Review: Carnivalesque

Carnivalesque by Neil Jordan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I struggled with what to rate this book. On one hand it is so lush, the world within it so beautifully described and clever, on the other hand it felt sometimes so over described that I got bogged down. I adored the idea of losing yourself in a mirror and a different version of you stepping out. Someone who looks like you but isn’t you steps out as you slide in. Weirdly good.

The beginning of the novel where this takes place is just so good. Andy has been taken to the circus by his parents, he slips away and enters the weird magical world of the carnies behind the mirror, the ageless magical people who exist on a kind of mould which is scraped off the circus and placed into vials. As Andy enters the mirror another version of Andy exits, a sinister version. This Andy is cold and uncommunicative, his mum knows there is something amiss but cannot figure out what it is. Eileen, Andy’s mum was my favourite character. I desperately wanted her to get her Andy back, for things to work out for her. Meanwhile behind the mirror Andy becomes known as Dany and is embraced by the carnies and learns the job of a hauler, the person who pulls the rope for the aerialists. He also takes part in all the rituals of the circus, the magical and odd world they inhabit.

There is that same feeling that you get reading David Mitchell about this book. I wanted to love it to bits and at the beginning I thought that might be going to be the case, and while I enjoyed the experience of reading it, I felt that it could have been a little less flowery.

Thanks to Netgalley for giving me access to this book.

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Review: The Strangler Vine

The Strangler Vine
The Strangler Vine by M.J. Carter
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After it got going this was a great tale of the British in India. Full of fairly bloody violence and with lots of commentary on the appalling attitudes of the time towards the Indian people. It is the first of the Avery and Blake mysteries so it spends quite a lot of time setting up the relationship between the two men. They start by being very antagonistic towards each other, I couldn’t see how they were ever going to end up having a series written about the pair of them working together, given how badly they got along, but that is the thing, they don’t get along because they are so opposite, but they have a successful time because of that very thing. The two of them are officers of the East India Company and are attempting to solve the mystery of the disappearance of a famous writer. He is assumed to be in the hands of a band of terrors called Thugs or Thugees, these were a real thing in India at the time and it is interesting to read about these people. (There is a wealth of information at the end of the book, but also some interesting images online). These guys are famous for their dastardly ways and indeed the encounters that Blake and Avery have with them are violent and lead them to believe that they are in mortal danger.

This book gives you an idea of what life was like in India before the revolution and the withdrawal of the British. The mystery itself is very slow moving but redeems itself by rollicking along in the second half of the book. An enjoyable read all in all.

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Review: The Bombs That Brought Us Together

The Bombs That Brought Us Together
The Bombs That Brought Us Together by Brian Conaghan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I picked this up because of the themes and because I’d read a book by Brian Conaghan earlier this year and really loved it. Refugees are topical subject, our students study them in various areas and we have a community of students who are themselves, refugees. I thought this would be a good insight into their lives and that it might be something they would enjoy reading.

I found it very slow. Interesting and well written, but slow. I think it will irritate some of my readers as they wade through it waiting for the good stuff to happen. By the time I got to all the action I was nearly ready to quit. I stuck at it but will admit to skipping pages on the way. Having said that it is a decent read. And it was gritty too in places. I just wanted it to move along. The best thing about the book is the relationship between the two boys at the heart of it. They are true friends and the friendship is tested often.

I really wanted more. Not a bad book at all, but a difficult sell to teenage boys who need pace and vigor in their stories way earlier than this one brings that into play.

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Review: Capital

Capital by John Lanchester
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A street in London, the people who live there, their lives, hopes, dreams, trials and all the things that influence their rise in fortune or their demise. I was only at the end of the second page when I realised that I had seen this as a TV series. I loved the show and I loved the book. Having seen the story, or should I say stories, played out on the screen, I had faces and impressions and it made it seem very real. I loved the circular way you meet the characters and follow along with them. I didn’t dislike any of them despite their serious flaws, they are all very human and like all of us are imperfect and just mucking along as best they can. In some cases the world is cruel and their circumstances take a turn for the terrible, but in other cases things go their way and they end up in a better place than they had been at the beginning. This is like having an inside view of the goings on in the lives of a bunch of diverse people but all of whom are associated with the street.

The backdrop to all this is the time of the fall of Leyland Bros and the financial crisis of a few years ago. Money is at the heart of much of the book, property values soaring, the ability to become rich witout actually doing any hard work to get there, the crazy behaviour of those who have terrible spending habits (and I put myself amongst them for my bad shoe habit) and the entitled wives of the very well off and their grasping need to constantly improve their homes/bodies/children. I loved the stories of the immigrants trying to build better lives against incredible odds and the joys and tragedy they experience.

