A cinema in Swindon does parent and baby screenings. I went and saw Life of Pi with a few ‘mummy friends’ (I swear I will never use that phrase again) and even though it was 10am, it felt amazing to do something kind of normal again.
I did wonder if Ang Lee would recreate the iconic jacket image, and I’m not sure if I’m glad or disappointed that he did. The film was quite obviously filmed for 3D, and there was so much CGI it was completely unreal. That said, Life of Pi is such a surreal story that it’s probably a good thing. And it makes me want to read Beatrice and Virgil again.
Some key moments were missing, but that was absolutely understandable.
It wasn’t the best film I’ve ever seen, but certainly not the worst.
Jeff might be my literary soul mate. He sent me a copy of My Friend Dahmer speculatively in anticipation of my labour and delivery. I’m sure he didn’t mean to hint that I should pay attention in case Anne has dark fantasies and murderous desires as an adolescent.
I don’t read graphic novels enough. This is an excellent personal observation of Dahmer as a young man, before he started his less-than-wholesome extra curricular activities. Told from a peer’s point of view, it feels very authentic and matter-of-fact. Backderf isn’t shying from admitting to things he did that he may now be ashamed of, and he asks some serious questions of the adults in Dahmer’s life.
If you don’t ask, you don’t get. So I asked the publishers if I could get a review copy of John Irving’s latest, In One Person, because I am a big fan and would (more likely than not) review it. And I got it, two days later.
Billy Dean grows up in 50s and 60s America, with a cross-dressing grandfather (who does so only while acting on stage), disapproving grandmother, aunt, and mother. He doesn’t know what to think about his own complex feelings for Miss Frost, the local librarian, and an older student at his all boys school.
We go on this journey with Billy, whose bisexuality (not a spoiler) keeps him confused and liberated at the same time. The novel travels back and forth through his life, where we meet all the important men and women he’s loved (and who love him). We also get to see the 80s — a truly horrific time for people who have (unprotected) sex with others — through his eyes.
My mate Jeff has been on me to read Reamde since before Christmas. Neil bought it for me for Christmas. Jeff kept asking me, Have you read Reamde yet? Tell me what you think of it once you have! I wondered why he was so kancheong about it — we both really like Neal Stephenson, but this was a bit overkill.
And then I read it.
For starters, it goes back to the gaming world of Snow Crash (well — sort of): this time we are with the game’s creator Richard Forthrast, a very rich man with a colourful past who owns the world of T’Rain, a MMORPG (I think) that has taken the world by storm. There’s virtual war, virtual currency, and some Russian mafia thrown in for good measure. As well as a very large part of the story set in Xiamen.
That’s the OMFG part.
Is it really geeky that I was so thrilled to pretty much recognise every part of Xiamen he described? Even the apartment blocks — I may not know the exact streets he writes about, but I’ve definitely been down many of them. That crazy-ass wiring? It’s everywhere, you just need to get off the main tourist drag.
Neil heard me squeak with excitement when I realised the characters were going to be spending a substantial amount of time in Xiamen. And it was clear that his research trip must have been a few years ago, as the waterfront he speaks of has pretty much been fully developed and occupied (I even have an idea of which office building he must have been thinking of when talking about the safe house).
He could have been talking about the 禾祥西/东路 (Hexiang Xi / Dong Lu) area when he referred to where the Troll and Jones lived. We didn’t see 鼓浪屿 (Gulangyu) this time as we were told the number of tourists that now visit is so massive it’d be unpleasant, but he captured it very well. I wonder if he ate any muah chee while he was there. And the roundhouses! We’ve been there too! I have so many lousy photos of the roundhouses that I could have been his research assistant.
But. He said they all got stared at and people would run out to see them. I only see this happening with Zula, as the other characters didn’t seem any different from the thousands of laowai who have taken up residence in Xiamen. Caucasians aren’t a reason to gawk any more, not in Xiamen.
So that was me being anal-retentive.
What a fun novel! Loads of action, geeky stuff, extreme libertarians, guns, planes, Russians, romance — what’s not to love? Stephenson has a real flair for giving the reader a lot of information without it seeming too much like a lecture or really bad dialogue.
Needless to say, this book is going on the collector’s shelf (no child is going to get their hands on it until they understand how badly I’m going to react if any of these books are damaged) next to my Peanuts comics.
Details:Reamde by Neal Stephenson, Atlantic Books, £18.99
Have you ever read a book that gave you a real sense of impending dread and heartbreak by the second or third chapter? Perhaps it’s because I am in my current ‘condition’, but I felt so stricken by Eve’s story.
Eve has met and married a man — Tommy Car — who is very kind, and they set up house together. (Tangent: a reviewer on Goodreads described its setting as Yorkshire / Northern England, but as I read it, I was thinking, this is Scotland. But anyway.) They try and try for a baby, while Eve’s sister keeps popping them out.
Finally, Eve and Tommy have a baby, but their joy doesn’t last long. Eve faces a real tug of war between her role as a wife and sister — her sister is incredibly bitter about her own lot and doesn’t hesitate to make it Eve’s issue.
