Off the Page

This gem is the brain child of prolific author Jodi Picoult and her clearly talented daughter, Samantha Van Leer, who clearly has all the story telling potential her mother has honed!

Despite not having read Between the Lines, the novel this is a sequel to, I can safely say that Off the Page stands alone perfectly.

The introduction of their quirky teenage characters dealing with an even quirkier literary situation is seamless and I was very quickly wrapped up in the mess of a fairy tale world/ real world collision that took place both inside and outside of the book.

With a very clear romantic undertow together these authors manage to make these characters not only likable but believable throughout the unlikely series of events and have even thrown in enough awkward yet witty scenarios to make what could be a wash out romance into a novel worthy of more than just the target audience. It’s fair to say this not so young adult was enthralled to the end and only wishing that I had the imagination to come up with such a brilliant formula for a story.

A clear winner and one that can be held up to the likes of Rainbow Rowell, my personal queen of YA fiction.

A Girl is a Half-formed Thing

As a rule I don’t like to avoid things because they are popular or because they have won all the awards, in fact I buy into the marketing that goes along with awards and it does normally make me want to read the book, buy the album or whatever it may be and at least find out about it so I can have my own opinion. Gosh, I do love to have an opinion and I am sure that sometimes this isn’t a great quality but it’s how I am and it has opened my eyes to a lot of different things… I don’t believe it is possible to have a decent conversation about something unless you have put some leg work in first. Read. Listen. Learn and then real, informed responses and opinions can be formed.

So, I had zero thoughts on A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride until I had picked up the book other than that I had heard that it couldn’t be described as an ‘easy read’ but that is not something that would put me off… if anything that’s a challenge set. Not only winning a Bailey’s and Goldsmith’s Prize McBride has won a total of 6 awards for this novel, written in a mere 6 months and portraying a stream of consciousness from the perspective of a young woman, nameless in this stream, experiencing and dealing with a series of events in her Irish, Catholic family.

A couple of people, internet friends if you* will, informed me that they couldn’t read this book or sorry, couldn’t finish the book. For multiple reasons; disjointed prose, a particularly striking and effective technique that made me constantly uncomfortable plus the subject is unpleasant, is emotionally charged and is regularly very unsettling.

That is not to say the book is not good but I can at no point say I enjoyed it in the normal sense. I cried in public. Tears on the bus are not a good look for a commuter, not ideal for fellow travellers I am sure; how to make other people uncomfortable on a Wednesday morning.

So, while epic in its formulation and so very deeply effective I would both rate this book incredibly highly yet would not recommend it. I really don’t want to share this particular misery.

I can applaud this book but I am happy that is back on the shelf and not in my book bag.

*waves

Leaving Time

Leaving Time is that kind of book that comes with all the expectations and not just because it is by a prolific and highly successful author. It is also because it sees the return of a character which previously featured in a short story by the same Jodi Picoult and although my feelings on that short story were mixed at best it was still a joy to meet that character again. Serenity Jones, genuine psychic or ‘swamp witch’ hack comes to the aid of 13 year old Jenna and the only private investigator she can afford with her meagre pocket money, as they try and get to the bottom of her mother’s disappearance tens years previous.

Centred on the study and care of elephants, both in the wild and in captivity, the amount of research and therefore information that is piled into this story is fantastic whilst also circling around the comparisons between the indelible bond between mother and child in both elephants and humans. I would recommend this book solely based on the fascinating information on elephants if it wasn’t for the fact that the story was so intriguing and had managed to swallow me whole. The combination of the two has led me to race through this book and now I am feeling a little lost. In regards to the aforementioned expectations, if you have read anything about this book before now you will be aware that there is a big fat twist, so I am not spoiling anything when I say that I really did not see that one coming and I imagine to read it all again with that information up front would have the potential to completely change the dynamic of the read. If I didn’t think that life was a little too short for rereading books I would probably be tempted to give it another go. This one definitely goes up there with my other favourite Jodi Picoult book, The Pact.

Honeyville

Daisy Waugh’s latest book offers an insight into a piece of American history that rarely makes it into historical fiction; the 1914 miner’s strike in Trinidad, Colorado. It was this strike that led directly to the Ludlow Massacre, killing twenty plus people and leaving the town of Trinidad shaken to its core.

Twenty years after the events that left a small town reeling we find Dora Whitworth being presented with a letter taking her back to her time in that town and retelling the story of her, a woman of questionable reputation and Inez Dubois, a lady of high social standing in Trinidad and how these two very diverse yet equally strong women started to cross one another’s paths.

Waugh has given this story depth through strong and colourful characters set in a town that is painted with precision, a place where you would not want to be yet the rhythm of the book draws you in. In some respects I would be tempted to call this an easy read but that is by no means a negative, as I finished it in about three sittings. A highly worthy read and one that spiked my interest in a period of history I was completely ignorant about. Entertaining and educational. Win!

