The Poisonwood Bible

Imagine a ruin so strange it must never have happened.

Several decades of five lives that live through emigration to the Belgian Congo, puberty and growing up, love, loss and independence of both country and family. It’s a big and small story at the same time, with characters you can take with you into your daily life.

A missionary family goes to ‘Dark Africa’ to save souls and show the Christian way. Only the father wants to be there, while the mother and four daughters try to adjust in different ways or not at all. The Belgian Congo is a gorgeous and dangerous and completely different world than Georgia, United States, but they simply didn’t choose it.

The Poisonwood Bible is history, social commentary and a family story. It takes you in easily and is hard to put down. With five points of view it’s easy to pick a favourite or find relief when you don’t like someone’s story.

I recommend this book because it’s very honest. It shows the disappointment of discovering that Christianity and Western society aren’t all-knowing, the gorgeousness but also brutality of Africa and how one situation can turn different people to completely different paths.

The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver, HarperFlamingo 2008

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

The story I am about to share with you takes place in 1931, under the roofs of Paris.

This book is gorgeous. That can be largely attributed to the amazing pencil drawings in it, lifting the story to a different level.
The Invention of Hugo Cabret: a novel in words and pictures is the book where the film Hugo was based on. I didn’t watch the film, so I could take the story in without any expectations.

And it was a pleasure. This novel is lighthearted, colourful, detailed like quality clockwork and sweet. Looking at the cover was enough to make me smile and I’m just the littlest bits of sad for finishing it so quickly (there are a lot of page filling pictures and drawings).

Read it, look at it, enjoy it. Nothing more needs to be said.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret: a novel in words and pictures, Brian Selznick, Scholastic 2008

The Prague Cemetery

A passerby on that grey morning in March 1897, crossing, at is own risk and peril, place Maubert or the Maub, as it was known in criminal circles (formerly a centre of university life in the Middle Ages when students flocked there from the Faculty of Arts in Vicus Stramineus  or rue du Fouarre, and later a place of execution for apostles of free though such as Étienne Dolet), would have found himself in one of the few spots in Paris spared from Baron Hausmann’s devastations, amidst a tangle of malodorous alleys, sliced in two by the course of the Bièvre which still emerged here, flowing out from the bowels of the metropolis, where it had long been confided, before emptying feverish, gasping and verminous into the nearby Seine.

For years, my boyfriend told me I would really like Eco’s The Name of the Rose. And the review of The Prague Cemetery I read in my favourite news paper was very positive. So I thought with those powers combined, I was in for a lovely book-reading-experience.

Boy, was that a disappointment. The plot in one sentence is that a forger in the nineteenth century makes up a letter and changes history with it. Sounds cool, right? But maybe Eco didn’t think that would be enough or he always likes it confusing, I don’t know. Because quickly there comes a gap between Narrator and protagonist, are some syndromes of MPS added and personality twists and the time line stops being chronological and BAM you’re lost.

Even if you’d like a puzzle instead of a story, there is the fact that the protagonist hates everything. Jews, French people, Germans, Americans, rich people, poor people, religious people, there is only bitterness in his life.

It took me 114 pages to -sort of- get into this story and the remaining 300 to regret not giving up on it. And now I really fear The Name of the Rose.

The Prague Cemetery, Umberto Eco, Bombiani 2010

Serious Men

Ayyan Mani’s thick black hair was combed sideways and parted by a careless broken line, like the borders the British used to draw between two hostile neighbours.

The cover text gave me the idea that this would be a Don Quixote versus the wind mills story, set in India and with some social commentary on castes on the side.
Instead it was -for the biggest part- a ‘days out of the life of’ story. Not bad, but not what I expected, which made the first three quarters of the story drag.

There are two major plot lines involved. One of them is the story of Ayyan Mani and his son Adi. Ayyan wants more for his son and to show the elite that they aren’t gods and creates a story of his son being a genius. The second one is of Ayyan’s boss, the director of an Institute of Science. He feels a bit unstable in life and stumbles into an affair with the only female scientist around. Add in some fraud, black-mail and different ideas about aliens and the Big Bang and you have Serious Men.

