fiction

A love story starring my dead best friend by Emily Horner

First book of the school holidays and it was a great choice.  This is a great cross-over novel, meaning written with appeal to both teenage and adult readers.  Emily Horner has a great website with lots of good stuff about this book and a thoughtful blog as well.

Cass is desperately missing her friend Julia.  Julia was killed in a car crash and it has rocked all her friends and her boyfriend, but Cass and Julia had one of those friendships which was deep and complex.  A finish each others sentences kind of friendship.  Julia was obsessed with drama and was writing her masterpiece when she died, the friends decide that they should put on the show she wrote.  This creates lots of difficulties because it isn’t exactly  your standard school musical, the title is Totally Sweet Ninja Death Squad which is enough to set alarm bells ringing with the school staff.

In the meantime Cass sets off on her bike, to complete the journey to California that she and Julia always planned to make, bringing Julia’s ashes with her in a tupperware container.  The bike trip is beautifully written.  The relationship she has along the way, the feelings this brings on and the mechanics of the relationship are written in a realistic way. Tentative and scary, but also with comfort. The lonliness of being on the road, the dangers from big trucks, people you meet and dealing with the memories of someone you love who has gone from your life, dealing with your emerging sexuality and also love, lots of love in many forms, all make for riveting reading.  This is a wise book.  I know my girls would have loved it when they were teenagers, but it is also a book I would give them now.  This book has lots of the feeling you get when you read John Green or David Levithan and I’m really looking forward to reading more by Emily Horner.

 

 

There is no dog by Meg Rosoff

There is no dog is about God, whose name is Bob!  He is a teenager (he is 19) who has been given the responsibility of creating and then the ongoing maintenance of Earth.  Unfortunately like most teenagers he takes his eye off the ball fairly regularly and chaos ensues on our planet.  He is minded by Mr B, my favourite character in the book, who spends his time trying to juggle the catastrophes which God causes, a lot of which involve God being irresistibly  attractive to young women, and being consumed with himself, his dislike of his interferring mother, who won Earth in a poker game in the beginning which is how Bob came to be God, and who also has now carelessly lost Bob’s pet in yet another poker game.  Mr B, is responsible for whales being on earth and has his hands full ensuring their continued survival what with Bob being all involved with himself and his lovelife.  Confused, I was! 

Meg Rosoff is one of my favourite authors but this book seems like a good idea that just ran off with itself and left the author with not enough places to take what remained.  It seems a bit disjointed, a bit loopy and underdone.  There are tone changes which don’t sit quite right, there are disjointed chapters and the resolution is – weird.  I kept reading because I really wanted it to be fabulous, and I always enjoy the cleverness in a Meg Rosoff book, and that is there in this book but not in big enough doses to keep me hooked.   The book is good natured, and has heart which Meg Rosoff always brings to her books, her sense of humour really is great.

I have adored every single previous novel by Meg Rosoff  here is what I thought of The brides farewell,  (loved it) and I will certainly await the next one eagerly but this one is one I’m glad I didn’t have to spend my library dollar on.  I was loaned a proof which is fabulous and exciting and always a thrill, it feels like you are in with an early look at a treat before anybody else gets hold of it.  I enjoyed parts of the book but I’m really more looking forward to the next one.

Meg Rosoff has been in NZ for Auckland Readers and Writers Week and I have been so jealous that she came south as far as Nelson, but not to Dunedin, and it is so nice here!  Come a bit further next time Meg and we will look after you – and we have far more excellent water than Auckland down here!  Read this post on her blog to see why I wrote that!

Room by Emma Donoghue

It has taken a bit of mulling over this book.  It is so cleverly done that it seems simplistic, but it really isn’t.  Not in the least.  This book is told through the eyes of a five year old boy who has been cooped up in a room (the Room of the title) for all his short life.  His mother was kidnapped at the age of 19 and has not been out of the room since then, her kidnapper visits at night to take what he feels is rightfully his and he hasn’t seen the child since he was a small baby.  An impressive feat on behalf of the mother who has set up a bed in a wardrobe for the child and has kept the child and the father completely apart despite the confines of the tiny space they live in.

Jack (the child) is comfortable in his world, understands his world and his Ma has nurtured, loved and taken care to teach him all she knows without him even realising that the world outside is not just on the television he is allowed to watch from time to time.  Jack’s view of the outside world is one of the most fascinating things about the book, but there are plenty of other wonderful and insightful things that this author has done.  The naming of things, the concept of ‘The Sunday Treat’, the subtle hints along the way that Ma is realising what the future trapped in this tiny space will mean.

This book is one of those books which people find it hard to discuss with those who haven’t read it.  You don’t want to give too much away.  You want to encourage everyone you know to read it.  You need others who have read it to chat with and discuss lots of the issues the book raises.   It is a tricky thing, I don’t want anybody who hasn’t read the book to have an inkling of what the two characters in the book will have happen to them.  So really, if you haven’t read it then get hold of a copy and devour it in a day or so like I did, then spend a week with it haunting you.   Below is the publishers book trailer.

The passage by Justin Cronin

This is one of those books which is huge, enormous and epic and which takes over your life until you have made it through the 900 odd pages.  If you decide to embark on this journey you should be warned that you will achieve absolutely nothing else until it is done.  Housework – on hold, cooking – on hold, contact with friends – on hold, sleep – also on hold.  Gripping, creepy and compelling.  It was a jolly good job that it was school holidays when I was reading this!

