went from one piece of the puzzle to another in this fast-paced action narrative.

Since I’m a big fan of literature and academics, I really appreciated the amount of research that went into writing the book and all the history and theories that were explored, particularly those about the true identity of Shakespeare and the search for his lost plays. I enjoyed following the characters across different continents and through various libraries, archives and private collections to find the evidence they were looking for. There were a few points in the novel when I thought I had a handle on what was going on, but it wasn’t long before the game changed again and the characters were off and running in a new direction.

The main characters, Kate, Ben and Sir Henry, were okay for the story but not particularly memorable and I definitely cared more about the answers to the Shakespeare mysteries than I did about what happened to them. That didn’t really bother me though since the action kept me entertained enough.

Unsurprisingly for the genre, there were some fantastical claims and plot connections which did require me to suspend my disbelief, but I didn’t feel the need to try to separate fact from fiction and instead just went with it. This book made for fun, interesting and addictive reading and I was thoroughly entertained.

Overall Rating: Book Rating Picture Book Rating Picture Book Rating Picture Book Rating Picture My bookworm rating system is explained here.

Other Works by this Author: Carrell has also written a sequel to this book called Haunt Me Still.

Book Review – Ink and Bone

Cover ImageTitle: Ink and Bone (The Great Library #1)

Author: Rachel Caine

Publisher: Allison & Busby Limited

Date: July 2015

Format: Paperback (410 pages)

Synopsis: Knowledge is power. Power corrupts.

In a world where the ancient Great Library of Alexandria was never destroyed, knowledge now rules the world: freely available, but strictly controlled. Owning private books is a crime.

Jess Brightwell is the son of a black market book smuggler, sent to the Library to compete for a position as a scholar . . . but even as he forms friendships and finds his true gifts, he begins to unearth the dark secrets of the greatest, most revered institution in the world.

Those who control the Great Library believe that knowledge is more valuable than any human life—and soon both heretics and books will burn…


I don’t usually start reading a series until all the books have been published, but I decided to make an exception for Ink and Bone because it sounded SO GOOD. Thankfully, I was definitely not disappointed.

The world building was great and I really enjoyed learning about all the different elements. In this world, Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press was never allowed to come to light and the Great Library of Alexandria and its daughter libraries (the Serapeums) control all knowledge via the Codex. Citizens are permitted to own blanks (like eBook readers), that enable them to view copies of books held in the Codex, but will be arrested if they’re caught with an original.

Jess, the central character, is a runner for his father who traffics in illegal original books. He earns a place as a student (Postulant) at the Great Library to compete to become a Scholar. While there, he becomes embroiled in the dangerous secret world behind the public face of the Library which threatens everything, and everyone, he cares about.

He encounters Burners who use Greek Fire to burn books in protest against the Great Library; Obscurists who use alchemy to control the Codex and other elements of society; Garda Soldiers and machines called automatons that defend the library with deadly force; ink-lickers who eat books as the ultimate way to possess them; and many other characters and concepts that work together to create an interesting and complex world for readers to explore.

The conflict between original books and blanks felt like a commentary on physical books vs. eBooks, which was interesting, although certainly not overbearing or obvious if you weren’t looking for it (I do like a good bit of literary analysis!).

In between chapters there were short sections called ‘Ephemera’ which provided extracts of private correspondence taken from the Codex and the Black Archive (where the library stores restricted knowledge). There were quite a few hidden details and surprises in those that helped to make the story even more compelling.

I really liked Jess and many of the other supporting characters (especially General Santi and Postulant Morgan), but my favourite character was definitely Scholar Christopher Wolfe. I hated him at first for the way he treated Jess and the other Postulants, but as more and more of his personal life and history were revealed I ended up really caring about him and sympathising with his struggles. He’s one of those characters who has a lot more depth than is initially apparent and I find I’m emotionally invested in what happens to him in the next book.

One other cool thing I wanted to mention is that the author included a ‘Soundtrack’ section at the back of the book with a list of the songs she listened to while she wrote it. I love this idea as it’s an insight into the author’s creative process and the kind of emotions she was working with. I was especially happy to see Hozier’s Take Me to Church on the list!

I’ll admit that I thought the first couple of chapters were a bit slow and I didn’t become fully immersed in the story until Jess became a Postulant, but once he did the plot really took off and I didn’t want to put the book down. I would definitely recommend it.

The sequel, Paper and Fire, is due out in July this year and I can’t wait to read it!

Overall Rating: Book Rating Picture  Book Rating Picture Book Rating Picture Book Rating Picture Book Rating Picture My bookworm rating system is explained here.

