21 April 2012

The Magicians (Lev Grossman)

Well it has certainly been a long time since I last reviewed.  Alcott had a little flurry of reviews around the time she moved away, which promptly stopped when her Masters started. What could my excuse possibly be? I’m down to one job, I’m not studying at the moment and since the inter-state move of my closest friend I’ve become even more of a hermit. If you really must know I’ve been cooking a lot. Also watching lots and lots of Downton Abbey. It could be that this newfound passion for the blog stems from the fact that Downton Abbey has no more episodes until September. (It’s not). (It is.)
I’ve also decided to make my life a little easier. If you’ve got a brilliant memory, you might remember that I’m a children’s book specialist, which means every week I’ll be reading a number of children’s and YA novels. I read adult books too, obviously, but sometimes a week will have gone past and all I have new to review is YA stuff and so I just review nothing. So you can expect to see a few more reviews of YA stuff popping up – not a lot but some. There are some truly fantastic books being published for the YA market because publishers know that young adults will read almost anything.  They’re not set in their ways about being a literary fiction reader, or a sci-fi reader, so some really cool, genre bending stuff gets published.  Some really brainless stuff also gets published as publishers jump on the craze of the moment – dystopian futures - publishing anything that has a hint of dystopia about it.  But I won’t be reviewing that stuff.

After this ramble of an introduction where I go on and on about YA, I might as well go ahead and review an adult book – just making sure you’re still concentrating! The Magicians by Lev Grossman is everything I wanted Max Frei’s The Stranger to be. The impression I got from reading reviews of this one was that it was for readers who had grown up with Harry Potter and were now a bit jaded and cynical.  Or perhaps Harry Potter, grew up as himself and became jaded and cynical. Either way I had been in the mood for a bit of light fantasy, and this fit the bill perfectly.

Quentin (Q) turns up on the day of his Princeton entrance interview to find the man who was supposed to be interviewing him is dead. Lying on the desk are two envelopes addressed to Quentin and his friend James. James declines to take his envelope, while Quentin does not. This turns out to be a defining moment for the two - Quentin goes on to sit the entrance exams for Brakebills College where he will eventually study magic. James does not. It is particularly satisfying that Quentin gets to study magic as he is someone who has never outgrown the idea of the world of Fillory. Everyone read the Fillory books growing up – a series about a magical land not unlike Narnia – and most people (including most magicians) reach a certain age and leave all that kids stuff behind them. Except Quentin. Maybe I can sympathise with Quentin here given that I still read a huge amount of kids books. (Side bar: does this mean that one day I'll get to study magic because I still read books about magic? Probably).

Anyway, Quentin gets into Brakebills and is obviously really good at magic. After a while. Actually he kind of sucks at first but then becomes really good. He also becomes one of a clique of students which reminded me a little of the group in The Secret History. A very insular crowd with a well developed sense of their own superiority. The book follows Q's four years at Brakebills and his first year out of school - most of this first year is spent in a drunken haze - before finding a button which changes EVERYTHING. 

This is a REALLY well written fantasy with great world building as well as a really tightly plotted story. I don't think I'll ever be too jaded and cynical to be a Harry Potter fan but if I'm in a jaded and cynical sort of mood The Magicians (and it's sequel The Magician King) is where I'll head.

28 May 2011

The Empress of Ice Cream (Anthony Capella)

I'm not entirely sure why I enjoy Anthony Capella's writing so much. Is it the gastronomic erotica that he writes with such ease? Or is it the vulnerable characters he writes with such panache? The romances?

No, not the romances. He is not good at that.

And nut the vulnerable characters. I don't like reading about vulnerable characters. I like reading about people filled with unbelievable strength, charisma, sexiness and boldness. In short, I like my characters to be straight up Mills and Boon caricatures.


(Sort of).

But I am pretty sure it is the gastronomic erotica that draws me to Capella's novels. Take The Food of Love for example. It is set in Rome and centres around a young, talented chef cooking entrails and offal for the love of his life in the hope that she will be aroused by eating such earthy, bloody foods and find herself also in love with him.

It works.

I have my doubts.

But The Empress of Ice Cream is the focus of this review. It is Capella's latest and tells the story of a young, penniless apprentice ice cream maker who rises to glorious heights in both the courts of France and England as he makes ice cream confections for the royalty.

I have always been a bit ambivalent about ice cream. I would rather devour a cheese plate for two than eat ice cream. But now I find myself drifting into the ice cream camp. Who wouldn't be seduced with the promise of strawberry ice cream garnished with peppermint cream and topped with a sprinkling of white pepper? Or the luxury of champagne and peach ice cream? Or the unbelievably heavenly taste of white chocolate and red currants?

The romantic story was negligible and the historical events are arguable, but the sheer deliciousness of this tale cannot be questioned. If you like fluffy grastronomic stories, you will read this story with the desire to lick every page in hopes that some of the creamy dreamy loveliness will actually emanate out of the words into your mouth.

Rating: 7/10.

