In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.
There were two reasons why I read The Great Gatsby. I like to read a Classic from time to time (to see what the fuss is about) and I really liked the trailer of the film Baz Luhrmann is making, based on the story. And -maybe subconsciously for a third reason- it is quite a thin book, so even if it would be utterly shit, it wouldn’t be a big waste of time.
It wasn’t utterly shit. Author F. Scott Fitzgerald creates an attractive, vibrant world without drowning the reader in detail and pointers. I managed to not have been ‘spoiled’ about the story and therefore could enjoy it without already knowing how it would end. To let other people enjoy the story without any knowledge about it as well, I’ll just say that -in the beginning and for me- it’s a love story. A love story with life and the world intervening.
As it is a little story, there is not much more to say. Even though the story is written over eighty years ago, the age doesn’t show in language. The characters are sketched with just a few lines and words, but aren’t card board characters. I would recommend it, not only so you know what The Great Gatsby (and its fuss) is about, but for the small, bitter sweet experience you get from hanging out in those 156 pages.
The Great Gatsby, F. Scot Fitzgerald, 1926
Whatever Makes You Happy made me very curious about the author, because he spouts a lot of ideas that felt a bit outdated, not female-friendly nor male-friendly. And all that in a book that got a place in my library’s Humor category!
The novel tells the stories off Matt, Daniel and Paul and their mothers. The three men are thirty-somethings and their mothers are Very Disappointed with the lives of their sons. And because they are their mothers, their creators and eternal supporters, they decide to live in their son’s houses for a week to fix things. Because by now they should be married and have created offspring because the mothers need to be grandmothers, it’s what they’re here for.
Surprisingly, none of the men tell their mothers to sod off, but allow them to intervene. Of course some life lessons pass, but the bombardment of clichés override every situation. The date-savvy guy thinks that when a woman says no, she just wants to have the man put more effort into it. The grandchildren-crazy mother effectively stalks a couple because she just can’t help herself, she was born for being a grandmother. And the child being a girl, she can only buy pink stuff.
It goes on like that, making Whatever Makes You Happy more a risen-eyebrow-worthy essay of examples in old-fashioned and guy/girl-mag thinking than a laugh about mother-son relationships. And that’s a bit of a shame, because the author created several nice characters. They deserved more.
Whatever Makes You Happy, William Sutcliffe, Bloomsbury 2008
The goblin experience of the world is the cult or perhaps religion of Unggue.
Finally, finally, the library had a Discworld novel for me that I hadn’t had read yet. Without even bothering to read the flap text (surely I would like the plot), I took it with me. And was disappointed (am I too often disappointed in the books I lend?).
Snuff is about Commander Vimes and therefore the Ankh -Morpork Guard. The Commander and his family go on a holiday in the country side, leaving the exciting (and loud) city behind. Luckily his police man senses start tingling pretty soon.
Except after ‘pretty soon’, it takes about 150 pages to get the action started. And while the Discworld series usually makes me laugh out loud on every other page, it didn’t happen this time. Only ‘sometimes’ instead of ‘often’ I smiled a small smile. I was flabbergasted. Is Pratchett trying to tune it down? Write in a more ‘adult’ way? I was bored for several pages and -when things finally got moving- wasn’t that interested any more. Where were the play on words, absurdness, originality? I’m not interested in how torn Commander Vimes was over acting like a Duke or acting like a copper and the second story line is thrust in at the most confusing times.
A die-hard Pratchett fan told me that she wasn’t sure about wanting to read Snuff, having heard very mixed reviews about it. I wish I had followed her example.
Snuff, Terry Pratchett, Doubleday 2011
“War,”says Mayor Prentiss, his eyes glinting.
The final book of the Chaos Walking Trilogy gives you more of the same. Here might be mild spoilers from earlier books.
Todd is still -less and less reluctantly, even though he tells himself otherwise- on the Mayor’s side. The Mayor seems to be cleaning up his act after all, and most people -including Todd- just want to see the best in other people.
Viola is still on the opposite side, trying to juggle The Answer with a part of the convoy arriving and not letting them be claimed by either side.
