Saturday, 4 February 2017

The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan

This book was hugely popular in certain circles on BookTube. Usually I get a kick out of reading those, but either my expectations were far too high, or else my taste and some other folks' don't quite match up.

North is a circus girl, who lives on a circus boat, and who performs with a bear. She is required to marry a young man she doesn't even like. Callanish is a girl with secrets who is left repenting for something as a Gracekeeper, a water-world version of an undertaker. She was originally from the land. This book covers their lives.

I appreciated the world building. What with global warming (I come from Africa - we still believe in science here), one could see an earth covered mostly in water, land being extremely scarce, and as a result, religions changing as people either had to live on water, or cling onto their land and pray for harvests etc.. So no real stretch there. I actually enjoyed the idea.

But the pacing was so slow. Man, this book was a one way ticket to Slumberland. Not even the pretty writing could keep my eyes open. Not even the 'question' of what would happen or what had happened, could stop it. I was bored. There, I said it. I now feel tainted.

I also found the characters very distant. While I read their thought processes and read about their feelings, at no point did I feel anything for them. Which is a bit disappointing and probably explains the boredom. (There is that bad word again.)

2 stars. it was OK. Nothing to write home about.

Friday, 3 February 2017

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Who hasn't heard of Donna Tartt? I think that is enough reason for picking up this book.

 The novel is circular, starting at the end, with Theo in a hotel room as an adult, trying to comes to terms with a murder. The book then heads straight to his childhood, showing us how he got there. He is thirteen when he looses his mother. His life is then knocked around as he journeys from one home to the next, meeting an array of interesting (and by 'interesting', I don't necessarily mean nice) people who have a long term affect on who he eventually becomes.

“But sometimes, unexpectedly, grief pounded over me in waves that left me gasping; and when the waves washed back, I found myself looking out over a brackish wreck which was illumined in a light so lucid, so heartsick and empty, that I could hardly remember that the world had ever been anything but dead.”
― Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch

I had really high expectation for The Goldfinch. I was expecting to be wowed, amazed, shocked... You know, all those nice feelings one has while reading. And I suppose I was. I will give Donna Tartt one thing: she can definitely create characters that walk off the page and into one's head. I lived and breathed this while I was reading it. But having said that, it wasn't the easiest book to pick up. (Being the massive tome it is, does account for some of that.)

I must confess that while I could see how all the little titbits of information along the way really added to the life of the characters, there were places where I felt that huge chunks could really have been removed. Heading off to buy flowers etc. was one of those places. It was unnecessary and only added to the page count, and not the story or characters. There were quite a few of those.

But the masterful way Tartt got me to like Theo, even when I would have eventually shunned him in real life, was quite something. In fact, let's forget Theo and look at Boris. Boris was the kid you don't want your kid to play with. Boris is the adult that makes you avoid dark streets and flashing money around. And yet... and yet I liked him. Tartt got me to see past the external view and to see someone real and human and hurt and trying to survive underneath that tough exterior.

While I think this really deserves the 4 star rating I gave it, I would only really recommend it to those who don't need a rapid pace in their books. Oh. And please only venture this if you have really strong wrists.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

An Inspector Calls by J.B. Priestley

What an interesting read.

I picked this up without knowing anything about it (it was skinny, and The Goldfinch was killing me and my stats slowly). The first act had my expectations a bit low. We see a high class family celebrating privately - a hoity-toity scenario that does not quite go with my excessively casual manner. An inspector arrives to discuss a suicide. Naturally, everyone claims to have had nothing to do with the deceased's decision.

"We don't live alone. We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other. And I tell you that the time will soon come when if men will not learn that lesson, then they will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish. Good night.”
― J.B. Priestley, An Inspector Calls

I was not expecting to be as engrossed in the story as I was. This play shows one accountability; Accountability for one's indirect actions, as well as the direct. I really thought the way it was done was effective. What really slammed the message home was the end - not the last page - that is another discussion all on its own. I have seen people do this; find a flaw in something and lose the entire lesson. And that ending! It came like a sledgehammer.

