The Underground Railroad

The first time Caesar approached Cora about running north, she said no.

Watching the series Underground, The Knick and than reading this book, gives you a triangle of black American history. If you’re not a complete dunce, you can recognise that these three are slavery-related, because that’s a large part of black American history. And as I often ask myself with books about ugly subjects; why should you read it? Don’t we know already?

This time the underground railroad to the saver surroundings up north is really an underground railroad, but that doesn’t make an escape easier. Main character Cora is followed through different states and escapes, and even when it looks safe, it doesn’t mean it is. Sometimes the violence against black people is written down so detached, it’s easy to believe all the slavery-wasn’t-horrible stories some people still try to taut. Only for this author to proof them wrong, again and again. This book isn’t just about the violence, it’s about the impact on human lives.

The railroad gives it a slightly fantastical shade, but an escape is an escape, whatever way used. Sometimes the author veers off a little in style, rails to a dead end, but Cora’s story needs to be seen through.

And if people know already, even about South Carolina, even about the mass sterilisations, maybe they can just pass this story on for those that don’t.

The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead, Doubleday 2016

Fitness Junkie

“I can’t believe you ordered that.”

This gives you much more to think about than you might expect looking at the cover and summary. All that, and some fun and heart!

Main character Janey is told by her friend and business partner Beau that she’s getting fat and that he can’t have that. Because of their toxic relationship, she just doesn’t laugh in his face, but attempts to change her “fat” body. Probably also because he doesn’t want her in the office until things change; it’s that kind of toxic relationship.

What follows is all kinds of exercise someone with less free time on their hands probably couldn’t come up with. This happening in New York City makes the divide between satire and reality quite thin sometimes.

But the best part is probably how much Janey discovers about herself, her body and how society views it. How she starts to have fun with food, dating and exercise (all is that one based on dodgy ground). Maybe you’ll be motivated to start exercising, but have at least your take away from this novel be that it’s your body and your decisions.

Fitness Junkie, Lucy Sykes & Jo Piazza, Doubleday 2017

Rich People Problems

PROBLEM NO. 1

Your regular table at the fabulous restaurant on the exclusive island where you own a beach house is unavailable.

Follow up from Crazy Rich Asians and China Rich Girlfriend, now with even some issues that everyone that isn’t a billionaire or millionaire could relate to. Maybe.

Does one read books of these series for recognising situations from their own lives? Probably not. Bring in the details about the clothes, the planes, the houses, the spending.

Again, there’s so many characters that the genealogy in front of the book can be helpful. The author ramps up the amount of notes as well, this time using them (more often) to comment, instead of to explain. But in between all of that is a brightly coloured, very expensive (looking) story full of dramatics and diamonds. It’s silly, it’s superficial, it’s quite delicious (especially in between Year of Wonders and writing essays about The Catcher in the Rye).

Rich People Problems, Kevin Kwan, Doubleday 2017

The Rathbones

Moses knows what will happen.

Marine magic realism or dark family fairy tale? The Rathbones are a huge whale hunting family in the (early) nineteenth century. The novel spans little over a century of family connections.

The family patriarch has a special connection with the ocean, making him and his offspring extraordinary hunters. They become legends, but every legend has foes, disaster and tragedy. The family tree moves in every which way but the prospering one.

Janice Clark creates a tapestry of myths, family and nature. It’s filled to the brim with details, colors and secrets. It’s a fairy tale and magic and just a family tome. And definitely worth your time.

The Rathbones, Janice Clark, Doubleday 2013

Unseen Academicals

It was midnight in Ankh-Morpork’s Royal Art Museum.*

Finally a Discworld novel again. With author Terry Pratchett suffering from Alzheimer’s, it’s unsure how many more he’ll be able to create. But until then; let’s enjoy what’s around.

Unseen Academicals is one of the Discworld novels centered on Ank-Morpork and its Unseen University. Of course the regular suspects are there (The Watch, DEATH, the ruling dictator) but the wizards and their personnel are the main characters this time.

