fiction

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy

happinessUsually I reserve the category of favourite for those books which are a clear 5 stars -ooo just thought about that and updated it to 5, and here is why!

This book is a gigantic statement of Indian politics, attitudes and how the influences of the outside world have influenced society in India since the 1980s. It is bigger even than that, it is about the marginalised and the isolated, those who stand up for what they believe in, even being prepared to die for their causes. There are spies, soldiers and politicians and a cast of interesting characters. At times I lost track a little bit of whose story I was reading, but I found it best just to keep on going as things became clear in time.

The structure of the book is varied, the beginning is a story, we meet the wonderful Anjum, born with both male and female genitalia, I spend lots of time hoping we were getting back to Anjum and eventually of course we do, I loved everything about Anjum and wanted an entire novel about just her. But then there were the others, weaving in and out of the story are politicians and rogues the gentle and the violent. There are lists and itineraries and it is a book made up of lots of parts.

To me it felt like Arundhati Roy was writing her impressions of everything that has happened in India in the time since Indira Gandhi was running it. Her observations are definitely personal, this entire book is full of her, to the point where it almost isn’t a novel. It is an observation, a comment. It made me think deeply about society and how technology has changed India, the influences of western culture on India and politics in general. It is a big book which drew me in, confused me and made me think. This is an experience rather than a novel.

Unearthed by Amie Kaufman and Megan Spooner

unearthedI completely loved this book. Nicely played Kaufman and Spooner! Science Fiction and archaeology combined in an action packed thriller set on a far away planet where aliens have left clues for the human race. Earth has huge problems with it’s environment and is gradually becoming destroyed to the point where people will have to find either a way of fixing it fast or will have to move to another planet. The race is on to be the person who will find the technology on another planet to bring back to Earth to save us all.

Deciphering the clues in massive temples though, provides vast challenges, they are puzzles with death as the outcome if you get them wrong. Amelia is a scavenger, raiding ancient sites on far off planets to sell for cash which she is using to pay her sister’s captors back on earth. She runs into Jules, who is the son of a disgraced historian, someone who said too much and who is now in jail. Jules has travelled to this planet to try and solve the biggest mystery ever and to prove that his father was right, but also for the personal satisfaction of being the guy who solved a massive mystery. Jules has studied the messages sent back to earth by the inhabitants deciphered the codes and is on a mission to find out what the clues in the messages mean for humanity.

This is going to be hugely popular, I hope it has an awesome cover with an androgynous cover on it. the fraught relationship between the two protagonists is great. The way that total mistrust leads to complete trust is so nicely done. I love the protagonists alternating chapters.

Secondary school libraries are going to want to buy lots of copies of this. And it is just the beginning of a series, one I will be following avidly.

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!

 

Our Souls At Night by Kent Haruf

oursoulsA clear 5 stars from me. I read it in a day. Swallowed it up and then sat, staring into space when it was done. This is the story of two older people who are lonely, they live in a typical small town where everyone knows everyone else’s business. Addie is so lonely it gives her pain. If you are lonely and you know the man up the street is also lonely, and your greatest desire is to have someone to share your nights with, after all nights are the loneliest time, then isn’t it only right that you should get together to share those nights? So, Addie approaches Louis, who agrees tentatively, to come and spend the nights with her. They are nice people, they don’t want to be the talk of the town.

Then Addie’s grandson comes to stay and the three of them and the newly acquired dog begin a process of healing, growing together, building their relationships and becoming close. This is rudely interrupted by Addie’s son, the father of Jamie who judges them harshly and meanly. The small mindedness of people, their judgyness and their thrusting of what they think their elders need upon them is so awful and so well depicted in this book.

This gorgeous short novel which made my heart happy.

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!