Holiday reading …fails

book piles

I brought 6 books with me on holiday, 4 of them from the library were essentially chosen at random from the sci-fi/fantasy shelf. It would appear, from yesterday’s attempts to start a new book, that the library random-choice method has a 50% success rate. The 2 books whose bindings you can see have been read & appreciated. The 2 whose bindings you can’t see, were less successful. I generally have a rule that I give a book until page 50 – only one of these even made it that far.

The first unsuccessful book was by Melinda Snodgrass and was chosen partly because of the awesome name of the author. Another reason was because Melinda has, according to her bio, written for Star Trek. Unfortunately the title I chose was the second in a series and I was unable to get past the necessary slight Basil Exposition style of the first few chapters where the first paragraph was this-and-this-and-this had happened to this person and it was only when I realised that this was #2 of however-many that I worked out why. This I did not like. Also, I found her narrative style slightly annoying. Very early on, someone who was escaping while crawling through mud was described as dragging themselves forward “reluctantly”. Given the circumstances, this felt like a carelessly wrong word.

The second was a retelling of the Medea legend – I think – I don’t know the Medea legend, so it could have been a tale at a liberal tangent, a prequel or a sequel for all I knew, but from the start I found the writer’s style frustratingly impenetrable. In a lot of cases, it took about half a page to work out what the action was, and the main character, Medea, started taking actions which I found incredibly annoying, didn’t understand why she was doing what she was doing, and didn’t have enough invested in her to give her license to do what she was doing. I stopped at page 49. Life is too short to be struggling through a book this annoying in style.

Instead I’ve gone for a book that I’ve borrowed from my father in law, and although I’m on day 1, I’m about half way through. It’s by an author I like, so this is not unexpected.

The other books that I like will be reviewed on the book gnome all in the fullness of time…

Book review: Time And Time Again by Ben Elton

Unlike previous novels from Ben Elton, I found this to be well written, and with an intriguing story that kept me turning the page right to the end. Compared to Elton’s screen work, this feels more considered and intricate. It’s not a new trope that going back in time to change a single point of history to prevent bad things from happening may make things worse in the long run. I liked the alternative that was posed here.

The hero, ex-SAS widower Hugh Stanton is alone in the world and so is an ideal candidate for the “loop in time” that Newton discovered and left details of for Hugh’s Oxford professor (and others). He is trained, equipped, and sent back to prevent the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand.

Although I guessed who a supposed “mystery figure” was at one point, the plot didn’t feel predictable, and I was as un-nerved and taken aback by the ending as I think I was supposed to be. I liked that the baddies and goodies weren’t necessarily fixed as either one or the other, but that most of the characters that are introduced have layers and depending on your point of view could be either good or bad.

Even though I was left feeling a little depressed and lacking optimism generally, this is well worth a read in my opinion.

This review first appeared on The Book Gnome

Book review: The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair by Joël Dicker

This book was passed to me because a good friend of mine found she just couldn’t get into it, so my expectations weren’t high. Also, I was reading it in translation from the original French, in English, so I expected the language and style to feel disjointed, and annoy me.

The premise is that a well-known author who is struggling to create his second novel goes to spend time with his college tutor, Harry Quebert, another author. While he is there, the “Affair” explodes around him – the body of a girl who went missing 33 years ago is dug up in Harry’s garden, making him the chief suspect.

Our hero knows (in his heart) that Harry cannot have abducted and killed the girl, despite the mounting evidence that backs up the popular theory. It starts to look like this should be the material for his difficult second novel. Indeed, the implication is that the book in your hands is this second novel (which I found to be quite clever).

The story doesn’t move super-quickly, and there are quite a few threads to keep track of as you go through. The writing conveys the characters’ motivation and feelings really well – you properly understand why they do the things they do. The twists and turns of the story are well hidden and well revealed when the time comes – it was rare that I felt “there’s a twist coming” which means to me that the plot was well constructed. On that same note, I felt like the threads were effectively brought together at the end – the ending was satisfying. Too often when I finish a novel, I think “meh, is that it?” and the denouement felt a bit like a cop-out. Not so this time.

Also, by the time I had read to the end (it’s not a super-long novel, but for some reason I felt like I had been on a long journey at the end of it) I was surprised to be reminded that this was a translation. The language felt natural and well-constructed throughout – at no point did it feel clunky and there is a large amount of idiomatic speech in the story, which is most at risk when translating. So: really, really good job on the translation, Sam Taylor.

An edited version of this review first appeared on The Book Gnome

Book review: Alice (The Chronicles of Alice, #1) Alice by Christina Henry

Alice (The Chronicles of Alice, #1)Alice by Christina Henry

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The blurb for this book tells the reader that the story is inspired by “Alice in Wonderland”. All this really serves to do, is lull you into a false sense of security.

The fact that some of the characters in this book are inspired by and named after Lewis Carroll’s characters is pretty much where the similarity ends. This novel is much darker and more visceral than its leaping off point. Alice starts in a mental asylum, having been recovered from an encounter with the white rabbit ten years earlier. You get the sense very early on, that that encounter was not a good one.

Alice escapes with her friend, Hacker, when the asylum burns down, and they embark on an adventure involving monsters, exploration, underground tunnels, gang lords and the mysterious Jabberwocky. The journey is as much one of self-discovery as it is one of Alice learning about her new surroundings – she was raised in the affluent, safe “new city” but now finds herself in the old city – a dark and dangerous place, and no place for any girl to be alone, let alone a girl from the right side of the tracks. It’s also a journey of Alice and Hacker getting to know each other – in the asylum they communicated through a hole in the wall between them. With the wall removed, Alice learns who her friend really is, was, and who he becomes with each new danger they encounter.

This is not a book for the squeamish – the main characters are attacked in a variety of inventive and messy ways – very definitely not one for the kids. However, the same powerful language that brings those vivid scenes to life also paints rich and colourful scenes in the less intense moments of Alice’s journey. Although under the protection of her companion, the author still maintains the character’s strength and independence. The story definitely ends on a feminist note, and I’m very much looking forward to reading the sequel.

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This review was originally posted on The Book Gnome