The Camel Book Mobile

The child, wide-legged on the ground, licked dust off his fist and tried to pretend he was tasting camel milk.

American librarian becomes part of a project to bring – by camel – books to Kenyan tribes. Some of the tribes-people like the act of reading and the new worlds that are opened to them, while others worry that tribe values will be replaced by written, fictional ones.

When two books aren’t returned to the book mobile (breaking one of the many rules surrounding the project), therefore risking the future of the book mobile – it’s clear that everyone, pro- and against, are influenced by what the book mobile brought and changed in their little village.

Masha Hamilton shows the small village as normal and the nearest big city as alien. It’s all in the eye of the beholder and what he or she is used to, after all. The main character realizes she is far from home, but doesn’t turn the strange into the wrong. All this comes together to create a fairy tale that is quite close to what any human experiences on a daily basis.

The Camel Book Mobile, Masha Hamilton, Weidenfeld & Nicolson 2007

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

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

Dear Dr Jones
We have been referred to you by Peter Sullivan at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (Directorate for Middle East and North Africa).

This book managed to offer a pretty absurd idea and make you unironically support it full-heartedly. The main characters aren’t heroes, the setting isn’t world-shattering (written down in gorgeous detail though). Salmon Fishing in the Yemen shows that an absurd story doesn’t need fanfare and fireworks to leave an impression behind.

A civil servant with a life story that would make anyone fall asleep ends up in a project that needs to allow the people of the Yemen to salmon fish. The PR from the Prime Minister (it starts in England) thinks this is a great opportunity for some good, innocent publicity concerning the Middle East. The Sheik funding the project is the Islamic version of Buddha, full of smiles, calm and motivational speaking and of course there is a (sort of) love interest.

The government probably shouldn’t have gotten involved. Not to share too much of the story, but getting salmons to survive in a dessert is somehow not even the absurdest part of the entire story. Media gets involved, big egos get involved, damage-control fails and the salmon? Even the salmon are a problem.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is a delight.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, Paul Torday, Weidenfeld & Nicolson 2007

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

160 min.

I usually don’t watch films that share the plot in their title. It feels a bit like -as a viewer- you don’t have to go through any trouble anymore. Like you don’t need to invest your full attention to get to the climax because hey, you already know how it’s going to end. But in the name of my mini-mini western marathon (True Grit will follow), and simply because I was curious, I watched The Assassination. It showed me that knowing how the story ends doesn’t necessary has to be the most important part of a movie.

Warner Bros 2007
Warner Bros 2007

Jesse James is a criminal. He robs banks and trains and moves through the country to prevent arrest. Jesse James is also a mysterious, charming man and Robert Ford is absolutely obsessed by everything he does.  Yes, put this last sentence in a different context and you have a stalker story, one everyone knows how it will end. As the youngest brother, as the kid with nerves and little knowledge – Robert always gets the short end of the stick. No-one listens to him, no-one really sees him. And he so desperately wants to be seen. Jesse James probably knows this, picks up on the kicked puppy that is building a world around his personal life. But he doesn’t do anything about it.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford looks incredibly gorgeous. Especially the nature shots are worthy of a place on your wall, and the whole colour scheme and music make sure that you are pulled into this world. Watching it on a computer screen almost felt too modern. Casey Affleck (Robert Ford) shows how a 19-year-old’s imagination slowly starts running out of control while it’s a 100 percent understandable why people would follow the charm of Jesse James in the shape of Brad Pitt. James isn’t a hero, but he’s the meter other people are measured with.

This isn’t a shoot ’em up western, the guns here are subordinate to words and glances. And (long) pauses, because this genre isn’t familiar for it’s speedy delivery. That’s something you have to think of before starting, else you might get fed up with The Assassination around three quarters. And that would be -for the gorgeousness alone- a shame.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Warner Bros 2007

Hero

I never thought I’d have a story worth telling, at least not one about me.

Another amazing YA. Without a love triangle, a special snowflake or vampires. Hilarious, lovely and nearly perfect (in its genre/kind/and so on. No such thing as The One Perfect Book in my world).

Thom Creed is the son of Hal Creed, used-to-be superhero but now, after a horrible disaster, a social pariah. Thom is kind of ordinary, until several things happen at the same time. He owns up to himself that he has superpowers, a thing his father hates, so he has to keep them a secret. The Superhero League wants him to try out for their club. During a basketball match an opponent outs him as gay, which makes society turn against him. He needs to save the world and his invisible mother (literally) pops up after years of being absent. It’s a lot to handle.

But Moore manages it very well. After you close the book after 500+ pages, there are only two or three plot lines that you have to roll up by yourself, everything else is neatly tied up. Before that there’s love, loss, redemption, teenager problems and playful parodying of everything superhero.

I want a sequel, I want a film, I want people to read it and enjoy it as I did.

Hero, Perry Moore, Hyperion 2007

Self Help

He was relieved to be again among the Russian.