It is a pity that I will no longer be able to choose my own literature to teach, because this would have actually worked quite nicely for the drama section. I gave this 4 stars, although, looking back, I wonder why I didn't give it 5.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald (2016 review catch ups)

 This was an impulse buy. Had I given it much thought, I would have left the book in the shop. But I had heard of it on Booktube. The fact that I have no interest in birds, no wish to dig up my feelings of my own father's passing, nor any massive interest in reading a memoir of a woman I had never heard of, didn't quite realise themselves until I got the book home, looked at the cover again, and then realised that I now had to read the damned thing (it cost a fortune). It came as quite the surprise then when I discovered that I really enjoyed it!

One cannot say that this is nature book. Nor is it a literary review, nor is it a book about overcoming bereavement. It is a bit of everything with a side order of some interesting psychology.

“Here’s a word. Bereavement. Or, Bereaved. Bereft. It’s from the Old English bereafian, meaning ‘to deprive of, take away, seize, rob’. Robbed. Seized. It happens to everyone. But you feel it alone. Shocking loss isn’t to be shared, no matter how hard you try.”
― Helen Macdonald, H Is for Hawk

There were parts that really spoke to me. Especially when it came to her struggles with Mable (the hawk). How she internalised the problem and found fault with herself instead of looking at the more practical aspects of all that could be wrong. I know I do that too, and seeing her realise that made me more aware of the times I blame myself for things going wrong when they are completely out of my control.

I did find it difficult empathising with her for her grief over her dad. I too have lost my dad (4 years ago), and although I was also a daddy's girl, I didn't lose complete grip on myself and my identity - and definitely not my humanity. But then I don't have other issues and I had to be the support so I wasn't afforded the luxury of coming apart completely. I was sad for her though.

Mabel was brilliantly depicted. I felt she was alive and could so easily visualise her ducking and weaving and crouching and bating. Yes, I learnt more words reading this too. I don't know if I will ever need to talk about hawkish actions in the right terminology, but it is nice knowing that I could.

This book also spends a lot of time discussing T.H. White's book, The Goshawk. In the beginning, I found this commentary very interesting, especially as she was telling us about White, in preparation for the process he took with his own Goshawk, Gos. Unfortunately, I will have to say I ended up skim reading a lot of this towards the end. I felt disturbed more than anything else, as to how White treated his hawk.

Helen does write well, and her knowledge extends far beyond that for hawking. I liked the lyrical style she used. And just to say it again, she must have loved Mabel a lot, because she captured the hawk and her gestures so well on the page.

I gave this 4 stars on Goodreads.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

King and Koontz (2016 review catch ups)

I am getting tired of writing reviews, so I am putting two in one here. Hope you don't mind.

The Drawing of the Three by Stephen King.

This is the second book in The Dark Tower series. I had heard so many good things about this series, from people whose opinions on books I tend to agree with. But, I am just not getting it this time. Personally, I think these are fairly poorly written. While I can excuse poorly written for a good story, I can't say I find myself compelled to read these. The first book, The Gunslinger, dragged. It had its interesting moments, but mostly it just didn't keep me entertained (and let's face it - you don't read King to be intellectually challenged, so entertained is pretty much the sole goal). This book dragged less, but still had moments where I was yawning away and thinking of something else. I find that a lot of the diction is crude. I have no objection to that if it will develop a character etc., but here it felt like King put it there just because his audience is assumed to like below the belt references.

The concept has potential, and I think that is also what is adding to my disappointment. While I am curious to see what happens to these characters, I just don't know if I can drag myself to pick up another one. Which is sad as I have a few more on my bookshelves, and they look so pretty. I gave this 2 stars.

Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz.

Odd Thomas is the first book in the (surprise!) Odd Thomas series. And Kerry scores again! (Kerry is my favourite bookseller at Bargain Books.) After a hectic year, I wanted something entertaining, not gruelling. She recommended this to me. Odd Thomas nailed that need perfectly. I was completely entertained.

Odd Thomas can see dead people. They tell him things so that he can help them rest in peace. But Odd Thomas can also see other things, like the furies that are following a man who has a filling cabinet in his house filled with information about serial killers. Disaster is set to strike the town - tomorrow!

