Hello all, as you can see I still have lots of copies of Life of Pi to give away. As in my last post, all you have to do is email me at email@example.com with your address. I won’t keep your details after sending the books, don’t worry!
Life of Pi is the thrilling story of Pi, a young indian boy who survives a ship wreck, only to find himself stranded on a life boat with an injured zebra, an orangutang, a hyena and a hungry bengal tiger. What follows is a strange and maginficent tale of survival and an incredible relationship between a young boy and the tiger. I gave this to my boyfriend, who does not enjoy reading, while we were away from each other during the university summer break and he loved it. I think that says more than the fact that it won the Man Booker Prize.
Unfortunately, due to the risk of bankrupting myself in postage costs, I will only be able to send one of the eleven books internationally- this will be via surface mail. The other ten books I will send via second class post to winners in the UK. The books will be sent on a first come, first served basis to those who send their full name and postal address to firstname.lastname@example.org .
Best of luck!
My older sister bought me Fallen and Torment by Lauren Kate for my birthday back in December, and though I’d like to think that I’m generally not very snooty about which books I will or won’t read I have to admit that I was wary- like much of the world I have been suffering Twilight Sickness, and these books are in a similar vein.
In Fallen, Lucinda Price is sentenced to time at a school for young offenders having been implicated in a terrible accident. Her strange testimony about shadows gathering has everyone thinking that she’s crazy, or worse, has something to hide. Once there she finds herself torn between two handsome men (as all good heroines in teen romance books seem to do…) the dark and edgy but considerate Cam, and the aloof and somewhat unfriendly Daniel. Now, to most women that would seem like an obvious choice, but Luce has a feeling that she has known Daniel for a very, very long time. Torment is the sequel to this story, in what will be a four part deal.
So, the comparisons to the Twilight books are inevitable. Intelligent young heroine is placed in an unfamiliar environment and relies upon the charms of two supernatural (oh come on, you saw it coming) young men to help get her through. We also have the Twilight love triangle going on, and the character of Daniel is a lot like the character of Edward (an annoying, controlling know-it-all). They’ve even pre-empted the Edward Cullen effect by having some blonde weightlifter pose for promotional material, which I found quite funny. The young man was more a pretty teen than eternally beautiful angel, but I suppose you have to work with what’s available.
Despite this, I think that the Fallen books are infinitely superior. Luce is a lot less annoying than Bella, challenging Daniel’s decision to establish himself in the role of authority figure instead of playing the insipid little wife. I also like the way that the author has made the lines between good and evil a lot more blurred than they are in Twilight making elements of the books less predictable than they might otherwise have been.
Having said that, I suspect that parts of the books might just be a little predictable. And I can’t wait to read the next book to find out how the author will unfurl the story to prove me right!
Oh, and in case you wondered? I’m team Cam. I’m starting that bandwagon rolling.
Season of The Witch tells the story of Gabriel Blackstone, a professional computer hacker who is secretly able to connect to other people’s minds. When he is agrees to investigate the disappearance of his ex-lover’s step son, he soon realises the boy has been murdered, and traces this to the mysterious and beautiful Monk sisters. As he delves further into the sisters’ world, he finds himself falling in love with both women, at the same time knowing that one of them must be the murderer.
This book has been loitering on my shelf for months now, and I only got around to reading it because I saw a film of the same name advertised on TV and I didn’t want the story being given away. I needn’t have worried because this is a different book, but I am glad that I got around to reading it.
Natasha Mostert has created an intelligent though untaxing thriller, which explores the capacity and potential of the human mind, in thrilling and terrifying ways. The concept of remote viewing is subtle and serves as a compliment to the story, rather than being the crux of it. The action is well paced and consistently engaging, though if you are a native of the UK you may find the dialogue a little unnatural. This was a bit of a nagging issue, but became less noticeable as the action of the book gained momentum.
Sexy, dark and dangerous; I would recommend this to anyone looking for a grown up and credible supernatural novel.
