Sunday, 22 June 2014

Mr B's Reading Year - The Bone Season

The Bone Season – Samantha Shannon

This is my fourth (?) Mr B's book, and I really wanted to enjoy it. As Emma, my bibliotherapist said, it's a debut written by a very talented young women (and I mean really young – I'm very jealous of her for managing to be so committed, as she's my age!) and it has been highly received by lots of readers. It was originally published last summer, there are going to be six (SIX!) more, and the film rights have already been sold to Andy Serkis's Studio (yep, that's Gollum to you and me!). On top of that it has already been translated into 28 different languages! So, basically, a lot people think there's a lot of positive things going for it.

The Bone Season is set in 2059, and is a dystopian future where clairvoyants (people with special magic-type abilities) are singled out, and scape-goated for all problems in the new world. It begins in London (quite fun, as there are recognisable landmarks) and continues in Oxford (fun, for the same reasons!). Paige Mahoney, nineteen, is the main character: a clairvoyant whose special ability is to be capable of moving in and out of the minds of others people, known as a dreamwalker. She is part of a gang of sorts, working underground, although Paige's father is a key part of the non-clairvoyant government. It involves magic, steam-punk elements, a sort-of vampire-mortal style relationship and a feisty heroine. What could go wrong?

Well, for me, it didn't work. The first section is a bit of an information-dump, lots of telling and not a lot of showing. We certainly need to glean a lot of information about Shannon's world, but there are more effective ways of doing it. There was too much stated, and, for me, there was too much in one go. I wonder whether this says something about me as a reader, rather than Shannon as a writer: maybe I'm just too stupid or lazy a reader to appreciate her work? I'd like to think not, but you never know... The convolution got worse progressively throughout the novel. There are some really good moments, but there are some plot holes and graunchy scenes that just ruined it for me. I couldn't keep up with the information flow, and didn't warm to some of the other characters; again, there were too many for me to keep track of. (Although I loved Liss and Julian).

I was really disappointed with this book: not only because I didn't enjoy it, but because it was one of my Mr B's books that Emma had chosen for me personally, so I want to like these books even more (like I did for Burial Rites.) Ah well – not every book chosen is going to be perfect. Sorry Emma, but I hope I like the next one!

Mime Order, the second in the septet, is coming out later this year, but I don't think that I'll be reading it, sadly.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Tale of Two Very Different Books

I've been keeping up with all my ARCs from NetGalley, and it was also lucky enough to receive a paper copy of a novel directly from the author! Here are my (very different) thoughts on two novels.

The main thing I am thinking having just finished Deep Blue is 'phew!' At least I can stop reading it now.

I thought I'd like this book. A story about merpeople, a world under the sea (I love the sea) with a high fantasy sort of plot line. I wish I'd read some of the other reviews before requesting this ARC from NetGalley, because if I had then I needn't have wasted time reading it.

Maybe I'm being harsh, but it really just didn't work for me. There was a huge amount of information dumping at the beginning, which was clumsy but still left me unsure of all the particulars of Donnely's world. There is a glossary at the back, which may have come in handy but, as I was reading it in kindle format, I didn't realise this until the end. But, really, I don't think my overall opinion would have changed.

The characters were... about as limp as the plot. We end with six mermaids, but we picked four of them up near the end and, as such, have zero emotional attachment to them, and they aren't developed at all. I suppose they will be in the sequels but I for one am not going to read any more of this!

To top it off, there were some issues with incoherent point of view switching, and a lot of 'telling' rather than 'showing.' (Eg. She was eating too many sweets. She did that when she was nervous. Like now.) The writing style overall was nothing special, and I was very distracted by all of the lame puns, like currensea for money. It felt quite childish, even though it was a middle grade read.

I don't like giving bad reviews, but I have to be honest. It gets one star - purely because of the awesome front cover.

Please note I received an ARC from NetGalley, all thoughts and opinions are my own. Quotes may be changed by the final published edition, which was released on May 3rd.

And onto my second review...

I have, unfortunately, some experience of general hospitals in the UK and for anyone wondering, YES - this is exactly what they're like.

Brindle has even unflinchingly, ruthlessly honest about what life is like for the nurses on the 'front line.' I'd like to think it was exaggerated, or that he was bitter (Brindle is an RGN himself) but it's just not the case. It really is that hard.

An Angel's Alternative follows the story of three nurses, - John Hunter, Dave Chiltern and sister Ashe - one Health Care Assistant, - Roxane - and a patient, Tom, as well as snippets of other people's stories. Sound like too many characters? Confusing? It isn't because the characters are well-defined, and point of view remains consistent until some sort of break in the text. This may sound like a stupid comment, but there are many novels where point of view shifting I the middle of scenes creates real confusion and chaos for the book.

Plot wise, it fell down a little for me - things were all a little too rosy at the end, and, also, I felt like there was so much more to tell! This book could have been longer; I wanted it to be! Additionally, I would have liked a bit more depth to Sister Ashe's portion of the story, as well as Roxanne's. The male characters took the lead most of the way through.