Other Works by this Author: Rachel Caine (who also writes under several other names) is the author of over 40 novels. You can find out more here.


 

Book Review – Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Cover Image Title: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Author: Becky Albertalli

Publisher: Penguin Random House

Date: April 2015

Format: Paperback (303 pages)

Synopsis: Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now Simon is actually being blackmailed: if he doesn’t play wingman for class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone’s business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been emailing, will be compromised.

With some messy dynamics emerging in his once tight-knit group of friends, and his email correspondence with Blue growing more flirtatious every day, Simon’s junior year has suddenly gotten all kinds of complicated. Now, change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met.


One of my best friends and fellow book lover Stefani (Caught Read Handed) did everything but cross the Atlantic and hit me over the head with this book to get me to read it, and I’m really glad she did! When I reached the end of the last page I was left with a really warm, happy, fuzzy feeling that lasted for hours afterwards. It was a really satisfying read.

I was rooting for Simon from the beginning and loved how earnest and genuine he was, particularly in his emails with Blue. I really felt for him and just wanted to hug him and be his friend (it’s a mark of a good writer when you start having these feelings for fictional characters).

His life becomes very stressful and chaotic later in the novel and I think that many teenagers would have given up if faced with the difficulties Simon has to deal with, but one of my favourite things about him was that, despite all this, all he wants is to meet Blue and be with him. His integrity and strength of character really shines through.

His sense of humour is great too, which is something I always look for in any book that I read. No matter what circumstances characters find themselves in, I really enjoy humour in the face of adversity.

I have to admit, given that there wasn’t a huge number of characters, I assumed that it would be relatively easy to guess Blue’s identity, however I’m happy to say that all my guesses were completely wrong and it was a pleasant (and adorable) surprise when they finally met.

YA books can be a lifeline for teenagers struggling with very difficult issues, in this case sexuality, and I think Becky Albertalli has done them a great service by writing this book. They have to grow up in a world where they’re bombarded with images and ideas of who they “should” be, and feeling like they have to live up to these unrealistic goals means that they don’t get to just enjoy being themselves, which is something everyone should be able to do.

This quote in particular really stood out to me. I wish the world thought like Simon does:

“White shouldn’t be the default any more than straight should be the default. There shouldn’t even be a default.”

Damn straight, Simon. Damn straight.

Overall Rating: Book Rating Picture Book Rating Picture Book Rating Picture Book Rating Picture Book Rating Picture My bookworm rating system is explained here.

Other Works by this Author: This is Albertalli’s first novel.


 

Book Review – The Borrower

Cover ImageTitle: The Borrower

Author: Rebecca Makkai

Publisher: William Heinemann

Date: 2011

Format: Paperback (324 pages)

Synopsis: Lucy Hull, a 26-year-old children’s librarian in Hannibal, Missouri, finds herself both kidnapper and kidnapped when her favourite patron, 10-year-old Ian Drake, runs away from home. The precocious Ian is addicted to reading, but needs Lucy’s help to smuggle books past his overbearing mother, who has enrolled Ian in weekly anti-gay classes.

Lucy, a rebel at heart beneath her librarian’s exterior, stumbles into a moral dilemma when she finds Ian camped out in the library after hours, with a knapsack of provisions and an escape plan. Desperate to save him from the Drakes, Lucy allows herself to be hijacked by Ian. The odd pair embark on an improvised road trip from Missouri to Vermont, with ferrets and an inconvenient boyfriend thrown in their path. Along the way, Lucy struggles to make peace with her Russian immigrant father and his fugitive past, and is forced to use his shady connections to escape discovery.

But is it just Ian who is running away? Who is the strange man on their tail? And should Lucy be trying to save a boy from his own parents?


I really wanted to like this book (novels about books and libraries are always attractive to me) and at first I did. I found Ian’s active imagination and fervent love of books adorable and I could relate to Lucy and her desire to expose him to as many books as possible, despite his conservative mother’s attempts to force her to curb his more liberal reading habits. I also really liked all the literary references that kept cropping up.

My feelings of enjoyment lasted about 80 pages, however, then things went completely downhill.

Picture the scene. You arrive at work and find a 10-year-old boy who has run away from home hiding out in your library. Presumably, you would either take him home or call his parents/the police. Lucy does neither. Instead, feeling dissatisfied with her own life and searching for a way to escape her creep of a boyfriend, she jumps in the car with Ian and, after allowing him to lead her on a wild goose chase before realising he’s lying about his home address, decides it would be a great idea to “save” him from his parents and drive off with him for over a week across several state lines.

