Winterhill: The Wreath of Dreams

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Read 29/11/2016-30/11/2016

Rating: 4 stars

This is fast paced science fiction split into episodes like an unillustrated graphic novel, or a radio serial that hasn’t been broadcast. The Wreath of Dreams is the first in a series of books and introduces us to amnesiac archaeologist Professor Rebecca Winterhill. Across the six episodes she hooks up with two travelling companions, Madagascar Talifero and Tareku Wamae, and has various hair raising and blood curdling adventures.

It’s clear that Iain Martin has a plan for the characters. He builds their back stories gradually, drops them in and out of the narrative, and doesn’t tie things up too quickly. It made me think of episodes of Doctor Who. Each episode in the book is a complete story, but it leaves a door open for something else to develop down the line.

I enjoyed the cheekiness of the writing, the occasional nod to the reader that life can be corny at times, the occasional meta reference to life being like a sci-fi film. I liked the characters. Winterhill and Madagascar reminded me of Halo Jones and her friend Rodice in their no-nonsense reactions to the things life throws at them. They’re feisty in different ways.

If you’re after something with a bit of pace, a bit of suspense, a bit of intergalactic police procedural, and a bit of space adventure, this could be the series for you.

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They All Love Jack

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Read 14/11/2016-29/11/2016

Rating: 5 stars

I bought this because I heard that it was viscerally angry in its refutation of the myth of Jack the Ripper. I think there needs to be more anger in history, especially anger directed against the disgusting and inhuman, and against corruption in high places. I’m an angry person. I always have been. The red mist frequently descends. Usually in the face of injustice and exploitation, sometimes in response to idiocy, occasionally just because I need to shout.

As I read Bruce Robinson’s Author’s Note at the start of They All Love Jack, with its scathing repudiation of the Victorian governing class, I had goosebumps. Continue reading

Timbuktu

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Read 13/11/2016-14/11/2016

Rating: 3 stars

I love Paul Auster. From the moment I read The New York Trilogy, curled up on a bed built into roof space above the kitchen in a friend’s flat in Brussels, I have been hooked. He’s one of my go to authors. There hasn’t been a single book of his I’ve read that I haven’t liked. He is clever and funny, wry and intelligent, warm and understanding of human nature.

For some reason, though, I’ve resisted reading Timbuktu. I’m not a huge fan of anthropomorphised animals narrating books. I find it a bit hokey. Things I read about Timbuktu made me think it would fall into that arena of mawkish sentimentality. So I resisted.

Until someone asked whether I’d read it. I could only think of flippant reasons for not having done so, so I pulled it down from the shelf. Continue reading

Mooncop

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Read 13/11/2016

Rating: 4 stars

I love Tom Gauld’s cartoons when they appear in The Guardian, so I was excited when his graphic novel Mooncop came out.

It’s a salutary tale about brave new horizons, failed experiments, the death of community, and hope for the future.

Across its 94 pages, we follow the last police officer on the moon. He has a 100% crime solution rate. There aren’t many people left on this lunar outpost of the earth, though, so no crime happens.

Gauld’s illustrations are beautiful in their simplicity and the sparse dialogue punctuates moments of reflection captured in views of the moon’s surface, starscapes and views of the earth.

It’s a melancholy tale with a wry humour and closes with a glimmer of hope for the future. As a distraction from everything going on here on earth right now, it was a touching read.

Leaving the Sea: Stories

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Read 07/11/2016-13/11/2016

Rating: 4 stars

So many books these days have endless quotes from reviews that prepare you for what you’re about to read. Especially books that are classed as different, difficult, uncomfortable, and extraordinary. Such is the case with Ben Marcus’s collection of stories, Leaving the Sea.

I own this book because Jen at The Reader’s Room reviewed it earlier in the year. She disliked it so passionately that I was intrigued. I’d read The Age of Wire and String, which is a very odd book but one that I loved wholeheartedly. I couldn’t tell you what it’s about. I can only tell you that it made me feel light headed, light hearted, confused and delighted.

Jen very generously sent me the book. I’ve been waiting for a moment when it felt right to read it. Continue reading

My Brilliant Friend

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Read 27/10/2016-07/11/2016

Rating: 3 stars

Even before the recent ‘outing’ of Elena Ferrante’s true identity, I had been meaning to read her Neapolitan Quartet. I’ve read articles comparing it to Karl Ove Knausgård’s series of books fictionalising his passage through life and his family relationships. I’ve had it recommended to me as something I would enjoy. It has been on my Kindle for a while. In October, I decided I would only read books written by women and, as much as possible, books by women I hadn’t read before. So I came to My Brilliant Friend at the end of the month.

I’ll be honest. I found it a difficult book to immerse myself in. It’s well written but somehow too aware of itself. I felt as though I was being taken through a plot, rather than sharing the experiences of the people in the story. It had peaks and troughs for me. I didn’t feel compelled to keep reading. There have been days when I’ve only managed 30 minutes with it. It hasn’t been because it’s an intellectually difficult read, more that I’ve found it difficult to really connect with the characters. I found it a bit clichéd.

The story follows two friends, Elena and Lila, through their childhood and adolescence in a village outside Naples. Told from Elena’s perspective, it examines the nature of friendship and rivalry, and touches on political and social tensions in Italy in the years after the Second World War. Ferrante depicts village life vividly: the brutality, the closeness of death, with what ease simple actions become destructive and sometimes fatal.
Continue reading