Wings of Fire; The Dragonet Prophecy – Tui T. Sutherland

February 26, 2020 at 14:36 | Posted in books | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , ,

Chillikebab junior the first turns ten years old soon. I asked her what theme she wanted for her birthday party, and she wanted it dragon themed. Specifically Wings of Fire themed. There had to be a quest, and a prophecy, and dragon eggs, and fire, and magic. I enthusiastically joined in with this, suggesting a range of cool things I could do – from making dragon eggs to creating an escape room to brewing magic potions and so on. My imagination ran wild, whilst Chillikebab jnr’s eyes grew wide and she proclaimed that it was going to be cool. (I had, at the time, consumed a fair number of alcoholic beverages, it should be noted.)

I should take this, I suppose. Once she turns ten, I doubt her dad will ever be cool again. But in the cold light of day, the scale of what I had suggested and the expectations I had set up were a little daunting. I had a lot to do… (I’ve also stopped drinking. At least for a while. Remind me not to start again until after Chillikebab junior the second’s birthday.)

Anway, I am now engaged in mounding dragon eggs out of paper mache, googling where I can buy dry ice and writing prophesies in rhyming couplets. Ho hum.

In order to ensure verisimilitude in my approach to the prophesy writing (it’s not easy being a prophet, let me tell you), I read the first book in the Wings of Fire series. They are kids books, but also popular with adults it seems. they are New York Times bestsellers, no less.

I don’t know what to say about it really. It’s non-stop violent action from start to finish. Battles, fights, sadistic torture, imprisonment, gladiatorial arenas, horrible deaths, mutilations and poisonings. There’s a sort of story about five young dragons that are going to save the world, there’s a war happening, and there’s some mysterious goings on. That’s probably all you need to know. It rattles along at a cracking pace, and I can see why my daughter likes them – they are action packed.

There’s not much scenery, however. The world the dragons inhabit is barely sketched; this is not an immersive and intriguing universe that you can visit in your head. There’s also a load of glaring inconsistencies that left me scratching my head; the dragons have rather clumsy claws but are also able to put a hand on each others’ shoulders; they move things by awkwardly pushing them around with their snouts but somehow they also have magnificent castles and complicated metalwork; their bones are stronger than diamond and can’t break, yet they do break when they fight. And so on. Perhaps I’m too much of a pedant.

Anyway, I now have a better idea of how to plan this party. Perhaps some kind of death match where the last child is left standing…

Identity Crisis – Ben Elton

February 19, 2020 at 15:00 | Posted in books | 1 Comment
Tags: , , , ,

This book is very Ben Elton. You know – take a current societal conflict or controversy, dial it up to some sort of extreme, and create a satirical comedy about it that also acts as a pointed commentary on the ills of the world and our relentless slide into conflict, nihilism and catastrophe.

The topic for this book is ‘culture wars’, and the way bad actors manipulate public opinion via social media campaigns in order to sow discord and win elections, with side tours into reality TV, policing and race.

It’s OK. Elton’s books are very readable, and it rattles along in fine style, with plot twists and cliffhangers aplenty. But somehow I feel it doesn’t quite connect with its targets; many of the characters are not quite right and at times I get the distinct impression that Elton is dealing with subjects that he does not properly understand himself – and his pointed satire about how tone deaf we all are comes off as a bit, well, tone deaf.

Hey ho. If you are unaware of the link between social media, fascism and populist election wins, then you might learn something from this book. (Of you could read what actually happens – I suggest starting with Carol Cadwalladr.) But for me this wasn’t one of Elton’s best.

 

Mythos – Stephen Fry

February 8, 2020 at 20:41 | Posted in books | 1 Comment
Tags: , , , , ,

About thirty years ago, Mrs Chillikebab and I got married, and went to Greece on our honeymoon. We had a lovely time walking on the beach, swimming in the sea, visiting the many wonderful ancient Greek sites and drinking beer. The beer was, I recall, Mythos.

Mythos beer is now available in Australia. So the other day we ordered one, hoping to relive a little of our honeymoon. Did the taste of that fizzy golden lager bring back memories of our younger selves lying lithe on the sand? Well, not really, because Mythos beer, it turns our, is not that good when not drunk in Greece whilst on holiday. So the whole thing was a bit of a disappointment.

This incident was brought to mind just a few days later when I picked up a book to read, titled Mythos. Written by Stephen Fry, it is a retelling of various Greek myths in a contemporary style. I think the standard term is ‘made accessible for the modern reader’ or something. I have very much enjoyed Fry’s other books, so was indeed hoping for a good dollop of accessibility, and even possibly some entertainment. (Although I do feel that I’m rapidly reaching an age where to call my self a ‘modern reader’ is a bit of a stretch…). But then again my recent disappointment with a Mythos product was in my mind too. How would this one go?

The stuff of Greek legends is, well, the stuff of legend, You know – Prometheus, Zeus, Poseidon, Aphrodite, Spartacus, Thor, and all the rest. Now, here’s a thing. I have always struggled with this kind of thing, because I have an atrocious memory for names. People who are good at remembering names like Greek myths. But people like me struggle. Opera and jazz and much the same. In fact, I reckon the Venn diagram of people who like Greek myths, jazz and opera would be a circle. They are all sort of fun, all sort of inaccessible and all seen to require a near encyclopedic recall of names. (I bet Stephen Fry likes jazz. And opera. And I bet he can name loads of singers, bandleaders and the rest.)

