Gnomon by Nick Harkaway

gnomonYou need to be match fit for a Nick Harkaway, you need to prepare for massive vocabulary, difficult concepts, layer upon layer of story and get yourself ready to be taken on a trip where you don’t have a map and you just have to surrender yourself to the captain of the journey and trust you will get there in the end. Usually this works really well for me, but sadly not this time. I just couldn’t get into it. I did love the complicated words, I liked the main character, but I got horribly confused. I wound myself in knots trying to get through this, then I walked away. I have loved all the other books I’ve read by this author, I knew what I was getting into, but I just couldn’t make it to the end.

Advertisements

La Belle Sauvage, The Book of Dust, book 1, by Philip Pullman

dustAfter reading this I’m ready to forgive Philip Pullman for all the books he has written that I didn’t want to read. This one made the wait worthwhile. It takes you into Oxford where His Dark Materials began and we meet Lyra as a baby, but this story isn’t really about Lyra it is about Malcolm Polstead, the son of the publican of the Trout. The pub is close to a convent and in the convent there is a baby, a baby who needs to be protected from dangerous forces who are out to get her. Malcolm and the kitchen maid Alice rescue baby Lyra in Malcolm’s canoe and begin a journey which will be terrifying and deeply fulfilling.

I knew from the first page that this was going to be wonderful. The fact that the peacocks were called Barry and Norman was enough for me, I felt that I was in safe hands, that Philip Pullman was going to make me smile and fear and worry about the characters who were coming along as the chapter progressed.

The presentation of the book is lush and gorgeous, the cover alone is a thing of beauty. The illustrations at the beginnings of the chapters are simple and perfect. The print is large and friendly and makes the book seem like a giant, but it isn’t really. It is a manageable size and best of all, it never talks down to it’s reader, it understands that it is for a reader of all ages. I just loved it.

Timebomb by Joelle Charbonneaux

timebombLook at all those 5 star reviews and I’m giving it a 3.5. I found it hard to get into at first, it felt a little bit messy at the beginning, however once the story gets going it really rocks along. You’ve got a lot of characters being set up at the start which you need, but there are so many people I just got a little bit lost. Then once they are all at school on a Saturday for their various reasons you realise they are in terrific danger and then it becomes a great big rollicking survival story. Being stuck in a multi story building where bombs are going off is a very scary scenario and the story is about how they survive and deal with this horrible situation.

I like Joelle Charbonneau’s writing, her The Testing and it’s sequels are one of my really popular books at school, she does tension and teenage drama really well. She has a lot of characters in here and they all have issues. The kind of issues that teenagers all over the world are dealing with, these are all dealt with really well. A few of characters I didn’t actually come to grips with until they were at the centre of the action but the majority of them were people I came to understand and feel for.
There are some really good plot twists and as the book goes on, it is as tense as a really good crime novel.

In summary, it is a good book, thoroughly engaging once you get into it This is a novel which has mass appeal, I’ll definitely be buying copies for my students.

Thanks very much to Netgalley for the opportunity to read this book.

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn West

singIt took me a while to get into the groove of this book, but once I was in, I was totally hooked. It is a book which sits well with Hillbilly Elegy which I read recently. Both books about poverty in America and with similar casts of characters. I think Jesmyn Ward is a wonderful writer, she has nailed the feelings of a mother, Leonie, cast adrift, torn between the love of her children and the love of her man. The internal conflicts she feels are so hard to read.

Most of the story takes place in a car. It is on it’s way to Parchman, a prison where Michael who is the father of Jojo and Michaela has been incarcerated. The trip in the hot car, where Michaela is being sick constantly is really horrendous. The stench, is all pervading. Jojo takes care of Michaela, with Leonie caught up in getting them there and the drama that entails, he is playing a role he is too young to take on. He is such a wonderful boy, so kind, so caring and so seemingly accepting of the horrible things that are happening to him on this journey.

It is a family drama, a story of the ghosts of the past which haunt the present. Of class and insecurity, drugs and mistrust. An uncomfortable read but ultimately one that will stay with me for a very long time.