Patrick Ness takes a lot of time to show Todd’s doubts and how ugly people can become because of war. He also repeats scenes from earlier books to show that the protagonist really can’t kill. It was a bit dissappointing after two previous books full of (small) surprises in world- and character building.
Luckily, the Spackle finally get a voice, showing more about the world where this all happens. And a lot of violence happens, because this is war and terrorism yet somehow it completely passed me by, no matter how gruesome the details.
Near the end Ness shows why his trilogy received several awards. He turns a few things around, has a few surprises and the ending isn’t from How To Write 101.
My only thought after finishing this series is how it could be even better if the author hadn’t clung to ‘YA’ and had made this less of a soul search through teenage eyes and more a story of how a new world is created. Maybe we should cherish Todd’s naivity.
Monsters of Men, Patrick Ness, Walker Books 2010
The taxi’s radio was tuned to a classical FM broadcast.
1Q84 was one of those books that has been on my To Read list for a while. I was curious about the premise, curious about Murakami’s writing and hopeful that hundreds of positive reviews couldn’t be wrong. I was disappointed.
There is no easy, straight-forward way to say what the book exactly is about. It’s a boy-meets-girl story with a dollop of loneliness, a cult and so many fantasy details that -into the second book- you could simply call it ‘fantasy’. Except a lot more pretentious. And that started to chafe after a couple of hundred pages.
I could appreciate Murakami’s world building, helping the reader understand what the main characters experience. But when -as a reader- you start to wonder when the story will start and how many times you need to hear about a random crow or spinach-eating dog ..I think you wrote too much while communicating too little.
Maybe I’m simply an impatient reader because I have read so many books and therefore might pick up hints and foreshadowing faster than anyone else. Maybe ‘ordinary’ readers wouldn’t feel as talked down to as I did on several pages.
And that’s a shame, because there is a lot of potential in this book. I am curious about what was going on and why, but 1Q84 is fine with telling you very little about it. Maybe I’m just a reader who prefers her books with answers, instead of only questions.
1Q84, Haruki Murakami, Knopf 2011
Dawn was coming.
Or how such a long story (993 pages) can start with such a small sentence. The Wise Man’s Fear is the second book in The Kingkiller Chronicle (it looks like a trilogy but I’m not sure) and it’s what I would like to call old-fashioned fantasy. There is a dollop of straight up fantasy in the fantasy book, told by a trouper who is part of the stories and makes the stories even bigger and bolder when retelling them. There is a comfort in the heaviness of the book, the thoroughness of world-building and how easily accessible every character is, their role cut out for them.
This means that there is little surprise in the story lines, but -for me- that was absolutely no bother. Known fairy tales are well known for a reason.
I read the first book a couple of years ago and couldn’t remember much about the premises. That wasn’t necessary, as I quickly discovered. The Kingkiller Chronicle tells about Kvothe telling the stories of his (young) life, missing the first book means just missing a part of that. Patrick Rothfuss simply assumes you know this world he writes about, so there is no repetition or explaining. Just take it.
And I took it and thoroughly enjoyed it, skipping lunch breaks to continue reading because it’s simply a book like that. Only once did the thought of ‘This could have been shortened’ pop up and that was during a ballad on a woman’s body and the following sex. Other might love that.
Fantasy fans should definitely take a peek at this series.
The Wise Man’s Fear, Patrick Rothfuss, DAW Books 2011
I was born twice.
Jamrach’s Menagerie tells the story of Jaffy Brown, a street urchin living at the end of the nineteenth century. His life turns into an adventure when he is eaten by a tiger, meets the people and animals of Jamrach’s Menagerie but most importantly: when he goes to sea to catch a dragon in the far south.
I didn’t get this from the Children/Young Adult division, but it could easily fit there along other ‘boy adventures’. The reader follows Jaffy from nine years old to adulthood, but his view on the world, adventures and misadventures, never changes. He’s good with animals, so he can hang out with every one of them in the Menagerie. He’s allowed to come along with the quest for a dragon (because that would make the Menagerie even better) and only doubts the danger of it for a moment.
