Other Books 2013/14

Other Books – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon Read 19/12/14

Upon starting Curious Incident all I knew was that it was from the point of view of a young boy with ‘some behavioural difficulties’ suggested to be Asperger’s  Syndrome. I’m not sure if this influenced me before I started the book but I imagined it to be rather difficult to follow. I think this was because from my understanding of the condition, people with Asperger’s find the world difficult to understand so it would make sense that I wouldn’t be able to make sense of the world as they saw it.

Although the narration is most definitely unlike any I have read before it still feels like a novel which I wasn’t expecting. It gives an insight as to how difficult it must be to navigate a world in which people make no sense. Christopher is 15 but he has never been past the end of the road by himself. When his next door neighbour’s dog is murdered Christopher takes it upon himself to solve the mystery and find the murderer.

From that synopsis, which is given in some form on every version of the book, you wouldn’t expect what this story is really about. I don’t want to give the game away but the mystery in this book is not the murdered dog. In many ways the mystery is people and Christopher has to do some major detective work as to why they behave the way they do. As with a lot of good mysteries the reader figures it out before the narrator and the fun comes in watching Christopher put the clues together.

I do have an issue with this book. I love the fact that people with disabilities are being represented in literature and I can only encourage more of that. But I feel as if the uncomfortable bits are slightly glossed over. Christopher talks about his humming and rocking when he isn’t coping and it is mentioned in a very light way. It doesn’t seem to convey the fear he must be feeling and the distress he is in. I wish this book had been a bit more honest it feels like a rose tinted version of living with a disability. That being said I think the wide spread success of this book can only help in getting people to talk and think about disabilities in a way they might never have previously.

There are some rather memorable parts of this book such as Christopher’s inclusion of diagrams the better to help the reader’s understanding, his use of prime numbers to number the chapters and the fact he explains the things he doesn’t understand to us as if we don’t understand them as well. These elements are so original that I understand why this book won awards. Haddon uses the established convention of a book as an example of the things the able bodied take for granted as comprehensible.

If you wanted any more indication that this is a great book, Parents in Texas have banned it from High School Libraries.

Rating: 4/5

Would recommend to: everyone, especially if you are a high school student in Texas.

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Other Books 2013/14

Other Books – Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen Read 17/12/14

Sometimes I think about the fact that by my age Jane Austen had already written Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice. I normally then have a bit of a crisis as to what am I doing with my life. Anyway, as previously established on Bernie and Books, I love Jane Austen and I have kind of started a new little challenge for myself to read all her published works. Next on the Jane Austen list and what with needing a bit of a break from the top 100 after On the Road, I started on Northanger Abbey. 

Whereas with every previous Austen I had read, I had never seen an adaptation of Northanger Abbey and it was a refreshing experience to go into the novel blind. Catherine Morland is one of 10 children of a clergyman. Her life is no where near as exciting as the heroines in her favourite Gothic Novels. When family friends invite Catherine to Bath the usual Jane Austen romantic conflict happens. The best bit is when Catherine’s friends from Bath invite her to stay at their home Northanger Abbey and its Gothic nature fires Catherine’s imagination resulting in ‘misunderstandings of the heart’.

One of my favourite things about Austen’s writing is the satire and let me tell you she is on point with Northanger Abbey. I think to understand a lot of it you have to be familiar with the conventions of Gothic Literature so perhaps read some of Catherine Morland’s favourite books before you start it. If you can’t be bothered with that, this book offers just as much enjoyment from the misunderstandings, romantic conflicts and comic characters as Emma, S&s or P&P. 

I really enjoyed the setting of Bath as it made a change from the grand country houses we normally see in Austen’s work. Admittedly the last portion of the book takes place in a grand country house but it was really interesting to see a different aspect of Austen’s world. I must admit I was bit confused when I started reading it because, as with Captain Corelli’s Mandolin I felt a bit like “this book needed a different title”.

I love the ending of this book so much. Normally with Austen there is a happily ever after so I don’t think I am giving too much away if I say that this book is very similar although not the same. Right at the end when you least expected I was completely in shock and then wetting myself laughing. There is the biggest curve ball and it works perfectly. Perhaps this book should have been called Incorrect Assumptions or something like that because that really is the predominant theme.

In terms of where it sits with the other Jane Austen I have read I would say I like it a lot more than Emma, a bit more than Pride and Prejudice but it sits in a comfortable second after Sense and Sensibility. 

Rating:4/5

Would recommend to: give it a go if you’re new to Jane Austen.    

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Other Books 2013/14

Other Books – The Road, Cormac McCarthy Read 8/12/14

Not to be confused with On The Road by Jack Kerouac which is why I originally bought it oops. Still I love it when this happens because it means I accidentally discover a book that I never would have picked up other wise.

Anyway, The Road. A father and son walked their way across burnt America. They are heading for the coast although they don’t know what awaits them there. All they have to defend themselves is a pistol from the savage gangs that room the wasteland.