This is one of those books that I can’t call bad/horrible/and so on, but wouldn’t recommend either. I was relieved when I was finished and felt a bit disappointed that I hadn’t enjoyed it more. Because there are good bits and a nice insight in the caste-system. Maybe ‘Start it without any ideas and expectations’ would be the best advice. And don’t read the cover text.

Serious Men, Manu Joseph, Murray 2010

The Girl Who Fell From The Sky

“You’re my lucky piece,” Grandma says.

A mixed race girl moves in with her black grandmother after a family tragedy. Suddenly she discovers how important society thinks the colour of her skin is. While trying to adjust to that, she has to come to terms with being the only one of her family left.

It’s an utterly depressive premise and yet this book is spiked with glimmers of hope. It’s so easy to root for the main character, to tell her to not fall into temptation of the easy escape, to become everything she can be while the reader can do nothing more but watch her stumble.

It’s also -for me as a white person- a new, raw experience to read what a big part skin colour is for some people. The ‘real’ black people don’t want her, the white people don’t understand where she fits in. Her grandmother just wants her to turn into a ‘good woman’ who will make a husband happy (and therefore her). The main character lets herself be shaped by her surroundings while at the same time trying to disappear from this world without her family.

The Girl Who Fell From The Sky leaves you with questions, but also a small glimmer of hope. Outside that, you will just have to take this story inside you and carry it around.

The Girl Who Fell From The Sky, Heidi Durrow, Oneworld 2010

The Waterproof Bible

The limousine taking Rebecca Reynolds and Lewis Taylor to the funeral had stalled in the middle of an intersection.

Rebecca can’t stop broadcasting her feelings to people around her. Lewis meets a woman who claims to be God. A mermaid/human hybrid named Aby (short for Aberystwyth) left the ocean for the first time to search for her mother. Oh, and a pair of rainmakers that can really make it rain. With almost lethal result.
Amused by this? Get the book. Cocking your eyebrow in a ‘Oh, really now?’ fashion? Escapes are on your left.

The Waterproof Bible has a lot going on that places it firmly in the ‘quirky, absurd’ category of books. Yet Kaufman balances that part perfectly with a plot line about growing up, (and) moving on in/with life, without making either too much. Aby’s race is interesting, the characters are portrayed in such a way that neither of them are turned into caricatures and the entire story feels like a faerie tale from another world.

The only thing that stuck just the tiniest bit in my caw was the lack of answers. Towards the ending some plot lines end pretty much like ‘Well it is what it is’. But, because the entire story lacks any highs and lows that will rock your world  it isn’t even so much of a bother, if you can survive a book that will leave you with a shrug and an ‘okay’.

The Waterproof Bible, Andrew Kaufman, Telegram 2010

A Dance with Dragons

The night was rank with the smell of man.

This is another book out of a series, and this time it’s (luckily) not the final one. The author took its time, but -on most parts- it was worth the wait. And, because it had been a while, it wasn’t all that bad that the first one/third of the book was a repetition of the previous one, only from other characters’ point of view. It refreshes the mind a bit.

A less refreshing thing is the lack of development of some characters. It seems like Martin wasn’t all that inspired or just didn’t know what to do with some of them, making their chapters exist out of little more than ‘She ate. She slept. She mourned. She didn’t know what to do.’ It’s not only a waste of paper (because come on, if you write a 1100 page novel, make every page count), it’s a waste of the coolness of the character.

The author turns some of the characters from likeable to unlike-able and vice versa but the Big Bad is clear and looming (and hereby giving some much needed excitement to the book). Sometimes A Dance with Dragons feels too much like filler, how second books in trilogies can feel sometimes, even though this is number five in the series ofA Song of Ice and Fire.

But besides that it was -for me- good to be back again in the wonderful, disgusting and colourful world that Martin creates. I just hope he doesn’t take too long before I can return there again.