It takes Jamrach’s Menagerie a while to get up to speed. I really felt like I needed to push myself through the first eighty pages, but after that it’s situation after accident after adventure and there isn’t even time left to breathe or doze off. It’s a colourful story with extensive descriptions on the countries they visit, animals they see and people they meet. It shows how dangerous travel by ship can be and how resilient humankind. From time to time it reminded me of Pirates of the Caribbean, and it’s up there in unpretentious fun (but with more blood and gore).
Jamrach’s Menagerie, Carol Birch, Canongate 2011
She got to the parking lot earlier than usual.
Out is a lot. It shows daily life in contemporary Japan (the majority of the time through the eyes of women, but men also feature), it’s a study on how far a human can be pushed and adjust to a situation, it’s a thriller and a game of cat and mouse between two people who start out as very different, but have more in common than expected.
With so much going on, it isn’t so easy to say where this book is about, but the first thing that starts everything off is a woman strangling her husband, her admitting it to a colleague and her colleague helping her with covering this up. This and the disposal of the body seem to be successful, until more and more players get in on the secret and they all want something else from it, from the always broke colleague to the falsely-accused night club owner.
All this shows there is no such thing as a clean cut, no-loose-threads ending when it comes to anything that involves humans (yes, also outside of murder). Every characters copes (or doesn’t) in her/his own way, making the knot that ties them together bigger and tougher to escape from.
I took Out out from the library because it plays in Japan with (native) inhabitants, far away from the usual ‘white-view’ books I read. And though some information made me sad (women over 30 won’t ever be promoted in office life, men are more important in every situation), it was also very interesting and made me wonder how different the story would have been if it would have been set in The States or anywhere in Europe.
The thriller part of this book is the least exciting of everything Out has. Pick it up for the people, the plot lines and the society.
Out, Natsuo Kirino, Kodansha International 2003
“Your Noise reveals you, Todd Hewitt.”
Back again in the world of the Chaos Walking Trilogy. After searching for hope at the end of the brutal trip in The Knife of Never Letting Go , The Ask and The Answer has no place for hope, continuing with the story of what happens after Todd and Viola are caught by the people they were trying to outrun.
Todd gives in pretty fast, stops his struggle and tries to separate himself from the world. On the other side, Viola fights more bitterly and desperately, which also doesn’t make for a happy story. It makes the book a tad more sluggish and repetitive up till the point the reader might exclaim ‘Not again!’
Does this make this a bad story? Of course not. There is still the world and the people and ideas in it that carry the story, while next to that it’s hurting but understandable to see how Todd retreats into himself. There’s no place for laughs any more, and -like most second books in a trilogy- it’s pretty clear that it’s all a build up for the final part.
So burn through this one as you did with the first -with your teeth on edge and hope against hope (and realizing how scary a battle between sexes can be). Realizing that the two most important characters are just teenagers make their horrors more believable and might stop you to think about what you’d do.
While in the mean time I curse myself for finishing this book on Easter Sunday and therefore being unable to get the final book from the library.
The Ask and the Answer, Patrick Ness, Walker Books 2009
I live with my father, Ray Nickel, in that low brick bungalow out on highway number twelve.
A Complicated Kindness tells about a small village with only Mennonites as its inhabitants. Mennonites think that the only reason you live is to die and join God in heaven, so it’s a pretty bleak place without hopes, passion or anything that could be considered fun.
Maybe it’s a compliment to Toews to say that that message comes across very well. Main character Nomi doesn’t do anything, does care but in a very passive way and can only wait for an end, any end. This weighs down on the reader in such a way that you will probably feel relief after you have finished this story. Next to this they are two gaps in the story, the disappearance of both Nomi’s sister and mother. There is no story about where, why or how, the fact is that they’re gone and Nomi and her father will have to deal with this.
I usually don’t flat out tell people to not read a book, but with this one ..don’t. I’m sure that if you want to read about Mennonites, there are other stories. If you do like to sink down in a pool of passiveness ..this is the book for you.
A Complicated Kindness, Miriam Toews, Faber and Faber 2004