Sounds pretty cool right? And pretty reminiscent of The Stand by Stephen King. That’s what I thought anyway and when I was finished I felt pretty vindicated because this book is everything The Stand should be but it is 1000 pages shorter. The atmosphere of fear is so powerful I expected the world to end any second whilst reading it. Structurally this book is as sparse as the barren ex-country of America and it is brilliant at building the tension. What am I even afraid of? Deep down I know but I don’t want to admit it. Not until the very end when it is said out load by the little boy, not even then do I want to accept it as a possibility.

There is some pretty graphic stuff in this book I must admit. Be prepared if you are squeamish or easily disturbed like me. I suggest reading the Wikipedia page first so it doesn’t come as quite so much of a shock if you do want to read it and I really recommend you do. There isn’t much to the plot, there is very little character development but this book is like a lesson in atmosphere. It is so well done you understand without knowing anything. I could picture this once green now black waste land I had never seen and I could sense the shadows around me, behind the sofa, in the next room, the ghosts that vanished just as I switched on the light. It is rare when a book can do that to you.

There isn’t really much to the ending either. There is no conclusion, no satisfaction and I know when I was younger I would have found this very frustrating. But now I understand there is no conclusion for the characters and the author makes us feel their ongoing struggle as we close the final pages of the book. For that reason, and the gorey bits, don’t read it before you go to sleep. Seriously, there are some books that for the sake of your health you need to read in daylight and this is one of them.

Rating: 4/5

Would recommend to: post-apocalyptic lovers with a strong stomach.

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Other Books 2013/14

Other Books – Slaves of the Mastery, William Nicholson Read 6/12/14

This is the sequel to the book I just reviewed and the second in the Wind on Fire trilogy. I suggest you scroll down and read the last review before you read this one. Go one. Off you trot.

Anyway, seeing as there is a sequel I don’t think it is too much of a spoiler to say that everyone survived the previous book. 5 years on from that story, the city of Aramanth has become a much fairer place but it has also become weaker. This makes it vulnerable and soon the entire Manath people have been enslaved by the evil Mastery. By some miracle Kestrel escapes and she sets out trying to free her loved ones and her people.

I must admit I enjoyed this story a lot more than the previous one. I don’t know if it is because the characters are slightly older so I relate to them a bit more, or if it is because this book feels a little more light hearted. There are still a few heavy parts and there is just as much moral, social justice stuff happening but there is also a princess and a wedding which I suppose can even be read as a feminist point. This story is also a little more about the character’s relationships with each other rather than the epic quest they are on and I enjoyed that. The friendships and romances that ensue are really interesting and make you think about good and bad and do evil deeds make you an evil person.

The issue that I had last time of the scale being too vast for the pace has gone. Everything feels much more in proportion and as Kestrel and Bowman make their separate journeys across the country time seems to pass at an appropriate rate. The story also moves between different locations and time frames, which I hadn’t realised I enjoyed until I read this book. The linear progression of the previous book felt very childish and obvious where as this story is much more complex as a result of the dual narrative. It is as if in the first book everything had been sweeping wide shots where as in this book there are more close ups.

I also liked the introduction of the Singer People who I am guessing come into play much more in the final book but the mystery was set up really nicely giving just enough away and keeping just enough back. I hadn’t been bothered about reading the next one until I wrote this review but thinking about it again has really sparked my interest. The introduction of the Singer People also really develops the character of Bowman. Previously I had written him off a bit as it felt much more like Kestrel’s story but now I think that Bowman will be crucial before the end.

Now I feel I should put in a little warning here. I mentioned earlier there is some pretty heavy stuff, well I had forgotten until now about the monkey cages. They are pretty gruesome and very disturbing and I found them upsetting even as an adult. Perhaps before you let your 10 year old lose on this book be aware there is some pretty graphic torture that happens.

Rating: 4/5

Would recommend to: slightly older children.

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Other Books 2013/14

Other Books – The Wind Singer, William Nicholson Read 3/12/14

I picked up the second book in this children’s series in a 3 for £5 book deal. I read the back and it sounded somewhere between Divergent and The Hunger Games so I thought why not give it a go? It was then I realised that I had bought the second book. The first book in the series The Wind Singer I managed to get off BookMooch and I started at the beginning because you know, logic.

I had vague memories of the cover from my primary school library and I must admit the target audience for this book probably doesn’t reach past 13. That being said it deals with some pretty heavy stuff.  The supposedly idyllic city of Aramanth encourages its citizen to strive to make themselves better. Citizens are tested throughout their lives in the hopes of moving up the ranks to the next level of society. However, there are those that disagree with the system and Kestrel her twin brother Bowman and their school friend Mumpo set out on a quest that takes them far beyond the city’s walls to try and free their people from endless toil.

This book is certainly a rich, detailed fantasy and the world is multi-layered and dynamic. There are also clear morals and the messages are the kind that you want your 10+ child to be reading. But there is a really creepy enemy in this book. It gets so weird. I won’t mention anything more because I don’t want to spoil it but it gets really heavy really quickly. I am trying to remember back to my pre-teen self to think if I would have been cool with that or not. Maybe? I think this is a children’s story for children who are passionate about reading. It isn’t exactly accessible but I don’t think that is a bad thing it just makes it a bit niche.