* There are a couple of spoilers from this point on.*

What really annoyed me was that Lucy frequently admits to herself that what she is doing is both immoral and illegal, but decides that she’s probably going to jail anyway so what does it matter if she keeps driving? She justifies it by letting Ian decide which direction they’ll drive in (so it’s not technically kidnapping). Yeah, okay then.

Along the way she allows Ian’s asthma medication to run out; steals from her father’s friends (who apparently won’t miss the items because they belonged to their runaway daughter, so who cares?);  leaves Ian alone in their hotel room while she gets drunk at the bar; lies through her teeth at every opportunity; and eventually sends Ian home on a bus with another shady friend of her father who she has never met before (after convincing Ian to lie to his parents about where he’s been so that she won’t have to go to jail).

I’ve seen a few reviews which have claimed that the unrealistic nature of the plot doesn’t matter, and that it’s actually an endearing story about a shared love of books and a journey of self-discovery, which isn’t meant to be taken seriously as a realistic story.

If this novel was meant to be tongue-in-cheek, then I guess I missed the memo. If I wanted to suspend my disbelief to the extent required for this ridiculous plot, then I would have read a sci-fi or fantasy book (my favourite genres, just for the record).

For me, it’s a story about a selfish and irresponsible woman who allows herself to be dictated to by a child and instructs him to lie so she can avoid the consequences of her actions. I don’t demand perfection from characters in the books I read (how boring would that be?), but I just can’t relate to Lucy’s character at all.

I had a few other issues with this book, (like the recurring stereotype of librarians as being reserved and generally dull) but I think I’ve ranted for long enough! The writing itself wasn’t bad and the dialogue was funny in places, but I couldn’t get past my fundamental issues with the plot and Lucy’s character.

Overall Rating: Book Rating Picture My bookworm rating system is explained here.

Other Works by this Author: Makkai has also written The Hundred-Year House and Music for Wartime: Stories.


 

 

Book Review – The Tiger’s Wife

Cover ImageTitle: The Tiger’s Wife

Author: Téa Obreht

Publisher: Phoenix

Date: 2011

Format: Paperback (336 pages)

Synopsis: In a Balkan country mending from years of conflict, Natalia, a young doctor, arrives on a mission of mercy at an orphanage by the sea. By the time she and her lifelong friend Zóra begin to inoculate the children there, she feels age-old superstitions and secrets gathering everywhere around her.

But Natalia is also confronting a mystery of her own: the inexplicable circumstances surrounding her beloved grandfather’s death. Grief struck and searching for clues to her grandfather’s final state of mind, she turns to the stories he told her when she was a child. On their weekly trips to the zoo he would read to her from a worn copy of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book; later, he told her stories of his own encounters over many years with ‘the deathless man’, a vagabond who claimed to be immortal and appeared never to age. But the most extraordinary story of all is the one her grandfather never told her, the one Natalia must discover for herself.


The first thing I’ll say about this book is that it’s not the easiest to dip in and out of if you’re the kind of person who likes to read a chapter or two of a book at a time. The narrative shifts between chapters from Natalia describing present-day events, to her narrating her grandfather’s past and also some sections of her grandfather telling stories in the first person. It was a bit confusing at first, and initially quite frustrating as I wanted to stay with Natalia rather than keep delving into the past, but after about a quarter of the way through the book the narrative structure made sense for the overall story and I was happy to go along with it.

While Natalia searches for answers about her grandfather’s death, she recounts the events of his childhood in which he was obsessed with finding a tiger that was on the loose in and around his hometown. The tiger is portrayed as a wondrous mythical creature and I felt like I was chasing it through the book along with Natalia’s grandfather, but never quite catching it. I shared in his desire to understand the tiger and its relationship to ‘the tiger’s wife’ – a young woman from his youth who has an unusual connection to the animal.

The story is a strange mix of mythology, the supernatural and the cold, hard reality of war. The ‘deathless man’ was a very intriguing character who kept popping up in unexpected places to add to the mystery of the story. I was constantly questioning what was real and what wasn’t and I really enjoyed the conclusion to Natalia’s search which offered an interesting and imaginative answer to the mystery of death.

Obreht is a skilful writer, and although there were a few clichés in places and some initial issues with the narrative structure, the overall style and quality of the story is impressive, especially for someone who was only 25 when it was published. I look forward to reading any novels she writes in the future.

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Other Works by this Author: This is Obreht’s first novel.