Great big meaty story that keeps humming along. I’ve read John Lanchester’s Fragrant Harbour and enjoyed it, but I think this one is my fave so far. Looking forward to reading more of his.

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Review: The Fireman

The Fireman
The Fireman by Joe Hill
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A virus has hit the world, it appears first as dragon scales on the skin of the victims, this then leads to them self-combusting. Nobody knows how it is spreading but it is spreading fast. The world is burning as fires break out everywhere. Our heroine is Harper, she is a school nurse and is one of the nicest characters you could ever meet, constantly seeing the good in people and being the perfect volunteer and helper when the hospital system breaks down. A fireman arrives with a young deaf boy and their conversation begins a long lasting connection. It is a big story, there are lots of connecting story threads and

This is a really big book, it is a bit too long and at times it does drag a bit, but you can skip along through those bits. I forgave this because I loved Harper, Renee and Nick so much. I’m also always a fan of a plague novel. Reading it reminded me a little bit of The Passage and some Stephen King I’ve read in the past, that isn’t a bad thing. You could pick it to pieces if you wanted, there is that scope, but if you read for character and story then it has plenty to give. There is a hint at the end that this is not the last of this story.

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Review: The Emperor of Any Place

The Emperor of Any Place
The Emperor of Any Place by Tim Wynne-Jones
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book has been waiting beside the bed for ages. The minute I heard Tim Wynne-Jones had a new book out I ordered it, I promote his books a lot at school to our Yr 10 students who like something meaty and quirky. This book was initially a little intimidating, would this grab me? Would it work structurally? Would I buy into the whole two timelines business? The answer to all of these was a resounding, hell yes!

The book is the story of a young man, Evan, whose father unexpectedly dies while he has been reading a book. This makes the book an item of interest for Evan, who wants to find out what is in there and who believes that there may have been some secrets inside the book which he needs to know about. The book involves the story of a Japanese soldier during the second world war who has become stranded on an island. A US war supply plane crashes on the island and there is one survivor. The book Evan finds is written in alternating chapters from the point of view of both these soldiers. The mystery is, what could this possibly have to do with Evan’s father? The book progresses both in real time as Evan deals with the fallout of his dad’s death and the consequent arrival of his estranged grandfather into his life, and the book. A book within a book.

Reading the reviews here on Goodreads this book obviously isn’t to everyones taste, but I really enjoyed it. Stayed up late to finish it and found it very creepy and also very moving in places. It deals with lots of issues such as the aftermath of war, the way that enemies can be friends, the lasting impact of terror and isolation and also has a hefty dose of the supernatural. It was a hit for me.

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Review: Born a Crime

Born a Crime
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I was at high school I loved history, and I remember sitting in history lessons listening to Sister Mary Leonard telling us about apartheid as we studied South Africa for our school certificate. I’m not sure why there wasn’t any New Zealand history taught to us because there was plenty of injustice in our history, but we studied South Africa. I found it fascinating and awful. Those lessons were probably partly to blame for my political views and outrage at social injustices all my life.

It was only recently that I heard about this book and I decided I needed to read it immediately. I’m really glad I did. Trevor Noah had a very interesting childhood and this is a collection of his recollections of growing up in South Africa as a coloured child under and then after apartheid. It is called Born a Crime because his mother, a black woman was forbidden under apartheid to have a child with a white man, it was also illegal for his father to have a child with a black woman – basically any fraternisation between whites and blacks was forbidden, having a child who was a mix was proof that this had happened and therefore Trevor Noah was proof of a crime being committed. This book which is chock full of great yarns about what it was like to grow up coloured, unaccepted by both black and white communities and not fitting in with the world in which he was being raised.

I read this as an audiobook, narrated by the author and that was a great choice, his voice is great, he reads it brilliantly. Inserting accents and different voices for the various people in the stories, this could have been horrible, but it worked well. The stories in the book are at times funny, frequently shocking and downright horrifying. His was an upbringing which was full of adventure and terror. You need to read the book to find out the details. I loved the short pieces at the beginning of the chapters which gave stats and statistics and anecdotes, l thought those were completely fascinating as they told of life in South Africa.

This is nowhere near the usual celebrity autobiography, this is much more gripping, more serious and informative. I’m grateful to our history teacher for suggesting it.

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