Shades of Grey (Jasper Fforde)

Oh, hilarity, thou art a wily mistress! I can remember you, remember your strength, your cleverness, your vivacity. But ask me to give examples of this and I have limited material to work with. Thus, I go searching for the source of the pleasure you gave me with my best friend Google and I find myself at best underwhelmed by what I read. This is the curse you lay on me, in payback for the pleasure I experience in your hands. You allow me to laugh out loud and open your covers with glee, but, when I try to revisit the funny parts without committing to reading the whole book again, there is no help, no mercy.


Hilarity, I think, would be a shouter. Misery is a moaner. Anger is any volume spoken with clenched jaw. Sadness is a whisper or a shouter, depending on how attention-seeking it is feeling.

All this to say that I can't quite remember why Shades of Grey was so freaking hilarious, just, trust me, it was.

A half-assed post, I apologise. I am still getting back into this blogging thing. I will try harder on my next post, I promise. If not, you, our dearly beloved readers, can draw and quarter me and offer up my body as a sacrifice to the blogging Gods.

A Slightly Bashful Return

The date is the 28th May, 2011. Almost a year after our last post. A terrible, terrible, display of laziness, I am sure you will agree. However, for the past year I have been living back in Australia, nearer to my dear sister, and the urge to connect over blogging was dampened slightly by our close physical proximity.

Now, alas, we are once again separated.

Where am I?

Not London again, at any rate. I am in Norway. For what reason? The best reason there is, LOVE of course.

Love, with all its glorious ups and downs (but mainly ups!) does lead one to some strange places. For example, I now find myself in a beautiful country, with scenery to shed buckets of tears over, people one can only hug impulsively upon first meeting cause they're just so darn cute and a household where it is quite acceptable to have caviar for breakfast (it comes in a tube!), but I don't yet speak the language properly. So my forays into job hunting have been limited severely by the fact that I sound like a drunken seal whenever I open my mouth.

Thus, I am reading again. This is a very happy thing for me. Between September when love arrived in Sydney and a month ago when I was still living in Sydney I read two books. IN SEVEN MONTHS. This is decidedly unlike me. But of course, when you have the choice between reading and love, it's easier than answering the question 'Coffee?'

Now, love is at work and I am rattling around a gorgeous big old house by myself. I have fallen back into reading with all the vim and vigour of my old days. Hopefully the sister will notice that I am blogging again and hold up her end. We may change our look soon. I know that Earhart has had some mild grumbles about the outdated look of the blog. So, fair warning, we may be UNRECOGNISABLE soon.

27 August 2010

Battle Royale (Koushun Takami)

And we're back!

Where have we been you might ask? Well I've been working, studying, and sometimes working and studying at the same time. Alcott has been flitting around Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Germany, Spain... basically she has had a much more exciting few months than me.

To ease myself back into this whole blogging thing (a post which
I may or may not have decided to write because there is laundry to be done) (and a room to be tidied). Anyway. I also thought I would share with you what I think is the most violent book I have ever read. What fun!

A little while ago I reviewed The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins - I'm sure you know it. Kids put in battle arena, given a few weapons, told to kill each other. Well I was raving about this book to a reader friend, who said "that sounds just like this Japanese novel I read, you should read Battle Royale". I promptly forgot this recommendation, read it a year later and proceeded to tell the same friend "You know, you'd really like this book Battle Royale".

Anyway, Battle Royale is indeed remarkably similar to The Hunger Games. Set in a dystopian future, where to keep the population in control, some kind of teenager-killing-teenager scenario is implemented. In Battle Royale it is called The Program, and each year a grade nine class is randomly selected to take part. Told they are going on an excursion, their bus is filled with sleeping gas and when the students awake, they have been fitted with metal collars. Metal collars that will explode for a variety of reasons. And then the men running the program pulls their teacher's head out of a sack he is carrying around. And a couple of students are shot before the game even starts. And then the students are each given a weapon (ranging from a machine gun to a banjo to a fork) and told to kill each other. And then they do.

And unlike in the Hunger Games, where teenagers kill teenagers in a very non-graphic way, Battle Royale doesn't hold back. I can't really bring myself to recount any of the violent scenes from the book, but to give you an idea of how affected I was, I couldn't read this book while I was eating as more often than not, something was going to make me feel ill.

My Battle Royale ramblings lead me to ask you this - what books have had induced a strong physical reaction in you? I'm not talking crying at the end of Goodnight Mister Tom (which I do), I am talking putting the book down before you're sick.


23 May 2010

YA Ramblings / Tamora Pierce Makes a Long Awaited Appearance on the Blog

In thinking about my reading of late, nothing REALLY stands out as being review worthy. I mean, I read the latest Jasper Fforde, Shades of Grey, which was amazing, brilliant, dyslit-y, witty, literary... but seriously, that is all I really need to say. Its Jasper Fforde. Go read it okay?
I have however, read a LOT of mediocre stuff. You want to know which YA sensation of the moment NOT to pick up, then I am your girl. For example, take Need by Carrie Jones. Touted as "better than Twilight" and the next big thing in paranormal teen romance. Aside from the fact that I've been told that about every single teen book published since Twilight began, it is just not true. Twilight is essentially a Mills and Boon for teenagers, but at least Meyer throws herself into the story completely. This latest one felt like it was just going through the motions. New girl in town, finds herself oddly drawn to the tall, dark, sexy guy who keeps showing up to save her in the nick of time, finds out she is being followed by a pixie, and that tall, dark, sexy man is actually (SPOILER) a werewolf. Token amount of surprise at revelation that supernatural stuff is all out there, scepticism quickly overcome for the sake of progressing the plot, some kind of supernatural (but also emotional!) conflict followed by triumph of good guys and movie perfect kiss. Yawn.

