The Alternative Hero is a coming of age story of the thirty-three year old Clive Beresford. Clive has been an (almost) life long fan of the band The Thieving Magpies and effectively stopped developing (mentally) when they broke up after a disastrous show. He drinks too much, has a shitty job, few friends and no girlfriend. And he thinks he can change all that (or at least his way of looking at life) when he spots the lead singer of The Thieving Magpies. That man should be able to give him closure and with that, somehow, a goal in life.
This book is stuffed with (pop) musical references, real and imaginary bands and persons passing by. Every chapter has a recommended listening, lyrics and texts from (fake) fanzines pop in and Clive simply can’t separate his life from his music.
Like in any coming of age story, loads of stupid, sad and frustrating things happen, some wise lessons are pushed into the margins and The One Big Lesson isn’t so big and pretty easy to grab. The Alternative Hero reads like a scrap book of a music lover and in some chapters it looks like that as well. Sometimes the reader will probably have the urge to grab Clive’s shoulders and shake some sense into him, but the majority of the time he isn’t a bad guy, he just lost his direction.
And a has-been popstar helps him rediscover it.
Lovers of England, (English) music and coming of age stories, grab The Alternative Hero and enjoy the ride.
John Wycliff put down his pen and rubbed his tired eyes.
The Illuminator tells the story of several characters living in the fourteenth century in (South) England. It is the time of two popes, the Church keeping their knowledge close to their hearts (because no way that a simple farmer can understand God’s Word) while others protest more and more loudly that everyone could and should be their own priest.
The main character is Kathryn, who as a widow and noble is pushed from every side to show her alliance and -if it isn’t too much of a bother- get married again soon because a woman being the owner of a manor and lands? Na-ah.
Sometimes the characters are placed a bit aside to tell the story about 14th century England and the huge gap between ordinary people and the Church and the country’s government. But never in an annoying way, instead reminding me of my elementary school History books that always started with a fictional story in a historical background.
Which is exactly what this is.
It is an easy to read story that half way in turns into more and more drama. I thought I was pretty good in predicting where plot lines would go, but The Illuminator threw me off for ninety percent of the time. For fans of Philippa Gregory: not in a happy ending way.
For everyone else who can handle death, illnesses, inequality and The Church taking everything without returning anything, I’d recommend this book. You might even learn from it.
The Illuminator, Brenda Rickman Vantrease, St. Martin’s Press 2005
To put it as simply as possible: this is the story of a polygamist who has an affair.
Oh, but this is anything but a simple story. I finished it a little less than two days ago and I still feel something ache when I think about it. This book didn’t leave me behind happy at all. I don’t agree with its happy ending. I pitied but couldn’t sympathize with (barely) any of the characters .. it took a bit of a toll on me, I suppose.
As the first sentence hints: this is a story about a polygamist, a man with four wives and twenty-eight children. But it’s not only about Golden Richards, it’s about his whole sorry family and sorry they are. One of his sons, one of his wives and -in a way- the house itself bleed their feelings of loss, frustration and loneliness into the main story. They can’t belong because there are simply too many others and too little of the father to give everyone equal opportunity. And Golden himself feels like an outsider in his own family. His back story shows that he has never made a decision about anything, there were and are always others to do that for him. Until he falls in love with an other woman and: lets himself. Even cherishes the thought of acting on it.
‘Wry’ would be my word for The Lonely Polygamist. There is no relief from the maelstrom that is the family Richards and I gobbled up the small pieces of joy that sparsely feature. It made me angry with polygamist families and the named religion they follow, but in the end there was only pity for so many unhappy people. Especially because they were unhappy by my standards (never share a man, don’t put yourself in second place, be loved unconditionally).
I fully recommend this book, if you read books to experience thoughts and feelings outside your own spectrum. Don’t read it for a laugh or a How To on polygamy. It’s a very human story, of humans and their (self-)inflicted boundaries.
The oceans rose and the clouds washed over the sky; the tide of humanity came revolving in love and betrayal, in sky scrapers and ruins, through walls breached and children conjured, and soon it was the year 2002.
Oh. This book starts with a woman who misses from her memory a recent period of her life . Next thing that happens is that -to her eyes- every building in Berlin has turned to flesh. After that, it gets steadily more weird.
At first, that frustrated me. I plodded through the hallucinations, dialogues with Magda Goebbels and visits to a blind Nazi doctor. Until I realized that this insanity is her reality and I decided that I would simply piggyback along. This brought me to the bodyguard of Hitler, a ghost of a Jewish woman that killed her children in prevention of the camps and a hawk-woman.