 

A Dance with Dragons, George R.R. Martin, Harper Voyager 2011

The Night Eternal

On the second day of darkness they rounded them up.

The Strain Trilogy of Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan doesn’t give the reader an easy, fluffy experience. The story of a vampiric virus let loose on civilization isn’t a pretty one. The three books go through the stages of denial, fighting back and trying to survive a new world order. The Night Eternal shows that not every human being can or will be a hero.

The vampires and their Master rule the world, and yet, as it goes, there is a small group of rebels. They are looking for ways to end the vampire-reign, although the odds are very much against them.
This is one of my favorite things about this trilogy: Del Toro and Hogan paint an incredibly gritty, desperate and depressing picture. As a reader you’re pretty sure that there will be a happy ending (that’s how fiction works, right?), but both of the authors deliver you plenty of hints and pokes that you might be wrong. There is no One Hero, no MacGuffin that suddenly shows up in the second-to-last chapter. Characters are corrupted and self-centered, badly adjusting to being placed at the bottom of the food chain. It is ugly.

If you love that, want to be scared and get uncomfortable because of what humans turn into when society disappears, go for it. If you want an original version of the creature we can vampire these days, go for it (start with book #1 though) .  And enjoy, with delicious thrills and the feeling of ‘Oh no’, running down your spine.

The Night Eternal, Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan, HarperCollins 2011

 

Red Seas under Red Skies

Locke Lamora stood on the pier in Tal Verrar with the hot wind of a burning ship at his back and the cold bite of a loaded crossbow’s bolt at his neck.

Back to Locke Lamora and his (unintentional) (mis-)adventures. This time ’round he’s in a new country and spends a lot of time on the ocean. Because Lamora becomes a pirate. Sort of. And it wasn’t his idea either.

Red Seas under Red Skies being a sequel means there is less joy and surprise over characters, plots and world building. Yet again Lamora (and his friends) aim high, but have to stumble through a lot of hoops before they get it (sort of). This time he lands in the middle of a tug-of-war between the rulers of the underworld and ‘upper’-world. And some pirate captains.

But even without the surprises, there is another bout of gorgeous (and lethal) world- and character building. One of the things I liked best is that the women have numerous functions in high places without them being femmes fatale or butch masculine creatures. Equal opportunities don’t happen all that often in fantasy. Again, the tempo is high, a lot happens and -in comparison with the first book- there are more story lines.

And just like with the prequel, I breezed through it, thoroughly enjoying myself. If the other books don’t fail (and maybe step away from the ‘Big heist in a creative way’ plot), this could turn into one of my favorite fantasy series.

 Red Seas under Red Skies, Scott Lynch, Gollancz 2007

 

The Lies of Locke Lamora

At the height of the long wet summer of the Seventy-Seventh Year of Sendovani, the Thiefmaker of Camorr paid a sudden and unannounced visit to the Eyeless Priest at the Temple of Perelandro, desperately trying to sell him the Lamora Boy.

This is everything a (fantasy) story should be. There is gorgeous world building, well-rounded, fascinating characters, exciting plot lines (pretty much all of them), humour, excitement and so on. It’s a book you want to finish in one go and not to ever let it end.

The Lies of Locke Lamora tells the stories of Locke Lamora and his adventures as growing up from a little orphan to a Gentleman Bastard, stealing from the rich in elaborate ways and ..doing nothing with the majority of the bounty afterwards. He and his ‘brothers’ are small parts of the mob-like constitution that rules the underworld of the city, pretending towards them and everyone else that they’re just small fish.
Of course things go wrong. A dark figure attacks the constitution and Locke Lamora seems -somehow- to be involved. The tempo picks up and the whirl-wind starts.

I would recommend this to a lot of people. Look past the fantasy tag if that’s not your thing and dive head-first into this delightful experience. Only one warning: it’s part of a series (up to seven books) and the author isn’t finished yet. So there might be a time that we will have to do without Locke Lamora and his adventures.

The Lies of Locke Lamora, Scott Lynch, Gollancz 2006