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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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The book is Rachel Cusk’s Arlington Park and I did indeed give up.

I cajoled myself to read a bit more after last week, but this one isn’t for me.  It may well suit me at another time, but I have too many books I am excited to start reading to keep going with one I am not really enjoying at the moment.

I don’t really relish the writing style, which is the biggest issue for me: metaphors, word repitition and prolonged descriptions abound.  All have their value of course, but all at once it can be a little overwhelming and I found myself wanting to skip through it. Also, the first four characters I met all showed fairly unedifying personality traits.  Put these together and there’s no hook for me, as a reader.

It’s a shame because I was really hoping to see something more from this.  From other reviews I’ve seen it’s quite deeply feminist and I wonder if that also has an impact: if something is overtly political it can seem more focussed on the message than the plot. Interestingly (to me!), the last book I gave up on was also overtly political.

Mind you, I have been put off by what I consider overuse of metaphorical devices before too.  Some examples can be beautiful but for me as a reader it is much more enjoyable and much more effective when it is deftly controlled.  In this book it felt out of control.

If you look on goodreads you’ll see it’s definitely one that divides opinion.  I know that some people adore it – and some of the descriptions really are brilliant.  It’s just that I prefer not to notice every description because when you notice the writing too much, you stop living in the world the writer has created.

If I am going to take a learning point from this book it’s that intelligent and unexpected word choices can improve a story, but there has to be a balance between action and description.  It is of course up to the writer to define what that is, because you’ll never please every reader!

Perhaps one day I’ll return to it, but now I am going on to something a little different…

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

 

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I finished!

Over the last couple of weeks I have been reading Gillespie and I, by Jane Harris.  Now I have got to the end of it, I am confused…

The story is narrated by Harriet Baxter, a woman in her 70’s, and is split between her current life in 1930’s London, and her life in Glasgow in the 1880’s.  We learn about her relationship with Ned Gillespie and his family, his struggle to get the recognition deserved for his art, and her role as friend and confidante to all, until tragedy hits the family. We also, in her current life, learn about her vague, but growing, fears for her safety.  I won’t say more here because anything else is likely to be a massive spoiler!

I started the book thinking it was some sort of mystery, which it is, but it’s also a story about mental health issues, murder, loneliness, loss and betrayal, and I still don’t know exactly what role the protagonist played in the deeply painful events described.  Harriet’s story is very much her own.

As a writer, I have often come across examples of the unreliable narrator in exercises, but this particular one has worked very well for multiple reasons.

Firstly, it’s not explicit that she really is an unreliable narrator: it could just be my imagination.  That ambivalence about her honesty or otherwise is really powerful and such a great way of muddying the waters.

Secondly, it is not clear how much of what she says is factually true.  Many points are debated and obviously we see her point of view, but there is no gauge to show whether she is lying or just putting her perception of events forward. There is always an explanation because she only tells the story she can explain.

Thirdly, the story she tells is allegedly about her time with the Gillespie family, and yet much of what she reports is through the prism of how Ned Gillespie might have viewed it (albeit from her point of view).  That makes Ned unreliable too.  His characteristics are a contradictory mishmash of blunt politeness, of honest self-censorship, that leave me questioning their interactions.

I started the book expecting a more genre-specific mystery and it took quite a while for me to realise I didn’t feel certain about Harriet, either in her behaviour or her reports of her behaviour.  I can’t say more than that here, except it does explain why I thought it was so slow to get going!

From a writing point of view this was fascinating to unpick.  The imagery, the style, the narrative technique, the characterisation and the setting were all very cleverly interwoven and this was a very tightly packed book, stylistically speaking.

From a reading point of view I was hoping for more of a payoff at the end, although the foreshadowing of what comes after the book is shut was another technique I have to consider further in my own work.

I can see this being a great reading group book or intensive study book, because it has so many facets to it that I probably missed quite a few, but for me personally, it is a real education in the power of the right narrative decision, and the right narrator.

It’s not a book I would naturally choose for a second read, but I wonder how I would view the story, knowing what I know now.  It has definitely piqued my interest, that’s for sure!

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

 

 

 

 

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I am very near the end of my current book, which I hope to finish tomorrow, so am going to defer my post for a day.  If I still haven’t finished tomorrow evening I will write about something else!

Until then, happy reading!

EJ

🙂

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If you imagined that being sung by Dory, you are not alone 🙂

I am still reading Gillespie and I, although I have to be honest and say I gave it up for a few days.  I found it a little stodgy early on, and there was something else I didn’t quite connect with which I will try to decipher for next week!

But I am a reader, and a reader doesn’t give up that easily, so I picked it up and started again, and I am getting quite into the story.  This is why I don’t like giving up too early, even if I have learnt that some books are just not right for me!

I am now on page 151 of 605 so I better get a move on if I am going to report back on this one next week.  If I don’t, as long as I am reading, enjoying and learning something for my writing self, it’s all good.

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

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Last week I told you I was reading to explore feeling as an element of setting.  I didn’t get to the poetry part of my reading but I did finish the novel: The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green.