The parts about World War II are the most interesting, but like the parts about main character Margaret, don’t satisfy any question. Towards the end of the book, the author poses a question: ‘Would it tax the imagination to propose that Margaret was sane?’. Yes, it would, very much so and I don’t have any urge or sympathy to do so. I sighed a frustrated breath of release when I finished this book.
The history of history: a novel of Berlin, Ida Hattemer-Higgins, Faber and Faber 2011
The secrets of Jin-Shei takes place in a colorful world (fictional medieval Asian country) and has several equally colorful characters. And yet I felt obliged to read this book, instead of diving into it and wallowing into its details and colors like Scrooge Duck in his money.
Jin-Shei binds a couple of women on a deep level, with friendship, love and responsibilities. The first couple of hundred pages tell the reader about these Jin-Shei sisters and their lives before the bad guy shows up. But the bad guy is more of an idea than a person, and therefore several of the characters are ‘bad’ from time to time as well. After this introduction the story speeds up, throws life and death at the reader and I simply couldn’t care about any thing. Even while writing this review, I find it tough to keep focus and remember what it was about this book.
So what’s wrong about The secrets of Jin-Shei? The book isn’t tough to read, there’s diversity but not too much to make it puzzling and hard to follow and it gives the reader pretty pictures in detail and ‘historical’ facts. Jin-Shei and me simply didn’t click. It can happen with books as well as with people. This makes it harder to decide on recommending it of course, but I’ll say: go on, read it. This book has a lot to offer.
The secrets of Jin-Shei, Alma Alexander, Harper Collins 2004
It was the night before new moon, during the darkest hours when even that bare sliver had set.
Like a fresh breath of Technicolor air after The Pregnant Widow. The Desert Spear made me a very happy fantasy fan.
TDS is part of a trilogy (aptly named Demon Trilogy) but can be read as stand alone as well. That’s already quite the feat in this genre full of unnecessary follow ups and ‘let’s pull this book apart into three books’, but that’s a not-related frustrating issue. TDS tells the story of a world where the night isn’t safe. Because every night, all kind of demons (wooden, rock, wind and so on) will rise from the grounds and attack everything that isn’t warded. Humankind knows some of those wards, but not all of them. And of course there is a faith that says the demons are a God’s punishment that can only be stopped by a Deliverer.
In this book, there are two of those. One of them who really could be it, an ordinary guy from the North, who by others is made into a hero, even though he doesn’t want it. And the other, a wünderkind from the South with a mighty army behind him and who has given himself the title. And they used to be friends.
A lot happensin The Desert Spear and telling would only be over sharing. But this book manages to create a world, a bad guy, and two less than annoying ‘heroes’ while entertaining you along the way as well. After reading the first book (The Painted Man) I wasn’t sure if there would be a follow up and I did a little dance when I saw this book in the library. It hasn’t disappointed me a bit, even throwing me off (as a crazy book lady, I like to be surprised) when it came to romance and plot lines.
It is fantasy though, remember that. If you’re completely averse to that, don’t bother. But if you want to try some, TDS or its predecessor are a great starting place.
The Desert Spear, Peter V. Brett, Harper Voyage 2010
They had driven into town from the castle; and Keith Nearing walked the streets of Montale, Italy, from car to bar at dusk, flanked by two twenty-year-old blondes, Lily and Scheherazade …
You know that alternative themed party that your friends (and the Internet) have been raving about, while to you it only looked like a students’ common room with cheap alcohol and high ‘philosophical’ conversations? This book is that party and I didn’t get why it was so cool.
You’d think it would be fun for a reviewer to review a book you didn’t like. Just use every kind of it sucked known to man and you’re done. But that’s not reviewing, nor giving a proper opinion (arguments, remember?).
So, here goes my try.
The Pregnant Widow is 465 pages of obnoxious twenty (and up) year olds who can only think of sex and (British) novels, women who are called cock a lot, using words and adding their dictionary definitions and not much else. There is no insight into any of the characters, no jokes, cynicism or even details of their surroundings. It’s only self-pity and uninspired meetings written in such a way that make you wonder how an author can fill so many pages with so little. I dragged myself by my hair through this book, through this day-to-day holiday life of a mentally-bloated kid.