Most readers will probably have heard of The Children’s Book, it was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, but lost out to Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall. I picked this book up a few times in bookshops before I bought it, I’m not going to lie, it was the cover which attracted me (not that I judge a book just by its cover but it was one of the most beautiful I’ve seen in recent years) but was put off by my experiences of reading Byatt at university.
I read Elementals as a part of a contemporary fiction module, and I hated the fussy prose she used in her short stories. The Children’s Book is better initially, as Byatt’s writing style is better suited to the novel form. I say initially, because like the rule that says a task will expand to fit the time you allocated to it, Byatt’s writing seems to expand to fill the page allocation rather than in order to tell the story. It would have been vastly improved by an editor getting busy with a red pen and cutting vast swathes of text out.
The story is an ambitious work, following a group of people associated with the Fabian Society and the Arts and Crafts movement from the “golden days” of the later 18th century to the aftermath of the First World War. There is no strong plot line, more an attempt to explore the social mores of the time, in the style of a non-satirical Vanity Fair. However, it lacks the dynamic and punch of Vanity Fair as Byatt strangles the exploration of action and character with her elongated prose and history text book summaries.
The novel began and ended very well, they were interesting and emotionally engaging. There are a large number of characters, but the bonds between them are intelligible and sustained. Towards the middle however, Byatt (and consequently the reader) loses the plot, bringing in an army of unnecessary minor characters who add nothing to the plot, name checking historical figures who have nothing to do with the action- to contextualize or appear learned I can’t decide- and sticking in chunks of half written fairytales which take the reader along a path to nowhere. This is to say nothing of a strange fascination with the sexual desires of teenage boys. Many of the characters are vain, selfish and irritating, which would be fine, but this left me with no interest in the story. I couldn’t empathise with them. I didn’t care. It’s a miracle I finished the book, but I’m glad I did. Some of the description of the war was quite moving.
I wonder what the author was hoping to achieve when she wrote this book. I would be vaguely interested to know. Did she want to tell a story about parents who fancied themselves Bohemian and damaged their children through their self indulgence? Did she want to write a history of a period in history? It’s not clear and I think that this is the problem with the book. I have a keen interest in history and still found the constant references to figures and events annoying- a well written story doesn’t need this historical name dropping. If I want to read a factual account I will pick up a history book, if I pick up a novel I want to be entertained. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to learn from a novel, but I most certainly don’t want to feel like I’m in a history lecture or watching one of those dramatisations we watched in school history lessons showing us how the plague was passed from ships to the common man and the lord as well. I felt that Byatt was simpering to herself about how she was bettering me. Irritating.
The book probably isn’t as bad as I’ve made it out to be. There are some very good moments. The trouble is, you feel like you’re experiencing the book as things happened. Living through the wheat and chaff of twenty years of history, wondering whether the time you’re investing is possible worth it. If you’re looking for an engaging and entertaining story, don’t pick this book. If you manage to finish it, you’ll feel quite worthy, but next time I think I’ll just try War and Peace.
In honour of the Chinese year, the year of the rabbit, my list of my favourite rabbits in fiction are as follows:
1. Velveteen Rabbit The Velveteen Rabbit Margery Williams
2. Br’er Rabbit from The Uncle Remus Stories Joel Chandler Harris
3. Peter Rabbit The Tales of Beatrix Potter
4. Hazel and co. of Watership Down Richard Adams
5. The White Rabbit Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland Lewis Carroll
Special mention to Rabbit of Winnie The Pooh fame.
To me, rabbits have always had a certain pluck and are far from the insipid little beasties they always seem to be portrayed as. That might just be as a result of my pet rabbits having bullied me through the years, but I’ve chosen my rabbits to reflect this, with the White Rabbit thrown in for a bit of variety.
I will never forget hearing the story of The Velveteen Rabbit when I was about four years old and how sad that made me. If you haven’t read it yet, then you really, really must. If you’re in the mood to weep over rabbits (well, you never know) one that has the potential to get me going is a poem by Roger McGough Rabbit in a Mixer Survives based on the true story of a little rabbit who fell into a cement mixer.