If I am being completely honest, I stopped reading with purpose very early on, as I was enjoying reading the story so much, but I did pick up on a few elements.

For those who don’t know the story, it is a love story which starts in a cancer support group for kids.  Hazel is terminally ill but in limbo thanks to her drug regimen, and Augustus had bone cancer which cost him his leg.

The reason this is important is because feeling in the book was often about the impact of illness: Hazel can feel discomfort in a location based not only on the place but on her physical symptoms at that time.

We are led as readers to think about physical bodies in different ways throughout the book – the Literal Heart of Jesus, which is where the support group meets, the tickling in Hazel’s nose as she breathes in the oxygen from her tank, the crooked smile of Augustus, the elements people have lost due to treatment.  Importantly, though the characters have a high degree of charm and intelligence and a verbosity above that of most teenagers they are ‘normal’, if such a thing exists.  They are people who happen to have or have had cancer.  It is part of them but not them.

I don’t feel this book will help with the elements of setting I want to develop but I do think the thematic device of exploring the physicality of a scene is another way to approach the subject which is new to me.

It is also a great example of how to write characters who come to life for the reader.  I have never read a book with so many jokes about illness and its consequences, and the reason it works and doesn’t offend is because the characters are so genuine and you can truly imagine the slightly unnerving banter being accepted in this group.  It is very cleverly done because however risky the jokes, the characters maintain their likeability.  It’s a good example of how important the consistency of a character is for the effective telling of stories.

I may refer back to this book when I focus on characters.

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

 

 

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So it is that time of the year again, when I launch my Challenge Tuesday with a whizzbang starter and get a few under my belt to see me through the first few weeks.

Or not, as the case may be…

Firstly, I’ve got to report my final tally for 2016 being a vaguely disappointing 41 books. It’s not that bad a number, but more that I missed both my original and my revised targets that feels a little negative.

However, it has forced me to accept that I cannot do everything I might want to do – read, write, study, work, act, sew, crochet, play table tennis, go to the gym, spend time with loved ones…  There are only 24 hours in a day, and I like to spend some of them asleep.  I have to make better choices for my time.

So this year’s challenge is to read works with a view to enhancing my writing. It may be something from a relevant genre for style ideas, or a writer I admire for their strong prose or beautiful imagery, their use of themes or metaphors.  It might be research – a biography or history book, for example.  It might be poetry for the rhythm.  Who knows? There’s no set number, just a purpose.

Let’s see where that concept takes me!

In the meantime, here’s the list of books from 2016:

Book 1 – The Path of Daggers, by Robert Jordan

Book 2 – Winter’s Heart, by Robert Jordan

Book 3 – The No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, by Alexander McCall Smith

Book 4 – Tears of the Giraffe, by Alexander McCall  Smith

Book 5 – Morality for Beautiful Girls, by Alexander McCall Smith

Book 6 – The Kalahari Typing School for Men, by Alexander McCall Smith

Book 7 – The Merlin Conspiracy, by Diana Wynne Jones

Book 8 – A Little Love Song, by Michelle Magorian

Book 9 – Stone Mattress, by Margaret Atwood

Book 10 – What We Believe But Cannot Prove, edited by John Brockman

Book 11 – The Full Cupboard of Life, by Alexander McCall Smith

Book 12 – In the Company of Cheerful Ladies, by Alexander McCall Smith

Book 13 – The Mayor of Casterbridge, by Thomas Hardy

Book 14 – The Scarlet Pimpernel, by Baroness Orczy

Book 15 – Summer, by Edith Wharton

Book 16 – The Double Clue, and other Hercule Poirot Stories, by Agatha Christie

Book 17 – The Dressmaker, by Rosalie Ham

Book 18 – The Beauties and the Furies, by Christina Stead

Book 19 – The Seance, by John Harwood

Book 20 – North of Nowhere, by Liz Kessler

Book 21 – A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula Le Guin

Book 22 – The Tombs of Atuan, by Ursula Le Guin

Book 23 – The Farthest Shore, by Ursula Le Guin

Book 24 – Tehanu, by Ursula Le Guin

Book 25 – A Spot of Bother, by Mark Haddon

Book 26 – The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce

Book 27 – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany

Book 28 – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling

Book 29 – Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by J.K. Rowling

Book 30 – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, by J.K. Rowling

Book 31 – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by J.K. Rowling

Book 32 – The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, by Muriel Spark

Book 33 – The Last Anniversary, by Liane Moriarty

Book 34 – Pyramid, by David Gibbins

Book 35 – My Soul To Take, by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

Book 36 – Willow, Wine, Mirror, Moon: Women’s Poems from Tang China, translated by Jeanne Larsen 

Book 37 – The Axeman’s Jazz, by Ray Celestin

Book 38 – Chocolat, by Joanne Harris

Book 39 – The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Book 40 – Lady Oracle, by Margaret Atwood

Book 41 – A Cup of Sake Beneath the Cherry Trees, by Kenkō; translated by Meredith McKinney

If you have any ideas for the 2017 list, please let me know in the comments – I’d love to know what makes you sit up and take notice, as a writer!

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

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