After Kathy Acker: A Biography by Chris Kraus

kaOh, this was really tricky. I really wanted to love this book, I was interested in Kathy Acker, I had heard about her over the years and thought her cool and edgy. I chose this book from Netgalley when I was in a reading slump and thought I’d try something a bit different and I often choose a celebrity biography when I’m in that space, for a bit of fun. I’ve been trying to get this book read for ages, and I keep putting it aside and then trying again. This book made me feel really sad. Kathy Acker would have been a person who really irritated me if I’d known her. She was obviously very interesting and clever and outrageous, but her lack of care for the people around her, she seemed to alienate and dismiss anybody who challenged her would have made me angry. I just really felt that she was tortured and that people who act out like she did (and admittedly I only read half the book due to frustration with her) bring trouble upon themselves. Overall my enjoyment of the book was coloured by the way I felt about Kathy. If you were someone who loved Kathy, I’m sure this would be a great read.

I also had some problems with the structure of the book, the flicking around from place to place and time period to time period frustrated me.

Artemis by Andy Weir

artemisI was really excited when I was approved by Netgalley for this book, The Martian was one of my favourite books last year and I was really looking forward to getting stuck into this. This one is a very different story, still with all the science and clever techie stuff that Andy Weir is making his signature style, but this time with a female protagonist and set on the Moon. Jazz is a fabulous character, a bit of a rebel and with a renegade spirit. She needs cash, fast. She lives in Artemis, the first and only city on the moon. Her Dad is the master welder (which is going to come in very handy) and because Jazz has been a bit of a rogue in her past she doesn’t work in the family business but works as a courier delivering packages. This allows her the opportunity to import forbidden items into Artemis. She is basically running an importation business. This means she meets some dodgy people.

The structure of Artemis is fantastically described and I loved reading about all the features of it’s bubbles and how the society is managed there. Life is pretty grim for many of the inhabitants but looks great to the tourists who visit for the opportunity to go out onto the moon surface with the qualified EVA people who take tours, Jazz has just failed her exam to become an EVA specialist when we meet her.

When Jazz is offered the opportunity to earn a huge pile of money she jumps at the chance. She is going to sabotage large machinery and enable her friend to pick up the contract from which he will make a fortune. This sabotage plan will mean danger and risk to Jazz and the story is about her planning and organising this and then putting it into action. It is really detailed. At times I was left a little underwhelmed by all the detail of the sabotage but while there is a bit of a lag in the middle of the book, it picks up markedly towards the end and I found myself completely absorbed as the book raced to it’s conclusion.

There is a heap to like in this book, The Martian was always going to be a hard act to follow and I think Andy Weir has done a good job on this one and I’m looking forward to the next.

My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

darlingThis is one of the most shocking and moving books I’ve ever read. At times I found myself gasping at the horror of Turtle’s situation and constantly admiring the atmospheric world that Gabriel Tallent had made for her to live her horrific life in. This is Julia’s life, she prefers to be called Turtle and her awful father calls her Kibble. She is growing up on the outskirts of Mendicino in California with her survivalist, abusive and frankly psychotic father, her grandfather lives nearby and he eventually eventually figures out that Turtle is in danger, real and constant danger. There is a heap of terrible family history and lives lived with regret and anger. Turtle knows how to survive, she knows all these things about the natural world, but cannot manage so well at school, is not good with people because her life is so opposite to anything any of her peers or teachers have experienced and she lives in constant fear.

I loved the way that the author wrote Turtle’s conflicting emotions about her father and grandfather. I loved the way he gradually introduced other people into the story. I loved the way that the teacher was written even if that seemed somewhat unrealistic compared to the rest of the story. This book is cringingly awful, mind blowingly beautiful and engrossing. The abuse is like watching a train wreck, you can’t take your eyes off it even as it looms in front of you and makes you want to cover your eyes in horror (I did actually do that). I loved it and I hated it and it is a clear 5 stars from me.

I’m also just adding that this book looks and feels beautiful.  I completely love the cover.  Here is the lovely Joan Mackenzie talking about the book far more eloquently than me.