THIS MONTH'S BOOK REVIEWS...THIS MONTH'S BOOK REVIEWS
James Gault reviews Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively
Have you ever got about three chapters into a book and thought this is the best book I’ve read in ages? This is how I felt about this book. I was on such a high I could only ever go down. Unfortunately, that is exactly what happened.
The novel starts brilliantly. We meet a cantankerous, self opinionated elderly lady being attended by well-meaning but patently patronising carers. She is visited by a daughter and sister-in-law both of whom she disparages with verve and disdain. Her project, she decides, is to write her autobiography, the story of a life at the very least on a par with the history of the universe, if not even more important. What a delightful character, offering me the promise of cynical amusement and fun right to the last page.
But then it all goes wrong, with the introduction of the war. Not that I can lay the blame at the door of Adolf Hitler and World War 2. I’m afraid the author herself has to face up to the responsibility of what she does with had been, up to then, her endearing protagonist. For some inexplicable reason, the haughty and fascinating Claudia Hamilton metamorphoses into what I can only kindly define as a ‘wimp’. There in the North African desert, she is rescued by a gallant tank officer, a modern version of a knight in armour, and there follows a whirlwind holiday style romance where the pair moon over each other and succeed in communicating nothing of either intellectual or emotional interest. Mercifully, the love-struck lady is saved from a life of lobotomised inanity by the timely death in action of her lover.
Once the bereaved ‘Juliet’ gets over the grief of her lost love, she thankfully recovers some of her earlier vim and vigour, but by this time this particular reader has become very wary. Sure enough, she slips back into maudlin mediocrity when she discovers, many years later, her war-time lover’s diary recovered from his dead body and returned to his family.
However, this novel is a Booker prize winner and it is not undeserving of the award. The characterisation is outstanding, even if, in my view, Lively allows her great skill in bringing interesting personalities to life to be overridden by an inexplicable desire to submerge them in a soppy love story. It’s also worth while paying close attention to an interesting narrative technique, where she recounts the same incident from the point of view of two or more of the characters involved. And she does this in such an enigmatic way that we wonder whether we’re seeing the real views of different characters, or perhaps the way that the main character imagines others would see it. There is a touch of genius about this novel, but... Read it if you like gooey romance, but even if you don’t, read it anyway, just to see if my disparaging remarks have any merit.
Ted Bun reviews The Floating Boy: Unexpurgated Edition (Heretics in Occupied Eden Book 1) by
A book that takes you on a metaphysical pathway through a complex weave of beliefs and non-beliefs while remaining thoroughly entertaining.
This is a new expanded version of the story of Cloud, the eponymous Floating Boy, from his early child hood through school and Vietnam and from evangelical Christian church to atheism. The story is littered with anecdotes and personal histories of the interesting casts of characters. The school bully, the childless spinster next door, the couple living opposite.
In other section of the book we follow the life of Terp, who is destiny is wound up with the Floating Boy.
I found myself empathising with Cloud’s father, Lloyd far more in this expanded version of the story. Which is part one of the Heretics of the New Eden series
If you enjoyed Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, you’ll love this book. If you found it heavy going the lighter, humorous, touch of Kenneth Moe could open it to you.
5 Stars Book of the Month
James Gault reviews Everything Under by Daisy Johnson
A perennial preoccupation among the novelists I come across on Author Facebook pages seems to be ‘rules’. Rules of grammar, rules of spelling, rules of structure, rules of diction ... It’s as if there was a ‘right way’ to write a novel. Now, I’ve never studied creative writing at one of the new universities (or indeed any university) so that might be why I find myself consistently advocating that ‘rules stifle creativity’ and ‘rules are made to be broken’. And in the author of ‘Everything Under’ I’ve found a like-minded iconoclast, even though she is a creative writing graduate with prestigious credentials.
This is the most imaginative book I’ve read in a while, and it’s also a novel in which the grand guidelines of good fiction writing are turned on their heads. But authors innovate at their peril. If you turn your back on received wisdom, it has to be well worth the candle. Although you whisk the readers off to places they’ve never been before, you still have to satisfy them, amaze them, stimulate them. So, does Daisy Johnson bring it off?
Well yes, by and large she does. But we need to look at all her little innovations and see if they work for the reader. Or at least, if they work for this reader.
There are three threads in the novel, two of them written in the first person and the other in the third. The principle character is a mature lexicographer (more of that later) who, having been abandoned by her mother as a teenager, sets out to her find her. Now, if you write in the first person, it’s logical that the narrator is restricted to only information they could possibly know. Several times, the author has her narrator recounting events and feelings that had me thinking, ‘how the hell could she have known that?’ Does this matter? I think it did spoil the book a little for me, because it damaged the credibility of the narration.
Chronologically, the book starts near the end, when the daughter has already found the mother. So it’s in the form of a memoir, which means the narrator knows what has happened. But, in order to maintain dramatic tension in the plot, I found she had an irritating habit of keeping things from the reader...Of course I know, but I’m not going to tell you just yet. It’s a trap creative by the author’s choice of narrative technique and my personal view is that the novel would have been better if she had managed to avoid that trap.
