Pirates of the Relentless Desert

The night sky above the Relentless Desert gave birth to a new cloud.

The follow up on The Fledging of Az Gabrielson. It’s a year later and both sides have to get used to the other being around. Of course there are parties that disagree with how life has changed. Some of them have even turned to piracy because of it.

Was the first book more centered around the world of the Airborn, this time there is more world-building of the cities on earth. There is more variety in people’s characters (although a majority of the featured ones is still called ‘roughnecks’) and more cities besides Cassie’s hometown.

Az is trying to adjust to his new life as a part of authority, while Cassie is trying to keep her family and their business together. The previous mentioned pirates cock this up with angry attacks on the Groundborn. Other conspiracies and such make sure that there is little time for breathing and adjusting. Adventure is where it’s at.

Sometimes Pirates of the Relentless Desert works a little bit too hard to make sure that the reader won’t be bored, but the characters are charming and/or entertaining enough to not be bothered by it. A solid sequel.

Pirates of the Relentless Desert, Jay Amory, Gollancz 2007

Citrus County

Toby took his tacos outside and crouched on a curb.

“This book makes you laugh even as it breaks you heart”, one blurb on the back says. I disagree. There was no laughter, only frustration and discomfort. I was already put off by the text on the back, but the title and cover still pulled me in. Sometimes that turns out right, sometimes it turns out like this: you struggle to get to the ending of the book.

There are three main characters: the teenagers Toby and Shelby, and their teacher: Mister Hibma. With the teenagers it’s a bit easier to accept their “No-one Understands Me, I Am Alone In This World” perspective, but mister Hibma gets very little sympathy points for the same attitude. Of course, there is no age limit to feeling lost and without direction, but it’s all so ..whiny.

Toby has no family besides his uncle. Shelby tries to break through his shell, so he kidnaps her little sister to make her feel as vulnerable to the world as he does. Shelby tries to get her aunt in Iceland to invite her, so she can leave Citrus County behind. Hibma doesn’t want to be a teacher, doesn’t want to star in his own life and thinks that killing a colleague might give him the feeling of being someone, fitting somewhere.

I at the same time wanted to save these characters and run away from them. They can’t get away from the swampy, choking atmosphere of Citrus County and its people and it’s effecting all of them. Maybe this book should be viewed as stories on how you really not want your life to be(come).

Citrus County, John Brandon, McSweeney’s Rectangulars 2010


The first thing you must know about me is that I am colossally fat.

This – from time to time –  felt like a documentary on the people abandoned by society.

Arthur Opp is an morbidly obese man who locked himself up in his own house. Kel Keller is a poor teen on a rich school with an alcoholic for a mother. His mother is the link between them, her letters to Arthur a trigger for changes in both Arthur’s and Kel’s lives.

None of these people are easy to like. Arthur is full of self-pity and navel-staring, Kel keeps so many facades up that he doesn’t recognize himself. It is the side-characters that soften their stories, show that every human suffering is different. And the ending shows that there’s no such thing like a clean ending when social connections are involved.

Heft is a show case of characters.

Heft, Liz Moore, Hutchinson 2012

A Beautiful Place To Die

Detective Sergeant Emmanuel Cooper switched off the engine and looked out through the dirty windscreen.

Cop stories are always a bit risky in my opinion. Will there be plenty of world building, did the author dodge enough clichés to make it feel original. After all, it’s always a case that will or won’t be solved. And the protagonist is usually a bitter cop. There are plenty of clichés in A Beautiful Place To Die, but Malla Nunn knits them together with a layered plot.

A Beautiful Place To Die plays out in apartheid South Africa. A white police man is killed, another is put on the job. Because the victim is white, quick result is expected. When the detective realizes that there is much more going on than just a murder, and the National Security Branch starts meddling, things start rolling. Fast.

Nunn shows how idiotic and crippling all the apartheid laws are, how humans are still human, even when some consider others less. She shows that there is a difference between personal life and social appearance but mostly just – with easy looking sketches – creates real characters. Possibly more exciting than this entire whodunnit case.

A Beautiful Place To Die, Malla Nunn, Picador 2009


It is Sunday morning.

I put this book back into the library stands for ..I think three times. I’m still unsure if I liked it, mainly because the protagonist is a bit of a brat. Yes, his life is turning on his axis, but he always manages to make him the center of (other people’s) problems. Maybe I didn’t like it, but I did enjoy it.

Oliver is a bit of a drifter, but likes to think he can influence everything and everyone around him. His parents’ marriage looks a bit in trouble, so he intervenes. His girlfriend is suffering, so he changes his attitude, giving her something to be distracted by. A co-student is bullied and even though he belongs to the pack of bullies, he writes her a pamphlet on how not to be a victim any more. It’s very possibly not out of spite, but he only creates bigger messes – and afterwards doesn’t seem to understand where it went wrong.