I really enjoyed this. It was a combination of humour, suspense, intrigue and more humour. Odd Thomas is one of those books that one can read at record speed because the pages just turn themselves. Oh, and Elvis! He was a fantastic addition to the cast of characters.

I must admit that I really thought the plot was going to go in a completely different direction (but end at a similar point), so the surprise was pleasant too. I will definitely pick up another one.

In the unplanned (and unfair) King vs Koontz competition, Koontz wins!

Afterwards by Rosamund Lupton (2016 review catch ups)

I read this book with very low expectations. I enjoyed Sister by Lupton, which was why I bought this book and Quality of Silence. Both Sister and Quality of Silence don't have conclusive endings, and I was convinced that Lupton would do the same thing again. As a result, I had been putting off reading this. Also, from what I had seen on Goodreads, it seemed most people did not enjoy this at all. Yip, my expectations were really low.

So what is Afterwards about? Grace runs into the burning school to save her daughter Jenny. But that is only the beginning. Things are going to get more dangerous, and how can Grace stop it when she is in a coma in the hospital?

While my synopsis is better than the one on the back of the book, it does not quite do the story justice. Afterwards is written similarly to The Lovely Bones or Black Dog Summer, where the narrator is not quite there - at least not physically. I thought it worked really well in this story. When Grace and Jenny were wandering around the hospital, following loved ones, in their ghostly forms (not a spoiler - that happens around chapter 2), I appreciated how Lupton captures a healthy and realistic relationship between mother and daughter. No, it is not perfect. But what mother daughter relationship is? In fact, while this book does keep one on their toes, it is more a family drama than a psychological/crime thriller. I think this is the point to keep in mind when the ending, again inconclusive, arrives.

“It's not the fledgling birds that are thrown out of the nest by their parents and made to fly; it's the parents who are made to get the hell out of cozy family nest by their teenage offspring. It's we who are made to be independent of them, crash-landing if we don't manage it.”
― Rosamund Lupton, Afterwards

Continuing on with the characters, I also appreciated how Lupton depicted the husband and young son. So often in books, these types of characters are honey-ified to the point that I just get irritated. It is trying to get my sympathy for the poor perfect husband who has got to go through an ordeal; or to make me feel devastated for this poor sweet child.... Meh. No one is perfect, and that type of character just screams 'false' to me. Lupton does NOT do this. YAY! Her characters came across as realistic, with their bumps and stubble. I think their lack of perfection made me like them more. It also made me want them to get a positive conclusion.

Rosamund Lupton does what I which crime writers would do (besides write very well); she creates webs of intrigue. Characters say one thing and yet their actions do not quite match, different stories are told and no one is being completely honest. The story is a bit of a roller coaster ride; there are places even where the plot flips completely over and the reader is no longer sure which way the story is going because it is no longer heading where one thought it was. And then there are the twists and turns. It was a ride, especially as I am a reader who likes to solve the crime before the cops do.

I gave this 4 stars. I really enjoyed it. Lupton is a 5 star author, if only she would give me a damned ending - you know, a proper, solid, no more questions, ending. (Ok, so this one did feel more conclusive in some ways, but there are SO many things I want to know still.)

Passenger to Frankfurt by Agatha Christie (2016 review catch ups)

The synopsis of this book sounded intriguing. A man wakes up after being drugged in an airport, to find his passport stolen. He meets a woman who begs him to save her life. On returning home, he encounters two attempts on his life. Just that alone had me eager to pick this up. Oh... how disappointment can creep up on one.

Passenger to Frankfurt was not my favourite book of the year by a long shot. I think one problem was that it did not stand up to the test of time. There were parts where I was rolling my eyes, and I think that the majority of the problems were that modern technology and medical and scientific developments (and the fact that my brother is a clinical psychologist and that I work with counselling psychologists) just made huge chunks of this unbelievable.

Then there was the point where the plot was lost. The first third or so of the book was interesting. We followed the man from the airport as he hunted for this woman, only for the story to head off on a tangent where the two of them hardly feature. And that tangent is the rest of the book.

I can't think of anyone who I dislike enough to make read this, just as I can't think of a person who would want to read this. Folks who want to say they have read all of Christie?