Being a Susan Hill novel (I assume, as I’ve only read one other of her works), there is an unexplained supernatural element to A Kind Man, but it’s more a vehicle to further explore Tommy’s kindness.
This is a short novel, and it kind of feels to me like it’s about karma. The story has been told with economy and a lightness of touch, which probably helped me not cry, but the experience I had while reading wasn’t any less strong.
Harlan Coben is one of those authors whose books I’ve seen in all the bookshops, but have avoided because I was thinking he might end up too much like James Patterson (i.e. prolific, not very good, but begging for a film rights deal).
So when I was sent a copy of Stay Close (part of the Real Readers programme), I was a bit sceptical, to say the least. But I read the whole thing in one afternoon at a coffee shop and rather enjoyed it, in that I-have-a-day-off-and-I’m-going-to-chill-out way. It draws together a suburban soccer mom, down-and-out photographer, and police detective who are linked by an event in the past — that’s the only simple way to put it.
I’m not sure I’m going to deliberately seek out more Harlan Coben novels, but at least this first one I’ve read doesn’t make me want to spew like the time I was bored and tried to read a James Patterson book. In fact, it was pretty absorbing and fun to read — if you’re the crime fiction type, that is.
It tells the story of Teena and her daughter Bethel Maguire, who are accosted one night, going home from a Fourth of July party via a shortcut. The ones doing the accosting are a bunch of young men. You can imagine what happens next.
It’s crude and takes no prisoners, but isn’t graphic. The voice, which jumped among a few characters, did (to me) reflect the emotional state of whoever was telling the story. It was profoundly affecting, yet cold.
I suggested this book to a book group, and it wasn’t received very well. It’s not exactly a cheerful nor uplifting read, I guess. But it is amazing.
Only having read two of Cory Doctorow’s novels, I can’t really say if he’s going to be one of my favourite authors, but the prognosis is good.
What I’ve liked so much about what I’ve read so far is his science fiction-y view of our near future is so plausible (and so deliciously geeky). In Eastern Standard Tribe, our protagonist is a user experience expert who is also a saboteur, working in GMT but is really a double agent for EST. But then he meets a girl.
The story flips back and forth in time, over a period of a few months (I think). We know that he’s been locked up somewhere (that’s how the novel starts), and then we go back in time and meet the girl. The entire story is basically about how these two events collide.
It was fun, and if you dabble a little in cyberpunk now and again, you’ll probably like it.
Take one middle-aged anatomist and one much-younger widow, put them together in 18th century England, and bang! A crime-fighting team. This period Grissom and Sidle (heh, they’re Crowther and Westerman) have been called in to solve the mystery of an extra body found while excavating an old tomb. The complication is, the land used to belong to Crowther’s family, who sold everything and changed his name after his brother was executed for their father’s murder, three decades prior.
I believe this is the third in a series (the interview at the end of this edition says there will be five in total). While I found the novel sufficiently diverting — I read it in a day — I’m not that bothered about reading the first two, nor am I anticipating the final two. Basically, it was fun, but not brilliant.
(In contrast, I came upon the Matthew Shardlake series by C.J. Sansom by reading book two or three, then immediately went to try and find all the others that were available.)
This book was received free via the Real Readers programme.
Oh yes, I went there. Kristen sent me the trilogy for my birthday after a quick Facebook exchange on the merits of the series, and I saved it for my Singapore trip.
While not the best books I’ve ever read, they are a great introduction to dystopian fiction for a younger reader. Incredibly absorbing and a good plot meant I just kept reading and reading until I was all done. I don’t know if reviewers (at least of the film adaptation) are reading far too much into its YA literary roots — all I know is, when I was a teenager and reading YA novels, I wasn’t seeing any sort of parallels with my own experiences of growing up. I was after entertainment and being transported away from my ordinary life, which continues to be my yardstick for what I deem to be a good novel.
There’s not very much to say about The Hunger Games that hasn’t already been said many times over, except that it did take me in unexpected directions. I liked that. Would I read it again? Probably not, but I’d recommend it to others.
11.22.63 wasn’t really what I expected. Given my familiarity with Stephen King novels tends towards the horror genre (ah, my teen years were as stereotypical as you could get), I kept expecting to read something darker and more unexplainable than a rip in the space-time continuum that allows Jake Epping to leave 2011 and go back to 1958, long before his own birth.
(All that’s in the blurb on the flap, so no spoilers.)
I found some elements quite predictable, but I don’t think anyone could write a ‘What if JFK didn’t die?’ novel without going over ground millions of others have already considered. So that didn’t spoil anything. One thing I’m grateful for is this wasn’t an ‘action’ novel; while there was enough violence and weirdness and running and hiding and so on, it really was Jake’s story, and how his taking on a mission to save JFK completely changed his life.
I would just fall short of pressing the book into your hands and saying, You must read 11.22.63, but that’s because Full Dark, No Stars was such a top read. So Stephen King’ll get his royalties from me, in any case.
