Wednesday, 14 March 2018

The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

"And because extreme psychic sensitivity is almost exclusively found in the very young, this meant that whole generations of children like me found themselves becoming part of the front line."

This book just made my day, my month, possibly my year. It has been way too long since I've dived into a world created by Mr Stroud - the Bartimaeus Trilogy. I loved the dark humour of that genie saga and now this new series is all about ghosts - sign me up. Some of the best young adult fiction is characterised by the fact that it appeals to all. There's no attempt to dumb things down for a younger audience. Stroud does this superbly. Often the subject matter can be bleak, dark, dingy, damp and/or life threatening. Come on, I know you too are chomping at the bit to explore this also.
Young Lucy Carlyle's first job, didn't quite work out the way she would have liked and so now she seeks employ with a small, unknown agency - Lockwood & Co.
The eponymous, Lockwood is also young, tall and rather mysterious. Joined by the annoying George, the intrepid trio are set for adventures with a capital A.
Breaking the rules can be dangerous, staircases might scream, lockets may hide secrets and ghost monks can really ruin your day. Don't listen to me though, crack open a copy and just enjoy. I've already started the sequel and have the rest on order!

5 out of 5 things that go bump in the night can be adventurous.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

The Cement Garden by Ian McEwan

"It was not long before the kitchen was a place of stench and clouds of flies."

Dead bodies and incest, yet this is quite the cheerful read - I'm being facetious. Published in 1978 the central action is, as someone noted on, reminiscent of Flowers in the Attic. Think that mixed with a side of Stephen King and you'd be right on the money.
I was reading this on the train on my phone, it is relatively short and yet one feels rather awkward when the content includes sibling sex and rotting corpses - gross on all fronts.
Fortunately it is well written and constitutes yet another tick on the 1001 books to read before you die list...hurrah!

4 out of 5 times when the parents away the kids will play.

The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare

"He would not have to bother any longer with a white boy who would never really be a mighty hunter."

This children's tale from 1983 sneakily drew me in. If you'd have told me a tale of a young settler in frontier America making friends with a local Indian tribe would have me hooked, I would probably have been quite incredulous. I'm rarely engaged by the western genre and yet this was delightful. Prepare yourself for a slim volume that convincingly transports you back in time, to the struggles of a young child awaiting the postponed arrival of his family and learning to survive in a challenging environment.

5 out of 5 - don't hunt near the sign of the beaver.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

The Long Cosmos by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

"No more was said until the shuttle closed in on the Brick Moon, and docking latches rattled shut."

It has been a lengthy reading journey of steps to arrive here at the fifth and final novel of the Long Earth saga. A journey which sadly saw the passing on, to that ultimate intergalactic journey, but one of the co-authors. Unfortunately the final instalment seems to lack the typical Pratchett humour that I know and love. Having said that, the troll makes for some amusing interactions. I love that he has tenure from Valhalla University.

Perhaps the final novel isn't the best of the series, however, it is still vastly entertaining and well worth a read. Not just for someone who aims for series completion.
There are some intriguing conceits within regarding the kind of  interaction that might occur should humankind meet more progressive beings.

Artificial Intelligence, new worlds and a command to "join us; embark on an adventure that will unearth new worlds and familiar faces.

4 out of 5 steps was a band in the nineties wasn't it?

The Girl, Marilyn Monroe. The Seven Year Itch and the Birth of an Unlikely Feminist by Michelle Morgan

"The reaction Marilyn got from many male party guests was of a lecherous nature, but from female guests it was something else entirely."

I received a free pre-release electronic copy from netgalley for review purposes and, given my keen interest in the subject matter I held high hopes. I was waiting to learn something new and exciting that further supported the title's description of the screen goddess as a feminist. 
It is difficult to provide new insights into a personality that is so well known. Much has already been made of Marilyn and her attempts to be taken more seriously as an actress, her tumultuous love affairs and her short-lived life which ended all too abruptly. While this book delivers a functional treatise which is easy to read, it does not seem to add too much more to the existing Monroe canon. I wanted to love this so much more that I actually did.
The notion of Monroe as an unlikely feminist stems from her efforts to take a leading role in her destiny through her creation of her own film company and her ability to overcome unfavourable conditions by using her fame as a bargaining chip. Here was a woman who recognised her box-office worth and used it, when required, to her advantage.

The book appears to be well researched and eloquently delivered. Notwithstanding, I expected a little more in terms of interesting tidbits.

3 out of 5 people don't keep their panties in the icebox.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

"For a moment I wondered what it would look like to see inside of her, all the red."

How timely that I finished reading this novel just as it took out the inaugural MUD Literary Prize for Debut fiction - you know how I do love to read a prize winner!
If you are familiar with the Lizzie Borden story, or like I was prior to reading this - vaguely aware of an infamous axe murder that gave birth to a gruesome children's song, you will perhaps begin with a greater awareness of what is going on here. I think that might detract from the story a little as much of the creepy mood comes from the sense of uncertainty supported by a group of very different narrative voices. Should you wish for some historical background, you may wish to check out the following link

I particularly enjoyed the insight into Schmidt's writing process at the end of the novel by her essay How to meet the Bordens. 

To return to the story, prepare yourself reader for some grim and unsavoury proceedings be they poisoning, vomiting or the main subject matter of the grizzly murders of Abby and Andrew Borden. Is Lizzie to blame, she certainly comes across as disturbed. Come to think of it the whole family is a little disturbing. Who do you believe when none of your narrators seem to possess a firm grip on reality, or,  whose motives seem tainted by the need to escape or to wreck havoc?

Funnily enough, I had recently watched an Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode with the same subject, the episode is called The Other Sister and provides another interesting take on the infamous events that occurred in 1892. Ironically a murder tale that just won't die, more recently being brought to life by Christina Ricci. Perhaps the mystery that surrounded the deaths, the gruesome nature of the attacks, and Lizzy Borden's acquittal combine to provoke the  incredible longevity of this murder mystery and the continued interest in it.

It is perhaps a sign of how scary this particular novel is that I had trouble getting to sleep when I finally finished reading it in the wee hours of the night. Every bump in the night had me on edge and it took 2 sessions of a meditation app to finally get me to sleep. I will avoid Pears  and Pigeons for a little while longer.

5 out of 5 - Don't mess with a girl's pigeons!

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

"For weeks, Ifemelu stumbled around, trying to remember the person she was before Curt."

The experiences of a young Nigerian woman who moves to America to study and begins a blog about race in America, are so far removed from my own. I've not had to suffer for the colour of my skin and certainly not in the ways so keenly described here. The novel is an interesting combination of observations of inequality mixed with a love story and a tale of growing up in a foreign place. The idea that you grow to embrace your environment and that alienates you from your beginnings as your world view changes.

Ifemelu and Obinze's stories occur in parallel and are markedly different, as they both move from Nigeria to the USA and the UK respectively. As the physical distance between them grows, so time and experiences drive further wedges and yet despite all the obstacles, the central premise is that their love will somehow overcome.

Perhaps one of the aspects I loved the most was the dark sense of humour that pervades. Ifemelu is such an interesting character and her motivations really only become clear late in the proceedings. In any case, her trials and tribulations made for a captivating read and actually made me look forward to public transport journeys for the opportunity to fully immerse myself in the tale.

5 out of 5 -  my blog is nowhere near as enlightening.