4

Power Plays: The Red Queen

Red QueenThe Red Queen by Honey Brown

I recently read Honey Brown’s After the Darkness and was disappointed to discover that none of her other novels are available to readers in the UK. Luckily, I had a relative visiting from Australia and ordered from Readings (free and very quick postage within Aus – worth a plug) a couple of Honey Brown’s books, including this one.

Deep in the Australian bush, Shannon Scott is holed up in a cabin with his brother Rohan waiting out the catastrophic event of worldwide disease and a breakdown of global economies. One night a mysterious woman slips under their late night watch and past their loaded guns.

Denny Cassidy is beautiful and a survivor.Her inclusion in the cabin brings about the need for a new set of rules but is she laying a trap? Could she be a cold tactician with a deadly agenda?

First Impressions: I was plunged straight into the lives of the two brothers. Their lifestyle and the dystopian situation were convincing, almost too believable. Furthermore, the events surrounding the woman’s arrival (it happens early) are realistic. Nothing about the introductory chapters felt stilted or contrived.

Highlights: The whole scenario of the plague was incredibly well done. The ‘us’ and ‘them’ approach adopted by the two brothers, and their necessary fear of outsiders, permeated the whole story. I supported any of their ruthless decisions because their situation was so precarious. The changing relationship between the woman and the two brothers was both bleak and atypical yet entirely possible in such exceptional circumstances. Finally, I loved the way that references to the Red Queen were scattered throughout the novel.

If I was an editor: I would be blown away by such a dark story about chaos and human nature! The whole premise is so plausible it’s best not to think about it. The ending was fitting and not necessarily happy; the glimmer of hope still felt depressing! I did like the ending but perhaps would have liked more fallout…

Overall: Genunie dystopian fiction for adults.

The Red Queen: 5 Stars

 

5

Back on Form: The Paying Guests

The Paying GuestsThe Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

I was thrilled to win a lovely signed hardback copy of Sarah Waters’ latest novel on Audible’s Twitter account. I have adored Waters’ earlier novels but her last two have left me a little underwhelmed. How would The Paying Guests fare in my opinion?

It is 1922, and London is tense. Ex-servicemen are disillusioned and the out-of-work. In South London life is about to be transformed as impoverished widow Mrs Wray and her spinster daughter Frances are obliged to take in lodgers. With the arrival of Lilian and Leonard Barber passions mount and frustration gathers. No one can foresee just how far-reaching, and how devastating, the disturbances will be.

First Impressions: From the first page I felt a huge sense of relief as I could tell that The Paying Guests would be a Sarah Waters’ books that I enjoy. With the writing style it was very easy to find myself lost in the story.

Highlights: I loved the way Waters described the tension and chemistry between people. She turns it into a tangible electricity that can almost be seen like those electrostatic generators (?) in high school science lessons! The plight of the ex-servicemen is also interesting and brought to mind some other 1920s novels I have recently read such as The Burial by Courtney Collins and Bereft by Chris Womersley. More generally, the writing style itself is a highlight in this novel. For instance, when summarising the plot in the first section it is hard to say much more about what  happens other than ‘relationships are formed’. I found it all rather addictive and just kept turning those pages…

If I was an editor: I would be a little disappointed with the final section. The court case is well written about and even feels a bit more circa 1850s than 1920s yet it did feel a bit Wilkie Collins without the sensation. It was a good continuation of the story but I felt Waters’ usual elements of intrigue, revelations and maybe even a comeuppance or two were sadly lacking. Perhaps I have been spoiled in the past.

Overall: Will be enjoyed by many but particularly by Waters connoisseurs.

The Paying Guests: 5 Stars

 

0

Bizarre City Pulse: Lagoon

LagoonLagoon by Nnedi Okorafor

I was unsure about this novel: a fantasy novel set in Lagos? With environmental themes? Could I possible enjoy this?

Three disparate strangers meet on a beach in Lagos: Adaora, a marine biologist. Anthony, a famous rapper from Ghana. Agu, a soldier in trouble with his superior.

When a meteorite hits the ocean and a tidal wave overcomes them, these three will find themselves bound together with Ayodele, a visitor from beyond the stars. They must race through Lagos in order to save the city, the world… and themselves.