Details:11.22.63 by Stephen King, Hodder & Stoughton, £19.99
I’d seen The Silent Land mentioned on one of the sites I do work for, and it sounded really good. It’s also been nominated for a number of science fiction and fantasy awards, I’ve just discovered. But reading it left me feeling a little deflated, to be honest.
A couple dig themselves out of an avalanche and return to their village and hotel to recover, only to discover the entire place is deserted. Even worse, every time they try to leave, they find themselves back at the village.
I can’t quite put my finger on why the book didn’t do anything for me. The premise wasn’t the most original, but it was interesting enough. I managed to finish the novel in a decent time, so it wasn’t the author’s style. The main thing that niggled with me throughout, though, was the dialogue. I just didn’t find it convincing.
And the ending? Oh man. I don’t even really want to go there, but I will. So there are obviously spoilers.
There are very few novels that purport to be scary that have ever actually made me not want to read them at night. I tend to read before bed, y’see. But when I got to the end of a chapter about halfway through The Woman In Black, I knew I had to stop and turn out the light, otherwise I’d be reading till I got to the end and then be unable to sleep because it’d be preying on my mind.
That’s how good this novella is. Basically, Arthur Kipps is a young lawyer in London who is sent somewhere in the Northeast to Eel Marsh House, as a long-time client of his employer has passed away and someone needs to sort out their affairs. When he gets to the nearest village, he finds that the locals aren’t very interested in talking about the house or its recently-deceased occupant. in fact, they seem downright phobic about it. And then he finds out why.
The Woman in Black is incredibly atmospheric and — dare I say it — filmic. You can see Eel Marsh House in your mind’s eye and experience it the same way Kipps does when he first arrives. This is all great except for the scary bits, because the excellent writing makes it really fucking scary!
The film adaptation is being advertised at the moment, and I was actually keen to see the film until I decided to look up the trailer. I can already tell it’s going to be utter shite compared to the book. The book is a ghost story. The film looks to be typical horror schlock, turning the plot into a caricature of its spooky self. But I suppose it’s commercial. *sigh*
You’re better off watching this video of Daniel Radcliffe (who plays Kipps in the film) reading an extract from the actual book:
The introduction says that George Friel, the author of Mr. Alfred, M.A., was a teacher and hated it. You can tell, given the title character’s disdain for / exhaustion with his profession.
Mr. Alfred is a teacher in a shit part of Glasgow, teaching (mostly) shitty kids. His one ray of hope is Rose Weipers, a female student. But his feelings for her (which are never entirely clear — is he honourable or a dirty old man?) are soon found out and his life comes crashing down around his ears.
Like Robin Jenkins was really good at doing, Friel wrote very descriptively about life in Glasgow’s less-than-prosperous areas. History tends to repeat itself, or young people with nothing to hope for all turn out the same, no matter the decade. And lots of men still spend their evenings like Mr. Alfred — drinking.
Is it a cautionary tale? I don’t know. But it’s edgier and harder than Robin Jenkins. Worth a read if you’re at all familiar with the city.
Makers does what it says on the tin. It’s about guys who make stuff. The tinkerers and inventors. In a near future.
I wasn’t sure I was going to like it. This is because I am far too aware of who Cory Doctorow is — it sets up expectations. I’m glad my fears weren’t realised. This novel was kind of fun, actually. It revolves around Lester and Perry, two really clever guys, and Suzanne, a reporter who follows their ups and downs.
It does a ‘what happens next?’ kind of story, following the dot-com boom and bust. It seems a plausible vision of our near future — I know 3D printers are pretty damn exciting things and Neil would probably worship the ground I walk on if I could ever afford to surprise him with one.
That’s the beauty of Makers — it takes things we (or the nerdy / geeky among us, at least) know already exist (the aforementioned 3D printers, Disney) and applies them to a more cyberpunkish world. More stuff, more disposable stuff!
(The other thing that was really fascinating was the fatkins sub-plot. I can totally see it happening in our world of quick fixes.)
All in all, if you’re a bit of a techy person — by that I mean you’re not the ‘Apple mass-market consumer electronics are so innovative’ type — Makers is the novel for you. It reminded me a little of Neal Stephenson’s work, and that’s high praise.
Details:Makers by Cory Doctorow, Harper Voyager, £7.99
Now I know where ‘grok’ comes from. Valentine Michael Smith is a human who was raised as a Martian, and he’s been ‘returned’ to Earth. His naïveté and deep wisdom bring confusion, chaos, and ecstasy to those around him.
Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land was an interesting read, mainly because it was so anachronistic. I did not find the plainly misogynistic bits offensive — they were pretty funny because they are so out of chime with what’s acceptable these days. I don’t know this, but was Heinlein an early Flower Power dude? He should’ve been.
I can see why this has been considered a science fiction classic. It’s got aliens, space travel, and a different moral system. It was published at a time of great change (I’m presuming, since I wasn’t there), and the best science fiction puts ideas and belief systems into different contexts to show them for what they really are (sort of), all the while telling a really good yarn.