Oliver is also very definitely a recognizable teenager. There is a thin line between big ideas, big thoughts and plans and the unsure reality of growing up. And the line is being crossed regularly, which doesn’t help nor provide any answers. Sometimes he’s delusional in a sweet way, sometimes you want to sit him down and scream at him. And sometimes the only thing you can do is laugh.

Submarine, Joe Dunthorne, Hamilton 2008

Monsters University

104 min.

De sequel die eigenlijk geen sequel is. Na Monsters Inc. in 2001 besloot Pixar te gaan voor een prequel. Hoe Mike en Sully vijanden, toekomstige ‘scarers’ en vrienden worden. In ongeveer die volgorde.


Het is leuk om de bekende karakters weer te zien en hoe twee jaar een verschil kan maken in animatie. De andere monsters zijn grappig, vreemd en knuffelbaar en de universiteit ziet er zo gaaf uit dat iedereen er wel heen zou willen. Er zijn leuke grapjes en slimme bedenksels.
Maar in tegenstelling tot Rise of the Guardians neemt Monsters University ruim de tijd. Tijd om een dramatische plot twist te onderstrepen, tijd om er weer een montage tussen te gooien. En omdat de scènes daar tussenin niet scherp, hilarisch of bizar genoeg zijn (op de eerste Scare Games scène na), wordt de film steeds logger.

Het einde en de boodschap van ‘Er is meer dan één weg naar je droom’ zorgt voor een redelijke afsluiting, maar tegen de tijd dat je daar aankomt, ben je mogelijk al moegestreden. De film is niet slecht, maar niet zo fel en sprankelend als de kleuren die er in voorkomen. Mensen die graag Mike en Sully nog eens willen zien, kunnen beter Monsters Inc. herkijken. Daar krijgen ze ook nog Boo bij.

Monsters University, Pixar 2013

The Fledging of Az Gabrielson

The airbus touched down outside the Museum of Arts, Sciences and History and opened its doors to let out thirty students from High Haven senior school.

The fun YA just keeps on coming. This time lodged in a future world where the human race split in two: the Airborn, living in cities high in the sky, supported by huge columns. And the Groundlings, the unlucky few that didn’t evolve into winged humans. Protagonist Az is Airborn, but born without wings, which makes him little better than a Groundling. Good thing that the odd one out usually ends up being the hero.

The Groundlings provide the Airborn with coals, wood, and other things you can’t find kilometers up in the air. But things are changing, less provision is coming up and Az is asked to go down and look around. Of course he discovers more than the authority told him to, he ends up in a revolution and has to run to save his world.

A nicely written world. I can always appreciate proper world-building and although some of the world below reminded me of Mortal Engines, Jay Amory quickly puts you into the thick of it. Light and bright above, dark and drab below. A challenge to put such worlds together.

As first part of a series it’s unclear if Amory will manage to keep the combination of world-building and fun characters up, but even as an one-off, The Fledging of Az Gabrielson is an entertaining read.

The Fledging of Az Gabrielson – The Clouded World Book One, Jay Amory, Orion 2006

The Taliban Cricket Club

He hadn’t forgotten me.

Karo from Persephone Magazine tries on a regular basis to get us interested in cricket. It’s one of the reasons I took this book from the library. Another is that I’m always on the lookout for writers and stories from outside my known Western culture. A novel is an easy way to peek behind the curtain, especially when it comes to countries that – in the not-novel world – are still inaccessible.

Rukshana used to be a bright, curious journalist. Than the Taliban took over and locked her up inside her burqa, but she is determined to let the real story come out and continues to write under a pseudonym. The story that tells about how innocents are being shot in the streets and discarded as trash. How the religious police will take offense in everything just so they can be violent and steal. Rukshana’s daily life and that of her small family is a war zone.
A very small light at the horizon comes from news about Afghanistan starting a cricket team. The winners of the national competition may go to Pakistan for international games. Basically, way out of this world. Of course Rukshana can’t play, she’s a woman, but she knows how to and she thinks this is the chance for her brother and cousins to escape. Training them in a burqa is impossible, so she dresses up as a young man.

Other worries and threats loom, laced with details of the country’s history. It’s lost potential in the most cruel way. Every character knows that their life is in danger in Afghanistan, yet find it so very hard to leave.

And the cricket? Much more interested, but still don’t understand much about it.

The Taliban Cricket Club, Timeri N. Murari, Ecco 2012