My only other criticism is that this world is so deep and complex and the quest is of pretty epic proportions but the writing feels a little rushed. It is quite hard to imagine 3 children who haven’t hit adolescence yet trekking across the dessert and up a mountain so quickly. It feels like they do this epic journey and then are done within a week. If I read it again I might be able to figure out the timings and realise that it wasn’t that speedy but something in the writing style made me feel that.

All in all it was quite an enjoyable read. When I finished I was quite compelled to read the sequel so it was a good thing I already had a copy.

Rating:4/5

Would recommend to: children 10+ who are accomplished readers.

P.S. Happy World Book Day!

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Other Books 2013/14

Other Books – The Virgin Suicides, Jeffrey Eugenides Read 27/11/14

*Just a note to say that this post discusses suicide and some may find it triggering*

One of my absolute favourite Booktubers is Sanne over at booksandquills and I read a lot of books on her recommendation. The Virgin Suicides was one of them. I like coming of age stories and the like so I put this on my wishlist on Bookmooch, a site where you can swap books for free. Quite a while after I had requested it, and forgotten about it, I got a copy in the post.

The Virgin Suicides is in many ways for me like the film The Tree of Life. One of the major themes is memory and perception of other people and both are set in leafy suburban America. The Virgin Suicides is the story of the 5 Lisbon sisters all of whom kill themselves. The sisters’ story is recalled by a group of boys who watch them with wonder from across the street. and stole precious few moments with them before their tragic end.

I can’t really describe the plot because not much happens and right from the beginning you know that all the sisters are going to die. What is so captivating about this book is the writing. The narrative is filled with the heady awe of the boys, none of whom we really get to meet or know. Some are referred to by name but you can never grasp the full picture. How many boys are there? Who is telling the story right now? It is as the reader has been invited to read a very private diary in which not everything is explain because only people who already know have access to it.

Similarly, we never really get to know the Lisbon sisters. We are only presented with the boys vision of them, not who they really are. Of course they romanticise and build them up to be impossible people and sometimes as the reader we see a little more of the truth as we can remove ourselves from the boys adoration. This has the effect of making everything appear to happen behind a veil; an in between space of people who don’t really exist.

I really recommend this book. It feels to me like a discussion about escape. The boys try to escape the boredom of their conservative neighbourhood, the girls try to escape the boredom of their stifled lives. For the boys the girls are the escape and for the girls the escape is suicide. Neither is healthy, neither brings happiness,  only a strange infatuation with something that is forbidden and incomprehensible. Read this book it is so well written. It is consuming and absorbing and fascinating. It is a work of art in that it joins seamlessly the style and narrative so that everything overlaps and fills you with heady intrigue.

Rating:4/5

Would recommend to: contemporary fiction lovers.

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Other Books 2013/14

Other Books – How to be a Woman, Caitlin Moran Read 13/11/14

So the only other autobiography I have read was Morrissey’s. Needless to say Caitlin Moran’s was a bit different. She tells her life story from growing up in a council house in Wolverhampton to becoming a music journalist at a young age through to the columnist she is today. I knew very little about her before I started How to be a Woman but I was persuaded to read it as I had been told it was a good view point on modern day feminism.

Having read it though, I would say it was much more about class as a social issue than feminism. Yes, Moran does bring up some good feminist points but what stuck me most of all was the way she came from such a poor background. Rather than call this a feminist book I would describe it much more as a social commentary. The feminism Moran describes is a little narrow minded and focus much more on ‘1st world problems’. It is also made very light and accessible which I don’t necessarily think is a bad thing but leaves out quite a few rather important issues.

At its heart this is a memoir, Moran just expresses some of her opinions which happen to be feminist. She also tackles political and social issues with the same slightly light hearted mockery. She describes her childhood with fondness and nostalgia despite the fact it sounds very much to me like something out of Morrissey’s autobiography; just a little less melodramatic and Dickensian. What she does tackle sensitively and honestly is abortion. It was one of my favourite chapters and the only part which felt heavy, as if she wasn’t afraid to shy away from difficult issues and I commend her for the candid way she talked about her experience.

This book is also really funny. It is honest and a completely honest women is hard to come by. Quite often women shy away from certain topics for fear they shall be viewed as crude and unladylike and therefore unattractive to men. For Moran this concept doesn’t seem to exist and it is very refreshing. I laughed my head of at times because I felt like “yes! That is so true but I would never have admitted it in a million years!”. It is like sharing an embarrassing secret with your best friend and laughing about your own stupidity/misfortune/shame.

What I love most about this book is it is the kind of book that makes men uncomfortable. It talks graphically about sex, genitals, childbirth, periods, waxing etc. and a lot of the men I know can’t even touch a box of tampons let alone think about their use. This book takes a lot of the mystery out of how to be a woman and even at the age of 20 I learnt things I didn’t know about being female. That’s why I recommend it, it doesn’t break any new ground on feminism, but it is funny and relatable and honest.

Rating: 4/5

Would recommend to: read if you want to debunk some of the less clear aspects of womanhood.

 

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