Doubtless anyone who reads the news will have heard about the recent outcry about the censorship of racist language in the latest version of Huckleberry Finn from New South books, in which the n- word has been replaced with “slave” and “injun” with a more standardised spelling, which they doubtless feel will be less shocking to parents on the boards of schools which they feel shy away from studying the text because of the racist language.
My two pennies worth? Aside from the fact that it is a satirical novel which criticises slavery (a pretty decent reason in itself not to censor) what is this sanitized version of history teaching children? I’m sure there are things in the past we would all like to airbrush away, unpleasant things we would like to sweep under the carpet, but I don’t think an oppressive period in history should be one of them.
When I was teaching I taught Of Mice and Men to my GCSE groups, and rather than shying away from the racism, sexism and prejudice against disability that are used in class, we tackled it head on. For example, which vocabulary did the students feel was appropriate to use? Why did they think that the author had used it? This gave rise to meaningful discussions which lead to the student deciding that Steinbeck’s portrayal of Crooks did not make him a racist, but reflected the attitudes towards black people in the era the novel was written. We discussed the Jim Crow laws. The students learned about the Ku Klux clan. We listened to Billie Holliday singing Strange Fruit and the students learned more about the historical period than they otherwise would have by avoiding the use of the n word.
I think it is more useful to teach young people and readers in general to open their minds to what they are reading and allow them to feel comfortable in challenging the attitudes and values presented in the text.
Identical twins scare people. Think The Shining. Julia and Valentina Poole are even more disconcerting, because, far from being mere identical twins, they are mirror twins, each a perfect reflection of the other- even beneath their skin. At twenty years old they do everything together; watch television, go out, eat… even drop out of college. The desires of the individuals are sacrificed to meet the needs of the unit. The sisters couldn’t be closer.
However, when their mother’s mirror twin dies in London, a woman the twins have never heard of, let alone met, she leaves the sisters all her possessions in her will on the condition that their parents are never allowed to enter her flat.
Desperate for adventure, the sisters move to her flat, an antiquarian’s dream overlooking Highgate Cemetery, forces neither twin could imagine begin to drive a wedge between them. Throw in a crossword setter who suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and a man more at ease with the dead than the living and you have another excellent novel from the best-selling author of The Time Traveller’s Wife.
As anyone who has read The Time Traveller’s Wife knows, Niffenegger is bringing Magic Realism into the main stream with breathtaking stories which focus as much on characters and their relationships than the exceptional circumstances in which they life. Her Fearful Symmetry doesn’t disappoint in this respect, as Niffenegger weaves a modern Gothic Fairytale; crafting her characters with care, exploring their humanity and building drama creating stock heroes and villains. These characters are beautiful and flawed. Sketched on the page in simple black and white words, they are you and me; they are exceptionally vivid.
Niffenegger creates a multi layered story, and though the snaking plot threads are complex enough to ensnare the reader, they never become tangled by the magnitude and otherness of the story. At times, elements of the plot did become predictable in a way that The Time Traveller’s Wife never did but make no mistake, this novel is a great work of fiction and stands alone from its famous older sibling.
If you have no inclination to pick up this brilliant novel, I would recommend reading it for the character of Martin and the Highgate Cemetery Setting alone. The prose is beautiful, the plot well constructed; it was Martin however who simultaneously seemed wholly absurd and wholly alive to me. I’ve actually started to learn to do cryptic crosswords because of his character.
In a similar way, I am already planning a trip to Highgate Cemetery. Niffenegger’s description made me feel like Highgate was a place that I had spent my childhood in, exploring in the brambles yet terrified of the gravestones and mausoleums. Perhaps that’s a sign of a great writer; the ability to make an unknown environment at once familiar and other.
One day I will also visit Highgate and explore the environment I read about with such interest. I wonder if I will see shadows of the characters moving around. I call it New Gothic or Magic Realism (because we all like to label things) but behind the fantasy I almost believe this story could be true.
Read while eating slightly stale digestive biscuits, in a battered only arm chair by the light of a dim and somewhat rusty lamp.