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As I still haven’t got a book on the go, I decided to pick one from my ‘to read’ pile, open it at random, and share a quote.  If it makes me want to read, it’s all for the good, and if not, it’ll save me some time.

I chose Special Topics in Calamity Physics, by Marisha Pessl. Not sure if I started this once before but I definitely haven’t finished it.

So here goes:

Hannah was wearing a housedress the color of sandpaper, crudely scissored off at the hem so tiny threads hula-danced around her shins when she opened the door.  Her face was as bare as an unpainted wall, but it was obvious she hadn’t been sleeping.

There’s a lot of description and I cut off before the metaphors got too jumbled – I don’t generally appreciate work that is tightly packed with this kind of description.

However, I love, love, love the name of this book, and the synopsis blurb sounds interesting.  So I think I will give it a go.

I should be reading comedies, but for my long weekend this might be a good choice – it’ll keep me occupied anyway.

I will not be working on poetry per se during the break, although if something comes to mind obviously I will note it down – but there will be no pressure to work, only relax and have fun.

500 pages of a possibly YA novel is a start!

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

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I finally finished my book! which was Bodily Harm, by Margaret Atwood.

I am not sure how to discuss this one. It’s taken longer than expected to read, and the tone changed dramatically in the last 35 pages which took it into an entirely different direction to the one I had expected.

The majority of the story is about Rennie, a journalist whose life has been fundamentally changed by breast cancer.  Trying to escape from her post-surgery life, she seeks an assignment far away from the complications of her newly aware existence.  She leaves behind her old partner, an affair with her oncologist, and an invisible but frightening voyeur/predator/house-breaker who left a rope on her bed after breaking into her flat.

She arrives on the island of St Antoine ready to write a travel piece but before long she is unwittingly and unwillingly caught up in the politics of the island and its neighbour Ste Agathe.

This book is partially a reverie on body confidence and the sense of loving and trusting our bodies, even when faced with challenges.  As Rennie becomes more involved with the mysterious American Paul, she begins to accept her newly scarred body.

However, it is also a tale of corruption, violence and danger, and although there is an underlying menace throughout, this really takes hold of Rennie’s story in the last 50 or so pages, with the outcome being the main focus of the last 35.

I really enjoy ‘human condition’ stories, where the plot is about a character facing a difficulty.  Therefore all these sections worked for me.

However, the other side of the story wasn’t really to my taste. The sense of foreboding was ok but the extremity of the outcome and the last 35 pages was much less enjoyable – although oddly, much quicker to read!

I think in part my reaction to it is about style. Atwood writes in a way that perfectly suits personal reflection. She has a knack for revealing how an individual views their world and how they respond to stimuli. When that gives way to looking at what is happening to a character (rather than how the character is perceiving a situation) it is less powerful.

Add to that the fact that the end feels very rushed in comparison with the rest of the story, and I think these explain why this book is not my favourite Atwood.

I read this for fun but it has made me reflect on a writing truth: as writers, we need to know what type of storytelling works best with our voice. You can stray from the path, of course, but you need to know your way back.

Playing to our strengths is the best way to get our writing noticed.

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

 

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This is the 3rd book from my break, and the second in Margaret Atwood’s trilogy based on a possible future for humanity, which started with Oryx and Crake.

It covers the same time period as the first but from different points of view. It introduces the God’s Gardeners, an environmentally-focussed religion/cult, and some of their teachings. Some of these Gardeners have survived the plague – an event their leader foretold as the Waterless Flood – and the book tells their stories before and after the plague.

I want to take more time over this story than I have today so I will write part 2 separately, exploring the novel in more detail.

I will be back soon!

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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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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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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