Overall, a good book, an honest book, and one that might be enlightening to many people. Slightly different structure (it felt quite like a memoir rather than a novel) and a bit longer would be even better!

Please note: I was kindly given a free copy to review by the author. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

So, there we have it - two VERY contrasting books in terms of subject manner and whether I enjoyed them. I'd like to see what else Rick Brindle writes in the future, but I think I'll stay clear of Jennifer Donnelly...

Monday, 9 June 2014

Book Reviews - Roses for a Diva and The Rise and Fall of Great Powers


Roses for a Diva - Rick Blechta

This is a fast paced, exciting novel telling the story of one opera singer's experience when she receives flowers from an anonymous donor... The soprano originally thinks they are from her husband, but it soon transpires something more sinister is at hand. Jumping between England and other european cities, with an exciting climax, Roses for a Diva will take you on one roller coaster of a ride.

Marta lives an idyllic life, of sorts. But when things fall into place and she discovers the depths to which she has been violated by her stalker, her life seems to crumble before her. It is a crime story, but also a tale of self discovery for Marta. I understand that Blechta is writing a series about Marta and her life. Although I enjoyed this one, I'm not sure that I would read any more of her.  Crime is not my preferred genre, and it would also feel very implausible for someone to be caught up in more similar events, unless, of course, they are a detective or similar.

Still, this was a well paced, thoroughly thought out novel. Although it felt a little unrealistic at times, it was great fun!

The Rise and Fall of Great Powers – Tom Rachman

This book started out very promisingly. With such a fantastic name as Tooly Zylberberg, and the setting of a book shop (pretty sure based in the real Hay-on-Wye) I had high hopes.

For me, unfortunately, they were all for nothing.

The Rise and Fall of Great Powers tells the story of Tooly's highly unconventional childhood and lifestyle through distinct three plot lines. One starts when Tooly is nine and living a nomadic lifestyle with her dad, Paul. Her distracted, chaotic mother, Sarah, enters and takes her away to live an even more bizarre lifestyle, following people round the globe. Enter more unlikely characters: supposedly Russian Humphrey, who plays chess and ping pong with her and lets her drink Cola for breakfast; and Venn, a sort of leader of their group, who Tooly idolises. The second plot line follows Tooly in her early twenties, and the third is Tooly in the present day, starting out in that Welsh bookshop. She receives information to say that her father is ill, but through a long series of misunderstandings, it is to Humphrey's bedside she flies out to.

It is a journey of self discovery for Tooly as she realises all was not as it seemed during her eccentric childhood, and the people who brought her up never shared the whole story with her.

For me, it just didn't work. The dotting about between the different storylines felt too chaotic; it was difficult to get a hold on some sort of plotline. But, worse than that, I didn't really resonate with any of the characters. There were aspects of many of them that I liked, but they were not consistent enough for me to feel for. Fundamentally, I didn't care what happened to them. This was such a disappointment to what I felt was going to be a fantastic book.

Note: I received an ARC from NetGalley in return for an honest review.
The Rise and Fall of Great Powers comes out on Tuesday June 10th.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Mr B's Reading Year - Burial Rites


My third Mr B's book, and what a winner! After being a little bit disappointed (but only a bit) with The Testament of Jesse Lamb, this was completely the opposite. Thank you to my bibliotherapist, Emma, for such a brilliant choice! H had actually been given this by A for Christmas, and they read it in their book group a few months ago, so it came with more good recommendations. I wasn't disappointed - from the first chapter I knew I was in good hands.

Firstly, I'd like to say that Iceland is pretty much number one on my want-to-travel-to destinations in the whole world. Has been since I was about... twelve or thirteen? For lots of reasons – but mostly just because of the harsh beauty of the landscape. So, this book was intrinsically attractive to me before I started.

Burial Rites is the story of Agnes, the last woman to be executed in Iceland in the 1800s. It is Kent's debut novel, and the meticulous research gone into it (it was part of her PhD) is apparent from the onset. The atmosphere is hard, harsh, and cold; the setting is more than just a backdrop, as Iceland seems almost a character in its own right. This book could not have been set anywhere else, the setting is integral to the story

At the start of each chapter are official documents, and I think they may be real from Kent's extensive research, which contribute to telling the story of Agnes, Frederick and Natan, the men who were killed. This dual method of story telling was very effective; the juxtaposition of official language to the flowing, beautiful prose gave differing perspectives. I enjoyed being shown alternative viewpoints on this woman.

At the end of the novel, there was an article by Hannah Kent, and some FAQs, which really added to it for me. It was evident how thorough she had been just by reading it, and it was fascinating to learn more about her writing process (she would sit down and write 1,000 words every day, come what may!) and how much of the novel was fantasy and what was historical fact.

Overall, a brilliant, beautifully haunting book. I'd be fascinated to see what Hannah Kent writes next!

Thank you to Emma at Mr B's - one of the best books I've read this year!

What does anyone else think? Tempted to read it? Already read it? Excited for her next novel? Leave a comment and let me know!