Well, them and soccer. Lord Vetenari, for reasons not particularly clear, wants to clean up the game of soccer and for starters thinks that the wizards should form a team and be the shining beacon that will make the game ready for the next generation. Just some rules, less casualties and something to keep the plebeian mob happy, it should be a walk in the park.

Of course it isn’t, but this road is covered with bad jokes, good jokes and tickling-smart word play. Because that’s what Pratchett does and he does it well.

Unseen Academicals: a Discworld Novel, Terry Pratchett, Doubleday 2009

The Stolen Child

Don’t call me fairy.

I wanted to read this book as soon as I read a review about it seven years ago. I liked the combination of mythology, the lost children trope and the fairy tale feeling to the entire novel. So now, having read it seven years later, I’m glad it didn’t disappoint.

The Stolen Child is about changelings, children that are stolen and replaced by hobgoblins. In this novel, the reader gets both sides of the stories, the thief and the stolen one. The hobgoblin becomes Henry Day, a seven year old human boy. Henry Day becomes Aniday, the youngest hobgoblin of a small group of them.
Henry Day needs to get used to human life again, needs to remember to age physically, while Aniday needs to get used to nature all around him, no privacy, no hygiene and the loss of his family.

Both of them are aliens ruled by time. Henry Day needs to keep up, while Aniday loses all grip on it. The other hobgoblins, children from other centuries don’t care for it, are fine with their lives and their possible returns to the human world. Because that’s the only goal in life: find a child to change with and become part of a family again.

There is a melancholy to both of their stories, a heaviness that comes with the better (non-Disneyfied) fairy tales. I wish both of them a happy ending.

The Stolen Child, Keith Donohue, Doubleday 2006

Before I Go To Sleep

The bedroom is strange.

This was “I’ll take one – no, two trains later just so I can finish this” good. The twist was a slap in the face. The festering paranoia got under my skin. I am impressed.

Before I Go To Sleep tells Christine’s story. She’s suffering from amnesia, in a particular horrible way: as soon as she goes to sleep, she forgets everything she experienced that day. Every morning she wakes in a strange bed room with an unknown man next to her.
If that wouldn’t cause enough oddness in someone’s life, Christine’s called by a doctor every morning and told by a journal she keeps. A journal to contain and hopefully trigger memories of the twenty years she’s missing. With every day her journal entries grow. Sometimes she has flashes of memories, but mostly it’s what her husband tells her.

When she starts noticing that not all his stories check out, that there is a gap between her collected reality and the one she’s living in, the cat and mouse game with reality really starts. And it’s a thrill.

A book worthy of the term page turner.

Before I Go To Sleep, S.J. Watson, Doubleday 2011

Runelight

Five past midnight in World’s End, three years after the End of the World, and, as usual, there was nothing to be seen or heard in the catacombs of the Universal City – except, of course, for the rats and (if you believed in them) the ghosts of the dead.

The second book (a blurb on the back shares with much delight ‘Several books!’ so I don’t know how many are yet to come) about Norse gods, runes, the end of the world and a young girl wham-bam in the middle of it. Runelight happens a couple of years after the adventures of the previous book, but there’s a helpful summary from Joanne Harris in the start in case you’ve forgotten what happened.

This time main character Maddy discovers that she has a twin. The only problem is that the bad guy has her and is brain-washing her to start the end of the world (again). Maddy was quite successful to prevent the previous one, but what do you do when you have to fight your just discovered sibling?

The twin is the only new element in this story, which pretty much copies the previous book with (unwanted) discoveries, gods down on their luck and one of the main players (presumed) dead. It is for Joanne Harris’ easy, entertaining writing that it doesn’t feel like you’re reading the first book for the second time. Yes, Maddy and her twin Maggie are sometimes annoying teenagers who make dumb mistakes. They are also two seventeen year olds with the weight of the worlds on their back, which might cut them some slack.

And  I like it so much what Harris does with the gods. Running gags, arrogance and self-doubts; they are the cherry on the cake. Don’t expect to be blown away, simply enjoy.

Runelight, Joanne Harris, Doubleday 2011

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

Snuff

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