And you know what? I just know there are people out there who are saying "Well of course you yawn! Look at what you picked up! What were you expecting?!!!" I say the same thing to myself, but continue to wade through this rubbish for two reasons. Number one, it is my job. Making sure none of the YA readers out there get any books with "issues" their parents wouldn't want them reading about. (For those who don't speak book-seller, "issues" is code for sex, drinking, drugs, swearing, violence... in the rather conservative area in which my bookshop is situated, none of the parents want their innocent darlings reading anything controversial. Customer picks up a book "What content is in this book? My daughter is ten but has reading age of a sixteen year old, but I don't want anything inappropriate." You get the idea. It is farcical at times.) (That was the longest bracket ever). So that is one reason. (In case you are wondering, Need has a bit of kissing, but not much else).

Reason two is a bit closer to my heart. It involves an author who had a profound effect on me during my formative years. Tamora Pierce. Just thinking about her (millions) of books makes me smile. Between the ages of eleven and fourteen I pretty much read Tamora Pierce. Over and over. And over. You get the idea. I think I could probably recite my favourite passages. My constant re-reading of her books is due in quite a large part to her heroines. They were always described as head strong and stubborn, they were witty, smart, and you can bet they didn't let any man tell them what to do! Admittedly, they had it a bit tougher going against men since they were stuck back in the middle ages, and I was in the 21st Century. Whatever, I identified with these girls! These books made me (a bookish, indoorsy, nature disliking, pacifist with animal allergies) long to be a knight (wilderness survival and fighting skills a must). They were real, 3D characters who made you want to be their friend. Can you imagine anyone in their right mind wanting to be friends with Bella Swan? You would get to hear her complain a lot, and watch as she lives through what has got to be the most unhealthy relationship in the world. Sweetie, if he is pulling bits out of your car engine because he doesn't want you going to see a friend he doesn't like, maybe he is just a tad controlling.

I read mediocre YA book after mediocre YA book because of hope. (Hmm, that sounded less cheesy in my head). I am hoping that one day I will pick up a new book and I will have found a book that will become just as special to some twelve year old girl out there as Tamora Pierce was (IS, who am I kidding? I still get excited when a new one comes out. Write faster Tammy!) to me. And when I find it, I know the protagonist is not going to have the personality of a dish-cloth (I'm looking at you Bella!) and something tells me it probably won't involve vampires. Just a hunch.

24 April 2010

The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud (Ben Sherwood)

Ugh, this book was AMERICAN. Overly sentimental and unnecessarily violent. With the kind of detail which you know the author has included because they think it gives their work increased depth when really it only acts to make the book longer. Obviously, if you are Dickens, this is important, as you are being paid by the word. However, Dickens had something to say with every one of those words. The superfluous detail in this story was the only thing retaining the integrity of the physical concept of 'the book'. The plot and characters were rendered irrelevant through the extreme use of hyperbolic emotional prose which only ever serves to alienate rather than draw the reader in. Your response is to say "Oh for God's sake, pull yourself together" rather than feel any sort of empathy.

Oh! The family are home! I await their invitation to come down to eat with trepidatious excitement.

And... alas. No invitation has been shouted from below.

Well, I'm not going down to find something to eat. I'll be fine. I have a bottle of water.

If the above interlude confuses you, refer to the post below.

Sherwood's novel tells the story of Charlie St. Cloud, who, whilst driving his mother's car when he was just a kid, inadvertently crashes and his younger brother is killed. Fast forward a few years and now Charlie is a gravedigger. Who can talk to dead people. He meets a woman named Tess who is straight out of a Mills and Boon. A bad Mills and Boon. One of the ones where the woman is irascible and selfish. They... talk and grow fond of each other. From here the book continues to bore the reader until the final, glorious denouement where we get to hear what sort of dog he's going to have in his future life. (A beagle. Bad choice. They're hard to train Charlie.)

The dialogue is plodding at best and I skipped many of the conversations because it was either that or risk becoming so tense that my neck veins would have ruptured. Of course, this meant I was often slightly confused as to what was happening. No matter. Confusion is the lesser of two evils when the other is to be so consummately acquainted with every nuance of Sherwood's writing that there is no conceivable way to escape from the knowledge that you are reading something obscenely pedestrian.

Apparently they are making a film of this book with Zac Efron as Charlie. Which is just perfect. Blocks of concrete deserve wooden rods to realise their full potential.

Rating: 3/10.
Search Engine Submission - AddMe