You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me

Neve could feel her knickers and tights make a bid for freedom as soon as she sat down.

Sarra Manning’s You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me is proof that there is not only such thing as nice, genuine, hilarious chick lit, but  she manages to write about a (formerly) obese woman without every mistake in the This Is Why I’m Fat book.
Yes, I pretty much loved this book.

Of course it is still chick lit and therefore there are scenes which will make the reader wonder (out loud) why Neve just doesn’t do or say something and it’s is very very clear from the start who she’ll end up with. But more importantly, Neve is a believable character who takes the easy way out with waiting for her extra large dreams to happen instead of working for her very nice (but too close for comfort) reality. She grows throughout the story and it is easy for the reader to vouch for her. The other characters aren’t one-dimensional puppets but have their own lives. And! the sex is written like normal people experience it, instead of male-gazey with weird synonyms for body parts.

So even though I told people less than two weeks ago that I wouldn’t touch chick lit with a ten feet pole again, I’m so glad I doubled back on it. This was a book you want to keep reading but yet never want to have it end. I’m waxing lyrically about chick lit, this is new. Please read this of Manning’s Unsticky and come join me in this unfamiliar place.

You Don’t Have To Say You Love me, Sarra Manning, Corgi Books 2011

The Knife of Never Letting Go

The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don’t got nothing much to say.

In The Knife of Never Letting Go the reader follows Todd, an almost thirteen-year-old living in a pretty much post-apocalyptic world. He can cope with that. He can’t cope with being the last boy in a town full of men and having to live listening to other men’s Noise. Noise is someone’s every thought, being broadcast because of something that happened when the first people arrived in this world. And one day, as stories are wont to do, everything goes wrong and Todd has to run. With his talking dog.

Patrick Ness lets the reader in the dark for a (almost too) long time, skirting away from explanations or only letting Todd in on the information, not the reader. It’s one of the very few problems I have with this YA fantasy novel that sketches a sad and hard world with even harder people in it, showing once again that a human being doesn’t need all that much too lose its humanity. Another thing that irked me that Todd (and the other characters) seem to be remarkably resilient, walking away from several fights that would have put an ordinary person down, but that can be appointed to this being another world with slightly different humans.
Besides those points, The Knife is a whirlwind adventure with adversaries and dangerous (but gorgeous) scenery bursting at the seams. Yes, Todd can be the most obnoxious pre-teen, but there is a learning curve that will make the reader excuse him things.

This book is also part of a trilogy, something I usually shirk away from because there has to be a very good reason for an idea to become a trilogy besides ‘Three books could make more money than one’. In case of The Knife, I want to know more of this world, and not for the sole fact that Patrick Ness left it with a huge, horrible cliff hanger. This book grades well in the fantasy and in the YA category.

The Knife of Never Letting Go, Patrick Ness, Candlewick Press 2008

 

 

Boxer Beetle

In idle moments I sometimes like to close my eyes and imagine Joseph Goebbels’ forty-third birthday party.

This book confused me. Luckily it had a lot to say about itself:

This is a novel for people with breeding.
Only people with the right genes and the wrong impulses will find its marriage of bold ideas and deplorable characters irresistible.
It’s a novel that engages the mind while satisfying those that crave the thrill of a chase. There are riots and sex. There is love and murder. There is Darwinism and Fascism, nightclubs, invented languages and the dangerous bravado of youth. And there are lots of beetles.
It is clever. It is distinctive. It is entertaining. We hope you are too.

Ned Beauman didn’t worry himself with using a clear layout that makes it easier for the reader to understand who’s point of view she’s following this time. And from time to time it is very weird and the reader might has to get used to the fact that she’s following fascists and that (if he/she isn’t one) opinions will clash. But on the other hand -yes it was entertaining and weird and bold and interesting. Read it if you want to read about a whole different world view, a way of life that existed not that long ago and/or Hitler beetles. Seriously.

Boxer Beetle, Ned Beauman, Sceptre 2010

The Alternative Hero

You know how it is sometimes.

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.

The Alternative Hero, Tim Thornton, Cape 2009

The Illuminator

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

The Lonely Polygamist

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 Lonely Polygamist, Brady Udall, Cape 2010

The history of history: a novel of Berlin

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