Anyway, Mythos was fun. Fry’s retelling are lively and easy to read. It is entertaining. The stories are quite good, as it turns out (although if I was being critical I’d say a few of them were rather same-y. I sense plagiarism was an issue amongst ancient Greek bards). But. But but but. The names thing. Oh my goodness. Chapters start with things like ‘You recall earlier how we learned that Achaeus was son of Xuthus and Creusaon, well….’.¬† Well no, Stephen, I don’t recall. I don’t recall at all. All those names just blur together before vanishing into the mists of forgetfulness.

I fear there is no hope for me. I enjoyed Mythos. But it has not helped one jot in making me sound more erudite at parties by being able to name drop Greek deities. They just drifted from my head minutes after finishing each chapter.

Storyland – Catherine McKinnon

October 28, 2019 at 16:47 | Posted in books | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , ,

Storyland is the second novel by Catherine McKinnon, and is an ambitious novel created out of a palindromic interlinking of different short stories – all linked by place, but moving from 1796 to a distant dystopian future and back again. The stories are all very rooted in the place – the area around Lake Illawarra, a few hours south of Sydney. This sense of place is well grounded; it is a very Australian story, and takes inspiration I think from the Aboriginal concept of songlines – stories that relate places and traverse the land.

The first story is a reimagined account of Matthew Flinders exploratory voyage south from Sydney in a small boat, and his encounters with the local Aboriginal nation of that region. As the stories move forward through time, that connection with both the land and Aboriginal experiences of modern Australia continue.

Some of the stories work better than others, but they are all evocative and thought provoking. I would say however that not all of them land very satisfactorily, and I somehow wish the linkage between them had been somehow both more subtle and also more overt.

This is a god book that is worth reading – its interesting structure and rich evocations of Australia make it very worthwhile. Yet somehow for me it falls sort of being a really great book – it just seems to struggle a bit under the weight of it’s ambition.

Rivers of London – Ben Aaronovitch

September 7, 2019 at 10:56 | Posted in books | Leave a comment
Tags: , , ,

I got this book for Christmas, and finally read it. It’s a fantasy magic kind of thing. It is getting mostly rave reviews, and is billed as a kind of Harry Potter meets CSI.

It’s sort of fun, and it passed the time, but it’s not a great book in my opinion. The main character, Peter, just seems to sort of drift along, hordes of characters come and go and the ending is a bit of a muddle.

There is plenty to like; some good humour and the whole magic thing is quite well handled. It offers a rich taste of London life too, and it’s also nice to read a book with plenty of characters who are POC, but in a way that just so happens they are, rather than they being the point of their role in the story.

I doubt I’ll read any of the others in the series. But this would make a good holiday novel.

Quark’s Academy- Catherine Pelosi

April 28, 2018 at 21:30 | Posted in books | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , ,

The last time I reviewed a childrens’ book was I think in 2010, when my eldest daughter was just a few months old. My, how time flies. She’s now devouring books on her own at a prodigious rate – perhaps I should get her to review them on this blog, as it would dramatically increase my post count. She probably reads nine or ten books in the time it takes me to read one.

As a holiday activity, she went to a kids writing workshop at the rather marvellous¬†Better Read Than Dead Bookstore in Newtown, which was in part run by Catherine Pelosi. In preparation, she read Quark’s Academy, a junior fiction book about a strange science academy that takes talented children scientists and supposedly helps then to perfect their inventions as part of a fantastic competition. After she’d finished it, I read it too.

From the beginning the Academy is a rather sinister place, and the three main protagonists –¬†Augustine, Celeste and Oscar – gradually overcome their suspicion of each other and end up working as a team to uncover the horrific secrets of what really happens in all the strange laboratories.

The story is a madcap mix of crazy inventions, clones, robotic animals and time travel and it all reaches a huge finale, which, to be honest, didn’t really make much sense but was fun nonetheless. I really liked that two of the main characters were female and science-y – gender stereotyping in children’s literature is really a thing, so it’s refreshing to find a book without it.

The elder junior chillikebab loved it, and especially liked the twist at the end where it turned out that…….

But that would spoil the surprise. The workshop was great too, and now she has her copy of the book signed by Catherine Pelosi, she’s doubly happy.

 

The Auschwitz Violin – Maria Angels Anglada

April 6, 2018 at 08:43 | Posted in books | 1 Comment
Tags: , , ,

This slim volume is a delicately written novella with an intriguing premise. A luthier, interred in the terrors of Auschwitz, is forced to make a violin for the camp Kommandant. If the violin is not of an acceptable standard, he faces terrible consequences.

The story is told in flashback; by the now owner of the violin – which possesses a rich and sonorous tone. The story is simply told, and quite affecting. That said, on some level the characters seemed to fall a little flat for me; it’s hard to pin down quite why. Each chapter is preceded by a fragment of a real document from the camps – a regulation, report or correspondence – which are in some ways the most powerful thing in the book.