Landline

Having only read Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell I was a little cynical as to how well she would translate from YA fiction to adult fiction but my cynicism has been squashed, smashed and sent packing. While not completely sold on the idea of Landline initially this basic story has been threaded brilliantly with a lot of cult references (from the 80’s onwards) and humour along with characters that you want to be friends with. Now I have finished the book I feel a little bereft of Georgie McCool and her far from perfect life.

We see Georgie struggling with work and home life, and after making one too many decisions to choose work her husband and children fly off to Omaha for Christmas while she stays at home to work on her beloved sitcom with her best friend Seth. Their departure sends Georgie into a mini breakdown and to her old bedroom at her mum’s house where she discovers her old ‘landline’ phone. The strange thing being that this phone seems to have a direct connection with Neal, from the past, in the week before he proposed to her.

The story of Georgie and her husband Neal is certainly a sweet one and Rowell does a brilliant job of not painting a picture of ‘happily ever after’ without showing the work and sacrifice required. It was actually quite nice to have some realism alongside a big dose of time travel.

A great Christmas-centric read for December.

Crooked Heart

As a child I read a lot but most of the time I was rereading; if I liked a book I wanted to hear the story again, it was comforting to know what was coming up and also to take something else from the story when the element of surprise had been removed.
This is not something I can enjoy doing now, I want new, I want more and I can never imagine a time when there isn’t another book waiting for me.
That being said, one of the books I reread a LOT when I was young was Michelle Magorian’s Goodnight, Mr Tom. I still have the copy I read and read and it is certainly a little dog eared in places. The theme of that being evacuation and I cannot believe I have not read more fiction around the subject, let’s be honest war time and children’s evacuation to safety is completely fraught with emotion and potential. When Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans was on my potential books to review list this month I jumped at the words ‘blitz-drama’, intrigued as to where this one might lead.

Having lived most of his life with his godmother, ten year old Noel is left out of sorts when he loses his ageing carer to dementia and is evacuated on the second wave with his classmates from London to St Albans, finding himself landed with a morally compromised Vee, who is forever trying to make a fast buck, her self-involved son and her mute letter writing mother.
Noel, brought up and educated by a sharp minded former suffragette seems to be the only thing that has the potential to bring order to Vee’s life as it regularly spirals away from her and she may be the best thing for a slightly socially inept, yet fiercely intelligent, young boy.
Watching them get to know one another through the scrapes in and out of London is a pleasure and Evans offers a wonderful selection of phrases to paint the picture of their lives that left me feeling attached to the characters and a little saddened that the book had to end.
An often fast paced tale, with heart and humour, I would certainly say this warrants the praise it is currently receiving.

The Art of Asking

The Art of Asking is as much about the modern music business, the value of art and a guide to surviving the internet as it is about Amanda Palmer, her cabaret punk band or her world touring tendencies. A memoir inspired by a TED talk* she gave following her triumph in the world of crowdsourcing, a twelve minute (ahem, thirteen) talk on the Art of Asking in the world of performance turned into an ode to asking in an assortment of relationships, not least the one she has with writer husband, Neil Gaiman.

While initially feeling idiosyncratic in style, Amanda seemed to take root in my mind by the third chapter and when later in the book she suffers some disappointment while trying to trust the world I felt that too. We see her transform from a college grad with more bravado than recommended and a job as a human statue to a woman putting her faith in her crowd, but also dealing with the ramifications of not pleasing everyone in an age when the internet is full of anonymity with the ability to say quite literally anything. While you may not always agree with Amanda’s actions or words I think she does really highlight how terrifying it can be to be vilified online and how despite having a crowd of ardent and 99% fantastic fans the internet can turn very dark very quickly.

Her references to the ‘Fraud Police’, the ones who live in your head and basically call you out on your existence and purpose felt like an acknowledgement to the world that people are mean to themselves and therefore it is our jobs to be nice to each other. As she would say; ‘I see you. You are real.’

I didn’t know much about Amanda Palmer before reading the book but it really did not matter, even without an interest in her music this book is fascinating and features some pretty inspiring characters and stories.

In other news, I wish to be friends with her and own a ukulele.

These may be side effects of the book.

* Watch this. No really. WATCH THIS.

It is really interesting and a great precursor to the book which you will of course want to read :]

 

(another review of this book can be found here)

The Virgin Suicides

Following reading Middlesex by author Jeffrey Eugenides I opted not to track down his other novels not because I didn’t like Middlesex but because I really did. He seemed to create this complex world fraught with identity issues that just seemed to inhabit my brain for the duration – one of my friends is very well aware how much I loved this book, I barely shut up about it!  It’s been a couple of years since I read Middlesex and I thought I would try his first offering, The Virgin Suicides, published in 1993 and later turned into the well received 1999 film, written and directed by Sofia Coppola*.