First Impressions: The first few chapters were well written but I found the plot was a little stilted as the sea creature alien arrived and settled into Adaora’s house. As it is a fantasy novel and this was a vital plot development you sort of just had to go with it and I’m glad I did.

Highlights: There is so much to like about this novel! Never having been to Nigeria, I am guessing that Okorafor has created a perfect representation of Lagos. I wonder if her life in America has provided a good distance in which to make such accurate comments? I laughed to read that Aliens chose to land in Lagos as the corruption would mean they could exist undetected. I later found out that the author started this novel in response to everything she disliked in the South African Film District 9.

Many people talk about London as being an addictive place to live but I had never considered Lagos to have the same pull to its residents; people look for greener pastures but always return. I found all the different Lagosian groups and tensions that Okorafor includes incredibly interesting and naturally written about, particularly the Muslim-Christian anxieties. I have never included quotes in a review before but I think this perfectly sums up daily life for residents of Lagos:

Some blamed the Muslims of the north. Others blamed the Americans. Al-Quaeda. Sickness. The British. Bad luck. Devils. Poverty. Women. Fate. 419. Biafra. The bad roads. The military. Corruption. (page 61).

My favourite character by far was the charlatan charismatic  religious leader Father Oke. I also loved the underground LGBT group from the university; so unexpected yet a perfect addition to this novel. Along with other terms peculiar to Lagos such as ‘Area Boys’ and ‘face me, I face you’ apartments, Pidgin was used successfully in some chapters and I wasn’t bothered by the fact that I didn’t understand it all, which really surprised me. Juju and other superstitions are seamlessly integrated into the mindset of many of the characters including Adaora’s businessman husband who believes in the three types of witches: white, physical and marine.

If I was an editor: I would still be a fair-weather fantasy reader and would like the fact the fantasy elements don’t overwhelm the story. There are a few (needed for the plot) chapters with fantasy elements towards the end; any more and I may have begun to lose interest but the author obviously kept a good balance with these elements. It is, after all, a fantasy novel.

Overall: Lagos brought to life.

Lagoon: 5 Stars

Thank you to Bookbridgr for a copy of the novel to review.

 

0

An Attractive Man Monday: Father Oke in Nnedi Okorafor’s Lagoon

Monday 27 October 2014

Father Oke in Nnedi Okorafor’s Lagoon, page 62.

Lagoon

Father Oke quickly spoke up. ‘A visitor from outer space. An alien! An extraterrestrial!’ he said dramatically, rolling his ‘r’s. The entire church went silent. This was the shock Father Oke had hoped to cause. Perfect. ‘It is in Brother Chris’s home! It is only the first of many!’ he continued. ‘It is in the news, all these strange things happening. We are being visited, my friends.’

 monday meme final

0

Exciting Experience: The Ark

 The Ark by Annabel Smith

I enjoy following Annabel Smith on Twitter but I must confess I have not read either of her two earlier novels. I have been really intrigued by The Ark: an interactive novel with its own App. As exciting as it sounds, I did wonder if it may have been too abstract for me; when I was young I loved choose-your-own-adventure stories but now I feel I only have time for the linear tale. Furthermore, what a bold move to self-publish after two successful novels with traditional publishing houses!  Annabel is always fair and honest with her reviews so I know she will appreciate me taking the same approach with her latest offering.

The year is 2041. The world is in chaos due to environmental crisis. A handful of scientists and their families retreat into the Ark, a seed vault inside Mt Kosciusko. The Ark holds the key to the future of life on Earth. The story of those inside the Ark is told through the a collection of their digital documents.

First Impressions: On a rather boring yet important note, the story was easy to download and put on my Kindle. I also put it on my phone to read at work (!) but as it was the PDF for the Kindle there were no interactive features. You get to pick which of the two versions you download. As for the story itself, it was very easy to get into.

Highlights: Much to my surprise, my favourite section was Rosco’s – the only teenager in the Ark. The majority of his documents are on something similar to a blog, but much more interactive. He sort of blurts out what he is feeling and gets different responses. When I first saw the slang and spelling he was using I did wonder if I could even understand it but yes, I could! Most importantly, it was really convincing; Annabel really took on the voice of a teenage boy. The other highlight for me was how much Annabel seemed to enjoy working on this project. Her enthusiasm just shines through. She created all sorts of social media platforms for people to use. The App is also like a ‘good copy’ of her ideas board and a lot of fun to explore. My husband and I were recently discussing whether any epistolary novels written after (my suggestions) the era of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall are believable(The conversation started with Gone Girl). The answer is now a resounding YES, The Ark!  I also love the cover design and I don’t usually comment on covers.