That said, this is a great read, and being short is easy to take in in a single sitting. It will certainly stay with you for a while.

Small Great Things – Jodi Picoult

August 15, 2017 at 10:24 | Posted in books | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , , ,

I picked up this book at the airport, as a fairly easy read on the plane. Jodi Picoult is of course a very well known and prolific author, although I’d not read any of her books before.

As I expected, this is a well-written, easy to read book that rattles along. The theme it tackles, however, is far from lightweight; it is an examination of racism and racial tensions in contemporary USA. Against the backdrop of racially-charged police shootings, the rise of Trump and issues around immigration and American values, this is both a necessary and brave book.

Necessary, because these issues need airing constantly, and brave, because Jodi Picoult is a privileged, affluent white person – and writing about race is a challenge to do authentically and fairly when you have no lived experience to draw on.

The story revolves around Ruth; a black neo-natal nurse who is on duty when an medical incident occurs to the newborn child of a white supremacist couple. The baby dies, and Ruth is suspended by the hospital, and charged with negligence and murder. She is defended by a public advocate, and over the course of the novel the motivations, lives and prejudices of all the characters are examined. The book ends with a climactic courtroom scene which, whilst gripping, as a rather over-the-top twist right at the end that to me felt very forced.

It’s a novel that certainly illuminates the racial divide in today’s America. Picoult did a lot of research prior to writing this book; she details much of this in an essay that appends the novel. Aware of the sensitivity of the subject, she tries to do the right thing, and also apologises for any missteps she may have made. Racism is an issue that affects all America (and perhaps the whole world), and Picoult makes the point that this is a book to get whites reading about and understanding at least some of the issues – even if her voice is not the most authentic or original. It is notable that the black characters in the novel come across as the least nuanced and most two-dimensional.

I was interested when finishing the book to read the reactions of black reviewers to the novel. For the most part they are generous and understanding – this is not a ‘black novel’, but as a book that adds to the debate and might break through to some readers who would otherwise not consider the issues raised it has been for the most part praised.

I enjoyed this book a lot; it is a rattling good yarn as well as being very thought-provoking.

The Restorer – Michael Sala

July 19, 2017 at 15:18 | Posted in books | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , , ,

The Restorer is Micheal Sala’s second novel, and is set in Newcastle, a small city a few hours north of Sydney in Australia. It’s a novel about one family, as their father, Roy, attempts to heal the rifts in their past by buying a near-derelict house in a new city and restoring it – and, he hopes, his family too.

At first, things seem to improve, but the bubbling tensions below the surface continually threaten to erupt, driven by Roy’s unpredictable, brooding violence. This is a very bleak book, and we are drawn into the struggles, dysfunction and violence of both this one family, and the wider society they inhabit.

One of the strengths of the book is that we end up empathising with all the characters; they are all in some way trying to overcome their flaws and break free of their pasts. However, ultimately Roy is unable to contain or tame his violence, and as the book progresses it crescendos towards a devastating finale. This is an intense portrait of a violent family, and has its roots in Sala’s own upbringing, and the fear of provoking his violent stepfather. It’s a beautifully written yet brutal story, and is utterly compelling.

New York 2140 – Kim Stanley Robinson

July 4, 2017 at 14:22 | Posted in books | Leave a comment
Tags: , , ,

I bought this as an easy read for a long plane trip, and it served its purpose admirably. It’s a sci-fi book (something you might possibly deduce from the title…) set in a world where sea level has risen forty feet as a result of global warming, and the world is finding a new equilibrium. Much of Manhattan is now underwater, but life in the most solid tall buildings goes on, with the streets becoming a sort of Venetian canal network. The weaker, smaller buildings are gradually slumping into the water, whilst even larger skyscrapers are constructed on higher ground. It’s quite an evocative picture of a possible near future, with humanity living both differently yet also rather similarly to today. One similarity is the global financial markets; still managing trillions of dollars of money, all leveraged and borrowed, and ripe for collapse. Both financial and literal liquidity are woven together neatly throughout the book.

Into this scenery is placed an eclectic cast of characters; software coders, a tough policewoman, a social lawyer, a banker, a TV reality star, two savvy street kids and a lugubrious building supervisor. The opening of the book is strong, as these characters are sketched out, and it becomes clear that it is one of those books where the lives of these characters gradually become entangled and drawn together. Ultimately, however, the way this happens and the end result is a bit unsatisfactory – it’s all rather rushed and much too neat. Still, as a book to pass the time its certainly to be recommended, and threaded through it is a commentary on our own time, and our negligence in dealing with the climate crisis the world is currently in.

Postscript: I read the final chapters of this book as the results of the June 2017 UK general election were coming in, and there was a certain frisson in seeing the people perhaps rise up and smash the neoliberal order that has held the world in such a grip since the 1980s – exactly as was happening in the chapters I was reading. Alas, the UK election result was rather more messy and did little more than rattle the hegemony a little, unlike the all-too-neat ending of this book.

Next Page »

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.
Entries and comments feeds.