The whole novel is erected on a foundation made from the love of words. Not only is the main character a lexicographer who delights in exploring words with us, she and her mother share a private language. It has to be dangerous to fill your story with a language totally alien to the reader, but for me the author brings off the challenge really well, and this aspect of the writing added to my enjoyment.
From time to time I had difficulty in following the action. Action scenes need clear and lucid writing if readers are to follow them, and I personally find it annoying to have to read a passage twice just to try and work out what is going on. There was a good reason for the complexity of the writing, but I wish the author had found a better way round the problem.
But, having said all that, this is not a plot driven book. It’s a book about personalities, feelings, innermost thoughts and fears. The characters are all troubled, some of them wandering on the border between sanity and madness. These are characters battling with uncertainties about gender, about sexuality, about family relations, about identity, about their pasts and their futures. It’s a novel that peels away the outer appearance, showing the world from inside the minds and the souls of the characters. If we find their world and their lives confusing, illogical and disturbing, then this is because that is how they themselves see their lives. So don’t obsess on the ‘rules’ when reading this book. Daisy Johnson has concocted a truly appetising omelette, and she’s had to break a few eggs to do it.
Sherry Leclerc reviews Percy Jackson and the Olympians Complete Series and Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods Boxed Set by Rick Riordan
Percy Jackson and the Olympians is an entertaining and engaging read.
I ordered the Percy Jackson and the Olympians Complete Series to read with my 10 year old son. It was a very enteraining and engaging read. Most nights, my son was begging me to keep reading while I tried to convince him it was time for bed. Honestly, I often wanted to keep going too, but someone has to be the adult ; ) Riordan apparently does the “hook at the end of a chapter” thing very well.
I minored in Classics in University for a couple of semesters until I switched to another subject I felt would be more immediately “useful” for job hunting after graduation. But needless to say, Greek and Roman mythology have been interests of mine for many years. Riordan takes Greek myths and modernizes them. He writes action-filled books with his vision on what Olympus and those classic, mythical gods, heros, and monsters might look like today if they were real, and how the world could be affected. This series is a great way to spark young people’s interest in learning more about mythology.
Riordan’s use of Percy as the protagonist of the series was a very good choice. Like Harry in the Harry Potter series, Percy starts out thinking that he is just a normal kid to whom weird things happen. In Percy’s case, a lot of his problems were attributed to ADHD. I believe this approach makes Percy feel more relatable to young people who might themselves feel like they don’t always fit in. The unusual family dynamics of the demi-god heros is another aspect that I’m sure many can relate to on many levels.
We finished the last book of the series last night, and my son asked me to read the “sneak peek” of the Heros of Olympus series that was previewed at the end. This was obviously a very good marketing strategy, because then I had to go order that series for us to read together. My son made it clear that he wants to start as soon as we recieve it.
James Gault reviews Trafficked! by Thomas Burns
Natalie McMasters is a young, hard-drinking, foul-mouthed, cynical, lesbian private detective and you’ll love her. She is a twenty-first century female version of the ‘private eyes’ you can find among the works of the 1940s’ greats like Micky Spillane, Dashiell Hammet and Raymond Chandler.
Coming back from recovering from the results of a previous adventure, ‘Nattie’ finds her wife, an illegal immigrant, has abandoned her, having fled from the attentions of the US Immigration Service. The story follow her to the cesspits of New York as she tries to find her. It’s a tale of violence, abuse, and corruption, but also a story of love and loyalty. The pace is frenetic, it bounces along at 100 miles an hour and the twists and turns of the plot keeps you engrossed right to the end - a tour de force of storytelling.
It’s an engrossing detective mystery with great characters, I can’t envisage any lover of the genre not enjoying it. But there is some extra depth to it.
As the title suggests, the main theme of the story is human trafficking, but the author casts his social consciousness far wider, with frequent little by-the-way comments on city poverty, the treatment of veterans and the US immigration policy. But the overriding theme is the role of women in modern society.
So is it a candidate for the accolade of a ‘feminist’ novel? With a strong, feisty principle character it would certainly seem so, but there are undertones of machismo. The author surrounds the heroine with a protective cocoon of tough ex-marines, ready to come to her rescue whenever needed. Her previously confirmed sexuality is challenged by her relation with her male ‘sidekick’. You get the impression that the author has a grip on the ambiguity of the gender issue. He respects the power of women but appreciates they are different from the male species. I wonder what feminist activists, with their black and white insistence on equality, make of the novel.
Not that feminist approval matters that much. This is, I would say, a boy’s book. The sex and violence are very explicit, and although romance has its part to play, I’m not sure the majority of women would agree that it’s compassion for women as victims would be adequate compensation for the condescending male tone that, for me, permeates the novel.
So what’s my recommendation? Guys, don’t miss it! Babes, give it a try. If the author gets up your nose, he’s still around so you can get to him on his Facebook page.