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Archive for the ‘novels’ Category

I didn’t know what to read next, when I was choosing my new book.  I have piles upon piles waiting for me, including some I have borrowed and need to return.  But it’s too hot to think too much, so I finally decided on another Margaret Atwood.  It’s not a dystopian future so that’s a change, at least!

What I wanted was a holiday read: a book I knew I would enjoy reading, that I could read fairly quickly but was a bit more complex than an airport book, if you know what I mean.  This is a pick for the reader me, more than the writer me.

I will let you know how it’s worked when I finish!

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

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This week I finished Margaret Atwood’s trilogy, with MaddAddam.  I will try to be concise, but I could write about this one for a while!

MaddAddam, like Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood, tells the story of how people existed before and after the plague which wipes out most humans.  At its heart are love stories – Toby and Zeb, survivors of the God’s Gardeners; Zeb and his brother Adam, and Toby and Blackbeard, Craker and student.

I really enjoyed reading this book.  It filled in some of the blanks left earlier in the series – such as the reason Zeb was involved with the God’s Gardeners and his relationship with the Adams and Eves, how Crake got the original plague data, what happened to his parents and so on.

More importantly though, it took the story onward.  The disparate group of surviving humans started to develop a new society, with the Crakers as part of it.  People started to hope and plan again.  Toby’s friendship with the curious Craker child Blackbeard showed that however Crake had engineered the humanoids, he couldn’t remove their curiosity and desire to know and understand.

From this friendship, Toby started to believe in a future for humans, and Crakers, that would have been impossible at the start of the series.

I think that is the theme of the book: we can’t foresee the outcome of our actions.  The Crakers were specifically created not to have religious tendencies, for example, but Oryx and Crake were their deities, and the reason for their faith in the world around them.  Zeb chose how to extricate himself from his corrupt father without realising his choice would lead him to bioterrorism and into the path of the world-ending Crake.

Another important concept through the book is that of loyalty.  In a world where people have to be wary of everything, trusting someone is both extremely difficult and essential. That is juxtaposed with the Craker stance of trust by default.

The final thing I will say is that I found the ending of the book, and indeed the series, satisfying.  It wasn’t neatly tied in a bow but the story lived on and that was important to me, having invested in the world Atwood created. I also liked the lack of concrete resolution on the plague itself: we know who, and how, but we can never entirely know why – which is absolutely the way of the world.

I could say so much more but it’ll ruin the reading experience if I go any further!

Tying this back to writing, I am in awe of the complexity and breadth of the world Atwood has created. This is a world she both built up, and then destroyed, and she had to get the details right in both states.

I don’t think this is a standalone book, because even if you could read it alone you wouldn’t get the context.  However, for me, it was a great end to the trilogy.

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

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I gave you the background to this novel on Tuesday, but I wanted to spend a bit more time looking at it than I had available then.

As with book 1 of the series, The Year of the Flood sweeps backwards and forwards through time.  There are key differences though: whereas in book 1 we see the world from a point of knowledge about what has occurred, this book shows how people removed from the science and power are able to survive.

The God’s Gardeners religion which was mentioned in book one is a large element of book 2.  It sounds like an eco-cult, with strange saints and a hierarchy where the most senior members are all called Adam or Eve.  There are odd songs and it is made to sound both fantastical and (in light of the world they live in) a compelling kind of fringe society, taking in the waifs and strays left behind by modernity.

It took me a while to get into those elements, especially the songs, because the structure was quite different to book one.

However what worked really well for me was to show the key characters – Toby and Ren – as their situations change over time.  In marked opposition to Oryx and Crake and the pampered lives in the Compounds, Toby and Ren exist in the insecurity and danger of the Pleeblands.  They are at risk, as women, in the world they inhabit, and the risk doesn’t end when the plague comes.

I enjoyed this book, and as part of a series it added intricacy to the world being created.  I wasn’t sure about the God’s Gardeners sermons and saints days but looked at collectively they show how much of the world we know now has been lost to the future, and how mankind has damaged the world in order to keep the Corporations powerful.