Self Help bouwt langzaam een ruwe wereld met interessante karakters. Soms een beetje te langzaam (het komt zo weinig voor dat flash backs enig nut hebben. Ook hier tellen ze niet allemaal mee). Tot BAM de laatste twintig pagina’s beginnen, de gehinte ontknoping maar een deel van de echte ontknoping is – zo is het gebeurd – oh, het einde van het boek is nabij – goedendag.

Ik denk dat het wel bekend is hoe frustrerend ik een boek met een ongebalanceerd tempo vind. Gelukkig heeft Self Help andere elementen die wel werken. Het verhaal van een tweeling die na de dood van hun moeder ontdekken dat ze een half-broer hebben, is bedriegelijk simpel. De beschrijvingen van Sint Petersburg, Londen en Parijs maken deze plaatsen bijna karakters. De menselijke karakters zijn 3D, hebben een geschiedenis en maken (slechte) beslissingen.

Terugkijkend vind ik dat dit boek meer gaat over plaatsen en karakters dan over haar verhaallijn. Neem de tijd om die in je op te nemen en je hebt zo’n 500 pagina’s aan goed leesmateriaal.

Self Help, Edward Docx, Picador 2007

Runemarks

Seven o’clock on a Monday morning, five hundred years after the End of the World, and goblins had been at the cellar again.

Joan Harris is the writer of -much loved by me- Chocolat. I didn’t know she wrote ‘YA’ and only realized later that I recognized the style, because I read her adult stuff.
Because just as with her novels (for grownups), Runemarks is an easy, entertaining read and I can’t really imagine why it would only be for young adults.

Main character Maddy carries a runemark in a world where everything that reeks of magic, other worlds or not-humans is frowned upon or -in some places- killed upon. This makes her an outsider, alone until she meets another outsider who starts teaching her about her abilities. Those start to become necessary when the inquisitors of this world start a witch-hunt and daily life in a small village turns into running with (demi-)gods and goblins. There is also a new End of the World involved.

First of all, I love myths being used to spice a story up. Secondly, Maddy is a cool, smart badass without turning into an unbelievable teenager. She uses her brain, yet still makes mistakes from time to time. Thirdly, you race through this story because it’s written so ..light, but it still sticks with you after finishing it.

So ignore the ‘YA’ tag (if you’re afraid of those), and enjoy Maddy kicking the asses of Odin and his family  (and some scary religious fundamentalists).

Runemarks, Joan Harris, Doubleday 2007

The Darjeeling Limited

91 min.

Drie uit elkaar gegroeide broers die samen een treinreis door India ondernemen. Alle drie rare snuiters die sociaal onaangepast zijn en waarvan twee van de drie het liefst ergens anders willen zijn. Dit, gecombineerd met de vreemde situaties en kleurrijke omgeving, had makkelijk een flauw, absurd filmpje kunnen worden. In plaats daarvan is het een helder en schitterend familieverhaal.

20th Century Fox

Het is – buiten het hoge niveau van raar- een feest van herkenning. De oudste kan het niet laten om alles te regelen en iedereen onder controle te houden, de jongste wordt als pion gebruikt en de middelste probeert steeds er tussen uit te knijpen en zijn privacy te behouden. Het eerste deel van de film doen de jongste twee ook hun best om onder de reis (die hun oudste heeft georganiseerd om ‘dichter bij elkaar te komen’) uit te komen.
Daarna wordt langzaam duidelijk dat ze wel allemaal hun Wijze Levensles zullen leren en dichterbij zullen komen, maar dat gun je ze zelfs. Vooral omdat het op een vermakelijke manier wordt geserveerd en die locaties en kleuren toch, daar kan elke zuurpruim van opvrolijken.

Perfect voor tussendoor snacken dus, The Darjeeling Limited.

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

 

Hollywood Girls Club

Celeste Solange needed shoes.

Chick-lit. De titels van de hoofdstukken zijn de schoenen die de hoofdpersonen dragen, elke relatie gaat mis voor er een veel betere aan de horizon verschijnt en elk kledingstuk en uiterlijk wordt omschreven.
Daarentegen is er ook een uitgebreide blik achter de schermen van Hollywood en de wereld van het filmmaken en (ook wel eens lekker) blijven de bad guys de bad guys. Alleen de vrouwelijke helden (de hoofdpersonen) verdienen een happy ending.

De vier hoofdpersonen zijn een actrice, producer, (acteurs-)agent en script-schrijver. Ze zijn zo’n beetje de enige echte vriendinnen van Hollywood want Hollywood eet je rauw en verpulvert daarna je botten, die boodschap geeft Maggie Marr heel duidelijk door. Omdat haar man het met een nieuw sterretje doet, wil de actrice vreselijke wraak. De producer heeft last van een afschuwelijke baas en doet dus graag mee aan de wraak. De rest gaat er in mee want ze zijn vriendinnen. Allemaal hartstikke logisch. Elk hoofdpersoon heeft haar eigen hoofdstuk en zo krijgen de karakters iets meer dan één dimensie.

Het ‘name-dropping’ van allerlei merken was dan ook het enige dat mij echt irriteerde, verder was Hollywood Girls Club een entertainende snack waar je in een paar uur doorheen bent.

Hollywood Girls Club, Maggie Marr, Arrow Books 2007