Other reviews speak about the book as a memoir of the start of feminism, the end of youth and dark humor. Maybe I expected too much, maybe I didn’t dig deep enough. For me, it simply was a disappointment. Next time I want to read whining about people not sleeping with you, I’ll visit any teenage message board. It’s much less long-winded.
Film. Not only hard to review because you are bombarded for (at least) two hours by imagery, plot and characters and need to get a bird’s view before you can get a (small) grip, but also (especially with films watched in cinema) tougher to re-watch, re-evaluate to make the film simmer.
And yet, here we go.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (TTSS) tells the story of British Intelligence in the seventies. One of the big shots thinks that there is a mole in his team of big shots. And one of them, mister Smiley (played by the ever charming, even though he never smiles in this entire film, Gary Oldman) is told to discover who the mole is. That’s the long and short of it, because to go into more detail, introduce more people and lay down more plot lines, would break down the experience of watching the film. Yes, in the case of TTSS you can spoil a feeling, a hunch and most definitely an atmosphere.
When you go to the cinema, you expect a film that came out this or the previous year. And of course TTSS is from last year, but the locations, cars, way of dress and everything else gives you the feeling that it’s Sunday afternoon and you landed yourself in an obscure seventies TV-detective. It’s the famous faces (Oldman, Mark Strong, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch and many more) that tell you that it really is a recent film and not a dip into the cinema archives.
The film also has the speed of a visit to an archive. Don’t expect snappy one-liners, explosions, hunts, pretty women and sexy shots. The characters talk. They explain a bit and you can decide to set your brain to work or wait for the explanation at the end. The only fast thing in this film is the accusations and sneers flying around between the big shots.
So with TTSS we have a colorless film that is all about its characters. It will need you to sit up a bit and listen and you will come up with a small question mark on your face. Did you just spend two hours listening to old white men talking? Did you even care about who the mole was?
And yet .. I recommend it. Because not every film needs to be bright and in your face with yelling its message. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is pretty in an not pretty way. A nice Earl Grey tea for the eyes.
Henry’s second novel, written, like his first, under a pen name, had done well.
The most recent Yann Martell. Finding a snappy pop culture reference and/or worn out cliché that can cover this book will probably cost me more time than reading the book itself did.
Beatrice and Virgil are not only characters from Dante’s The Divine Comedy, but since Martell’s novel, also a donkey and a monkey. They are characters in a play that the protagonist, sort-of-ex writer Henry, chances upon. The play and accompanying letters lead him to a taxidermist and -for Henry- a complete unknown world. At first Henry is charmed and can appreciate this road to an exciting life, although the taxidermist and play-writer is a bit of a weirdo. But slowly signs crop up that the taxidermist isn’t a weirdo in a nice, socially-accepted way and Henry has to re-evaluate his enthusiasm.
While the previous book I reviewed was clearly from the category of Easy To Review, this book catapults me into Think About It. Beatrice & Virgil is (deceivingly) colorful, bright, detailed (Martell puts you inside the taxidermy store), aching and uncomfortable. There are no chapters and little space to come up for air. The faster you read it, the more time you spend on it, the more it pulls you in and eats you up until it drops the climax in your lap. Do with it as you will, but here it is.
Read this book? Yes. You are brought into someone else’s life, into someone else’s experience without plodding through hundreds of pages or needing all of your concentration. Book some time and brain space for it? Definitely.
A flash of light filled his skull as it struck the rock floor.
Simon Toyne’s Sanctus was categorized by the library as detective/thriller. It could also be categorized in the Indiana Jones/National Treasure category, to get the first pop culture reference out of the way. In this book we have secret sects, evil monks, Siamese twins, something referring to immortality and yes – we cross half the world in less than 500 pages.
Toyne manages to introduce a lot of characters, maybe even too many. By the end of the book I still only cared about three of them and his plain description of every character (red/dark/black wind jacket, long hair) doesn’t make it easier to recognize in whose chapter we are this time. Besides that there are some scenes that wouldn’t go through National Treasure’s kid-friendly ratings, using detailed wound descriptions and a fleshed-out visit to the morgue.
Am I looking for problems here? Just a bit. Because besides these two points, Sanctus is entertaining, throws some lovely conspiracies around, gives you small surprises and not to be forgotten: is very accessible to read. So grab it from your library (or Amazon, if detective/adventure/travel is completely your reading kink) and enjoy. And try hard to remember how it exactly went a week after you finished it, because this is a story that won’t stay with you for long.
Sanctus: Revelation or devastation?, Simon Toyne, Harper 2011