I am not sure how well it would stand up on its own but for me that wouldn’t be the best way to approach the middle book of a series anyway!

I will tell you about the final book of the series next time.

Happy writing,

EJ

🙂

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Book two of my not really holiday reading was Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood.  I first read this about eight years ago (and when I realised that I was a bit shocked!) but it’s one of a series so I got all three to read back to back.

The story is about a man called Jimmy, or Snowman, and is set in a future where science has overwhelmed nature: people, plants and animals are genetically modified.  Society is split into people in the Compounds – the areas of Corporations managing the scientific activities for profit – and the pleeblands, where everyone else lives.

When a global pandemic wipes out virtually all humanity, Jimmy has to save not only himself but the Crakers, a group of bioengineered humanoids created by Jimmy’s best friend, and find a way to survive the new world, with its newly released science experiment animals.

I won’t say more than that because I will be giving away too much of the story!

I chose this book because I enjoy reading Atwood’s work, because I knew I wanted to revisit the book, and because I love a dystopian future.  I didn’t read it for writing purposes.

Having said that, it’s always interesting to read Atwood – the concepts in this book are intriguing and disturbing, and I found myself wondering at what point I would think genetic manipulation had gone too far.  At what point do we as a society move from horrified to accepting?

There is also moral consideration about the behaviour of both Jimmy and Crake in relation to each other, to Oryx who is loved by both men, and to humanity as a whole.

It’s a hard future and much like other dystopian novel, there are elements already creeping into reality which make it particularly unnerving in places.

Reading it on a sun lounger wasn’t really the right environment… Still, I found it moving, thought-provoking and engrossing. It stood up well on second reading, although the gap may have helped 🙂

I have read the next book in the trilogy and am onto the third, so more on the future of humanity will follow!

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

 

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I said yesterday that I had three books to discuss, but over the course of today I decided to split them into different posts.  That way, each one gets a bit more space to be discussed!

So the first book to talk about is The Tiger’s Wife, by Téa Obreht.  I am going to be totally honest and say I was first drawn to it by the name, and once I saw the cover I was hooked.

This book is a mixture of fact, fantasy, and folktale; from a writing point of view I was interested in how the elements were fused.  This book had a richness to it, a sense of the world being deeper and wider than imagined.   I particularly liked the ‘Deathless Man’ stories, which were like something from Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

The downside of richness is that you can have too much of something.  By the end of the book I did feel that there were so many stories, so many characters, so many details that I didn’t hold on to them all.  That isn’t always a negative but in this case, it’s difficult to write about the content of the book because I can’t remember it all.

So I will focus on the key elements that remain with me.  Firstly, the names of places are made up, but there is a clear sense that the tales take place in the former Yugoslavia – not only because of Obreht’s personal history, but because of the nature of the conflicts within the story.

Secondly, the tale of the Tiger’s Wife herself is of a woman finding freedom and finding her own path, and that being destroyed by people who are scared of the power that gives her.  In effect, it is the personalisation of the story of war.

Thirdly, this is the story of tragedy.  It feels as though whatever happens, violence recurs. It is not a book that leaves you feeling uplifted but it does make you think about how terrible things can happen, and the ramifications of them.

It wasn’t really holiday reading, and it was a bit too heavy going for a sun lounger, but it was an interesting book.

GoingTigers Wife back to the writing perspective, I have to be honest and say that the fusion of different folk tales didn’t always work form me, but I loved the Deathless Man idea, and how it twined in and out of reality.  I often lost track of where I was in time – Obreht did shift forward and backward in time on a number of occasions and it wasn’t alway immediately clear.  As someone who has used the time shift tool themselves I think it’s better to signpost the shift but it’s a narrative choice to make it blurry.

Overall this book was unusual, and poignant, and focussed on loss in a way I hadn’t anticipated.  It was not what I expected to be reading.  As a writer, I think that’s a brave strategy but as a reader I wasn’t prepared for the content!