If I was an editor: I would be Annabel herself! I know Annabel created different versions of the book so people like myself who like a linear story wouldn’t be scared away. However, I would have probably promoted the Ipad/interactive version more as I did start to wish I bought that version. (This may have happened but with being in the UK and having a young son I am somewhat out of the loop). However, downloading the free App made me feel a bit better as it was fun to play with.
As the novel was written in a series of documents it was easy to dip in and out of however I did at times miss a sustained text that I could completely immerse myself in. Perhaps if I bought the interactive version and was able to hear some of the transcripts read aloud I may have felt a stronger connection with some of the characters.
The final section would have been quite hard to write in the style Annabel has chosen but it did work. The ending was fitting but some of the final section could have been cut down a little. I also would have liked more on the intial contact with the ‘outside’ once the timelock was broken; for me that may have been more engaging than what played out. As The Ark website encourages fan fiction, perhaps that should be my offering…

Overall: A bold, original move that pays off. Fan fiction is encouraged, and you can buy a paperback version of the linear story directly from Annabel if you are still anti-Kindle/technology (and there’s nothing wrong with that).

The Ark: 4 stars
The Ark, the App and the whole ‘experience': 5 stars

1

Frustrating Silences: South of the Border, West of the Sun

South of the Border, West of the SunSouth of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami

As a boy Hajime always felt detached from other children as being an only child felt like an affliction. When Shimamoto, another only child, joined his class they found a connection and spent afternoons together listening to records as her parent’s house.
Now in his 30s, Hajime is married with two children and owns two jazz clubs. His life seems idyllic but he is yearning for more. One day Shimamoto suddenly breezes into his life again…

First impressions: I’m not really a fan of journeys back to childhood but I found the first part of this short novel quite interesting, mainly because of the ‘only child syndrome’ Hajime experienced

Highlights:  The novel was easy to read and parts of it have kept me wondering, specifically the abstract enigmas that are Shimamoto and Hajime’s other ex-girlfriend, Izume. Interestingly, I felt little curiosity for his wife Yukiko. By the end of the novel there was so much more you could wonder about Hajime based solely on his adult relationship with Shimamoto.

If I was an editor: I would assume this novel embraces they ‘typical Murakami’ syndrome, although this is only the second one of his that I have read! The story tumbles into the vortex that is Hajime’s mid life crisis and I found the silences frustrating: the adult Shimamoto was so intriguing yet we know so little about her. This is the same for Izume. I also would have liked more information about the post-war Japan Hajime lived in as a boy. However, the point of the novel is to accentuate Hajime’s anguish so in that way it did succeed.

Overall: As Murakami is a Jazz connoisseur, is the novel part biographical, a personal indulgence, an easy to write setting, or a combination of all three?

South of the Border, West of the Sun: 4 stars

9

Six Degrees of Separation #7

Six Degrees of Separation #7: Saturday 4th October 2014

1984 by George Orwell is a futuristic novel set in the age of Big Brother and mass surveillance.

D.B.C. Pierre’s Vernon God Little also has video surveillance but in this case the cameras are in a prison with the inmates being contestants on a Big Brother type show.

Meursault, the main character in Albert Camus’ The Outsider, also spends time in jail. I read this short novel in my final year at school while doing a unit on existential drama. I must confess it didn’t really move me. Perhaps I missed something…

In comparison, one novel in translation that I loved was The Hundred Year Old Man by Jonas Jonasson.There are lots of translated works I have enjoyed but this is always the first one to come to mind.

A History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka is another funny novel with an entertaining elderly man as a character. I loved this book when I read it but I am sure that had I lived in London when it was released I would have got even more out of it.

Ian McEwan is an author I just couldn’t really get into until I moved to London. I have now read a few of his novels including his most recent one, The Children’s Act in which the main character has to navigate many ethical issues in her job.
(Read my review here)

In Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project Don Tillman becomes involved in some rather dubious ethical practices all in the name of love. However the tone of this novel is definitely a lot more lighthearted!

(Read my review here)

 

 

Find out more about the Six Degrees of Separation meme here.

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