Scientists investigating a mysterious illness in South America unwittingly unleash a nightmare virus which ultimately kills most of the world’s population and those that it doesn’t kill are turned into blood thirsty, evil vampirelike creatures.  These are not like vampires you’ve met before, no Twilight romantic notions of hot kids frolicking here.  They devour victims with alarming speed and are menacing and uneasy.  The book doesn’t dwell on them so much as the survivors.  It is the story of Amy, who is the key to everything,  A death row prisoner, one of those affected early and whose telekinetic powers compel others and not in a good way.  There is the FBI agent (my favourite character in the book) who cares for Amy and there are Sarah and her brother, she has recorded the history so that we can read about it.  It is the story of destruction and of people who are kind to each other, even if it might not be a comfortable choice, it is a story of family and love and evil.

This is the first book in what I hear is going to be a trilogy, and I can’t wait for the next one, there will be a movie – of course.  I really enjoyed it, I was gripped almost completely all the way through.  There are a couple of places where I thought we could have moved on a bit more quickly but really, it is an excellent read.  Anybody who liked Under the Dome will hook right into this.  Highly recommended – but put your life on hold while you read it.

The thousand autumns of Jacob De Zoet

What a gorgeous cover this book has.  It just begs you to pick it up and get started on it.   I really liked the last book I read by David Mitchell, Black Swan Green but this book couldn’t be more different to that, which was set in Britain on a housing estate in the 1970s.

This one is set in Japan in the Edo era which was in the 1800s, all the way through you get the years in the Japanese system as well as the European.  Dutchman Jacob De Zoet is working as a clerk for The Dutch East India Trading Company with stations all through Asia.  The foreigners were not permitted onto the mainland of Japan, they live and work behind fortifications on an island just offshore called Dijima.  Jacob is betrothed and is earning money to prove himself a worthy husband and endeavoring to impress the father of his fiance.  His is not an easy lot, he is lost and lonely and bullied by the older rougher and dishonest hands on the job.  Jacob is not the world’s most go getting kind of guy, but he is earnest and honest, kind to his servants and translators.

This is really a love story.  The love of Jacob and Orito the badly scarred student of medicine, but the course of true love never runs smoothly and these two are tormented indeed, there is no way that Jacob can have a marriage with a Japanese girl, and neither of them are available anyway.

There are some truly wonderful scenes in this book and you can see them playing out in your mind as you read.  There are colourful and eccentric characters influencing the path of Jacob and an air of the sinister is all pervading at times.  This is not an easy read.  It is a huge book and you have to work hard at it, no quick read this one.  I loved the structure of the book, the chapter headings, the timelines and the drawings and maps.  I didn’t like being caught up for so long in Jacob’s head, I really plodded though some of the details in parts, getting a bit bogged down in parts and skipping ahead, and yet other parts, particularly Orito’s time in the nunnery in the mountains were gripping and exciting.

Anybody interested in Japanese history will enjoy the book, the historically accurate dates and details of the trading are interesting.  I’m really glad I made the effort.  David Mitchell is a stunning writer with lots of clever ways so be prepared to spend a good deal of time with the at times vastly irritating Jacob and the very cool and gutsy Aibagawa Orito.  You will be dazzled by the fabulous writing but maybe a little overwhelmed at times with the details.

Here is a question and answer with the author David Mitchell – he is cool.  And if you want one just about this book then you should go to here.

The Project by Brian Faulkner

Brian Faulkner is fast becoming one of the really reliable authors for young adult books in New Zealand.  His books have a great sense of adventure that is easy to sell to teenagers – particularly boys.  I haven’t read Brainjack which was the release before this one but I did enjoy The real thing and The tomorrow code (except for the hideous final chapter which I tell all the boys not to read).  I think his specialty is the chase scene.  Good guys versus bad in a race against time.  That seems to be the recurring theme in his books and for fast paced adventure books he is the ‘go to man’ of the moment.

The story travels from the modern day America back in time to Nazi Germany via a book, the most boring book in the world. Which of course turns out to be a book written in code.

I really enjoyed this book, he kept me interested all the way through, I knocked it off in two sittings and I thought he handled the time travel aspect really well.  I really liked the fact that the book was set in the USA but the main character had links back to New Zealand, cute!  I might even have to go and read Brainjack now!

The sweetness at the bottom of the pie by Alan Bradley

Oh Gosh!  What a charming read!  Set in a crumbling manor house called Buckshaw, with an 11 year old chemistry wizz heroine who solves crimes, escapes from certain death and is bold and brave beyond measure this is a lovely book.  When a body is found in the cucumber patch Flavia decides to investigate.  England in 1950, was gripped in the post war poverty for the previously monied classes and maintaining one’s large family home was somewhat of a challenge, there is no money for entertainment so the sisters Ophelia, Daphne and Flavia are left to their own devices and this only enhances their quirky personalities.  Flavia is busy, she is trying to torture her sisters (poison in the lipstick!) in response to their torture of her, and trying to solve the mystery of her deceased Mother, the facts about Dogger, the man of all trades about the house, and their mysterious, vague and isolated Father.

The book is written by an American which is interesting, his tone is that of a bygone age (nearly all the time) and the long last art of philately gets a good outing in this book.

I didn’t love this book until the action really hotted up and then I found myself speeding madly towards the end.  It is flawed, but perfect.  Will be reading the next one which is fabulously called The weed that strings the hangman’s bag.