I am not sure I will re-read this book but I am not willing to pass it on yet either – mind you, that might just be because I love the cover drawing…

This is one I just can’t quite make up my mind about.  Which I see as a writing positive, because at least I am thinking about it!

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

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This week I read a Poirot story with a difference.  The Monogram Murders is a modern return to Hercule Poirot, written by Sophie Hannah and approved by Agatha Christie’s estate.

Having heard it discussed at last year’s crime writing convention by the editor of the Estate (who was really interesting and of course a great salesperson when it came to this story) I decided to buy it when I saw it in a charity shop.

I am fascinated by the idea of continuing a set of stories created by another person, and how well – or otherwise – a voice may be captured.  In this book, I didn’t feel that Hannah was trying to recreate Christie’s voice as such; I have not read all of her work but it didn’t feel the same as the stories I have read.  However, she was trying to make Poirot live again.

I feel a little unsure about this one.  In terms of the story, I enjoyed it and it was an easy, quick read despite being nearly 400 pages long.  It was engaging and I was wrong about who I thought had done it, and why – there are twists and these worked for me.

But it didn’t feel like it needed to be a Poirot story – marketing-wise I’m sure that was helpful! but it felt more like a story that happened to have Poirot in it than a story in which he was integral.  This is an important point because I have actually felt that about another Poirot story I read, called The Hollow; and maybe this treatment of the character is more reflective than I appreciate.

I didn’t read this with a particular learning point in mind but I did want to successfully read something after my last efforts were wasted!  However, from a reading point of view I can say that the style of the ‘golden age’ of crime writing really appeals to me.  I do not like violent, graphic crime and the slick cleverness of this one was much more entertaining to me than a lot of modern crime writing.

I don’t know if I’d choose to read Sophie Hannah’s other books – she writes psychological thrillers usually, which aren’t really my preference – but I’d read her other Poirot to see how it compared.

I would want to compare it to an original Christie though!

Until next time,

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

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This Thursday I am doing something a little different.  One of my brilliant nephews, Zed, is undertaking sponsored tasks to raise money for a project, and I have sponsored him to provide a book review for me.

Normally reviews are shared on Tuesdays but I thought this deserved to be treated as the special post it is.

And now I’ll hand you over to Zed…

Time Riders

Time Riders is a series of books written by Alex Scarrow. He wrote other titles too, such as Afterlight and the Candle Man. Time Riders is one of the best book series that I have ever read and as I went through the series I found myself getting addicted (in a good way) to it.

In the first book the Time Riders are introduced and the concept of time travel is explained. If you are wondering what the Time Riders programme is and why it was set up, it is a secret organisation that prevents history being changed (in case others have or are building a time machine despite it being against the law). It was set up by fictional billionaire Roald Waldstein who was the first to experience time travel and the first to realise it is not meant to happen.

The future in the book shows a smart virus being created and unleashed on the world (the Kosong-Ni virus) but not knowing the virus’ place of origin its release can’t be prevented. Over the series the Time Riders get suspicious of why Waldstein is trying to fuel the extinction of humanity and not trying to change history to create a better future.

In the final books the Time Riders are chased out of their home/base and the have to flee to Victorian England (during the time Jack the Ripper was still at large) to get away from Waldstein. Then, after many days of planning they go to a man named Adam (who they encountered earlier in the book series) and go to a hidden city in the Mayan Period to find a time portal beam going through the core of the earth and time, to Jerusalem during the time of Jesus Christ. Finally, some of the Time Riders end up going to Waldstein and the rest of them go to the other end of the time portal beam.

Ever since I started reading this series I have been on the edge of my seat, glued to the page and reading and reading and finally getting to the last book to finish what I had started… The best book series I have ever read.

And there you have it; if you are looking for a young adult book series, Time Riders sounds like a good option.

I think I’ll ask Zed if I can borrow his books!

Happy reading,

EJ (and Zed)

🙂

P.S. if you like this review and want to let Zed know, please say so in the comments!

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