Set in 1970’s Michigan the story is told to us in retrospect by a man who was once part of the stereotypically voyeuristic neighbourhood boys obsessed with the odd and distant nature of the five Lisbon girls, leading up to and the aftermath of their suicides. Their role or lack there of in the girl’s lives despite their desire and attempts to touch them, both physically and emotionally, is told to us through day to day teenage existence and dry comedy, all tinged with a deep sadness which reflects how far five girls, not of this world long, had the potential to effect their surroundings. This is shown in the story through the evolution of not only their family home but also the surrounding neighbourhood and its occupants.

Enjoying such a subject doesn’t seem quite right and I wouldn’t say it had the drive of a ‘page-turner’, again due to the nature of the subject, but there is a style that Eugenides seems to embody that just makes you get lost in a world. To me his books feel like looking at an old photograph but having someone behind you to tell you a part of the back story, not all of it but just enough to keep you involved.

It’s not quite as good as Middlesex but it certainly leaves a mark.

*always assume I haven’t seen the film.

Battle Royale

It may have taken months but I have finally finished Battle Royale, the epic and pretty horrific dystopian novel by Koushun Takami. This is one of the few books I have read because I have seen the film, both of which seem to have a similar cult following.

Completed in 1996 but not published until 1999 it wasn’t long until the film followed in 2000 along with a Manga series by the same author. A best selling book, a highly grossing film this is a tale that clearly caused controversy and in turn success.

I don’t know much about films, they are not necessarily my thing, but what I took from the Battle Royale film was that the plot is solid but I needed more characterisation… enter the book. It is gripping, edge of the seat stuff, while making each student terrifyingly realistic.

In a world where Japan is a police state and democracy and freedom of speech are not permitted the government uses a ‘battle royale’, a fight to the death, as a show of dominance over their teen population.  Annually a random class is chosen, nobody knows which or when but they are chosen and any form of resistance by family, friends or by their teacher is quickly extinguished with gun fire.

This year there are 42 students, 21 males and 21 females, all but one from the same class. Gassed and taken to an island at an undisclosed location they are fitted with tracking devices and given a pack containing the bare minimum required to survive and a random ‘weapon’; guns, knives, miscellaneous outdoor survival gadgets. It’s luck of the draw. Rules are put in place. Escape is futile. The only option is kill or be killed.

The ‘game’ ends only when there is one person left standing.

It is the original and gritty Hunger Games.

As the reader you are supplied with a map of the island and a list of all students and their number in a list entitled male and female. Firstly, the best books have maps and secondly the list of names was very handy as a lot of the student’s names are similar or it is difficult to interpret gender.

My initial thoughts were that the names would make it difficult to follow the story but this was far from correct. Some of the names are seen so regularly you know exactly who they are, some less so but their back stories make them memorable, others don’t have the chance to last long into the games and therefore become irrelevant pretty quickly.

While gruesome at times – I read one page with one eye closed in the hope it would seem less horrible – it just enhances the desperation of the situation and it doesn’t seem gratuitous because of the characterisation and a very engaging and fast paced plot.

If you’ve read the book I highly recommend you see the film.

If you’ve seen the film I highly recommend you read the book.

Lies We Tell Ourselves

This year, mainly because of the introduction of book reviews for work, I have been trying to embrace all manner of different genres. The opportunity to open myself up to styles I would not have previously thought of is mainly due to the fact that if I am lucky I get hold of the books for free. So, when the opportunity to review a YA fiction novel with a focus on circa 1950’s America and specifically the Civil Rights Movement I jumped at it (a particularly horrible A2 level in history hasn’t managed to put me off a clearly disturbing and very real subject).

Lies We Tell Ourselves is Robin Talley’s debut novel that opens from the compelling perspective of Sarah, a black girl corralled into joining 9 of her friends at a formerly all white high school in Virginia. We see Sarah struggle with the desire to be mature and strong in the face of emotional and physical violence on a daily basis. What Talley does that I thought particularly fascinating was also to show the views of Linda, a student already at that school, brought up in a traditional Southern State family with a staunch anti-desegregationist father who has added anger issues to boot. All of a sudden it becomes quite difficult to dislike Linda for the views she seems to hold but doesn’t fully believe. She is a victim of ‘tradition’ and her father’s particularly belligerent views on equal rights.

The additional element of the growing, confusing feelings the girls develop for each other felt slightly shoe-horned into the story and while not wholly far fetched didn’t add what I think the author intended to the plot. Linda and Sarah’s friendship is abhorred enough without the need for the additional drama of the girls loving one another in an already desperately unforgiving environment.

A positive of this plot addition however is that tackling discrimination in any form should be applauded and although not my particular favourite element of the book Talley does take it on with respect for the subject and the need for historical accuracy.

The subject is gritty, the characters are powerful and I think that this, on the whole, is how a YA novel should be. Thought Provoking.

7/10