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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.

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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.

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.

All The Dirty Parts by Daniel Handler

dirtyWell, this is going to be controversial! Public libraries rush out and get this as soon as it is available, school libraries, I bet this one gets you some interesting comments! I can see the lights flashing and the censors racing to ban this from every library in the land.

Someone here on Goodreads has placed a comment that it should be reviewed by males, and I can see that, after all, we are firmly placed inside the head of a teenage boy who is thinking about sex, having sex, exploring all manner of sex and being generally a sex crazed teenage boy. This isn’t a relationship book and yet it is, this isn’t a helpful guide and yet it is.

I liked almost all of this novel.

I liked that it was short. There was no need to draw this out. Nice job Daniel Handler.

I liked that this teen guy seemed real, no stupid conversations, no helpful parents, just him and his penis and his constant thinking about using it.

I liked the honesty, the judgments that he was putting it about too much, the attitudinal change of his friends and classmates as he embarked on a relationship which excluded all of them.

I loved the way his relationship with his best friend changed as they tried out sex and then tried to figure out where they fitted in the hetro/homo state of the world.

What I didn’t like:
I didn’t love the girl in here, she seemed so one dimensional compared to him. But I get it, it is really all about her – ahem … attributes.

Many people will cringe at this book, but I’m going to buy a copy and hand it to our school counselor because I really liked it and I see it as having a voice that young people might really like, but there will be a bunch of haters and they are gonna hate real strong.

Yep, this is a novel about sex. All of the everythings about sex, from the point of view of a teenage boy and so it is really aptly named.

Thanks Netgalley and the publisher for giving me access to this. It was very enlightening and I won’t be looking a teenage boy in the eye for a couple of days now that I know what is going on behind those eyes.

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

beforefallAfter I’d done a few investigations about the author when I’d finished the book I realised why I liked the tone of this so much. This guy wrote the Fargo TV series, a favourite of mine. Ah ha, I thought, this is why the tone is so good. The structure of this is really interesting. It starts off with a straightforward story of a plane crashing into the ocean, the only survivors are an artist and a little boy, they swim to shore from the crash. It is exciting, tense and really gripping. Then you take a step back and you get the stories of the people on the plane, written in a kind of report style. At first, I wasn’t sure about this, particularly about the character Ben Kipling who is secretly doing dastardly business. You’ll have to read it to find out what, but in the end, I loved these sections. Our story travels to and fro between the accounts of the lives of those who have been killed and our hero Scott who saved the little boy.

Yes, this is a crime novel but it is a great exploration of the human psyche, how we react under pressure, the things we hide from our loved ones, how we are able to push ourselves in times of strife. It has comments on the role of the media, how artists view the world differently to those of us who are not artistic, how some of the things we value in society are not attractive qualities. This is a really interesting book. I read an e-book and all through it people had highlighted paragraphs of insightful writing. I’m looking forward to more novels from this author.

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

essexAn interesting and marvellous book. Marvellous because it has much to make you think, to mull over and ideas to carry around and consider while you are reading it. It is a big story, with characters who started to take over my life. Often the minor characters became people I wanted to grow bigger in the story and then low and behold they would get a bigger role. Cora Seabourne is a young widow, she and her young son head from London to a village in Essex where the locals are spooked by rumours and strange goings on which are blamed on The Essex Serpent, a creature which has become the stuff of legend even though nobody has actually seen it. She is introduced to the local reverend and his wife via mutual friends and their relationships form a large part of the story.

There is so much in this book, unrequited love, suspicion, repression, suffering, religion, love, friendship and dying. It is set in an age where women were considered capable of learning but not able to have a career or study at any level higher than school. I think it would be a wonderful book to study, to pull apart and savour all its little moments which build to make a whole which feels complete and satisfying.

And would you just gaze upon this utterly glorious cover!