Idaho

When I was studying my Creative Writing module, as part of my English Language and Literature degree, my tutor spoke about a feature of writing that incorporated film techniques. She tried to make us incorporate some of these techniques in our own writing, and cited the example of Charles Dickens’ ‘Great Expectations’, where the visual descriptions of Pip’s parents’ graves provide vivid imagery, almost like a camera panning out over the gravesite and then the view of the countryside spilling over the hills.

But that was where it stopped with Great Expectations.

And if you want to read a book that makes you feel like you are watching an emotive film, not just visually, then Idaho is the book for you.

Emily Ruskovich has a natural affinity for words. Her words are like vines, growing around the pages and entwining with her story, so they cease to be black letters on a white page, and instead become a blurred window into her motion picture.

She doesn’t just describe things, she adds a voice to them, increasing the volume when she needs to and beaming radio silence when the moment shouts for it. And what a loud silence it is.

And behind everything is the soft piano music, gently playing to the rhythm of the characters’ lives and they go forward and backward in time.

It is all very well for me to lament on the poetic nature of Ruskovich’s writing, but I expect the burning question you have is what is this book about?

And I shall tell you, and not tell you, all in one breath, because I can’t tell you what it is about without doing the book justice.

It’s about a family, both past and present, shattered by uncontrollable and controlled, horrific events, and a degenerative disease. It is breathtaking, yet slow paced. And it rises and rises in pitch as the book goes on, crashing loudly and beautifully at its highest peak, and then softly trundling down a rocky mountain towards the end. Ruskovich uses her writing talent to create a written film, and I mean this quite literally.

It took me three months to read this book. I know because I started it when my tulips started to sprout, and finished it today, when my tulips are long withered away and the summer flowers are in full bloom. It is a slow read, there is so much to take in, and the pace leaps about between timelines, so it is hard to keep up. I was also left frustrated at the end, because there were questions there that I felt weren’t answered sufficiently.

I sat back and thought about that, however. The book was written in such a way as to reflect real life themes, emotions and human growth and change, and in real life there aren’t always answers, there are only humans dealing with questions, and growing with them, until they become part of what defines us.

I thoroughly was mesmerized by Idaho, Emily Ruskovich ensnared me with her beautiful poetic prose, she flabbergasted me with how she dealt with such treacherous topics and yet managed to make something so vibrantly, painfully beautiful.

 

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The Thorn Birds

A peado priest falls in love with a little girl.

No, I am joking. He doesn’t. He only ‘falls in love’ with her when she develops a pair of … I can’t think of a dignified name for those things.

No that is too vulgar. Anyway that really isn’t the entirety of the story, but I think it caused sensation when it was published because that is what stood out the most.

That isn’t what this book was about. I read the last sentence today.

And we still do it. Still we do it.

Do what?

Put thorns in our breasts, that’s what.

This book touched me beyond my brain cells. It touched somewhere deep inside my cranium, some would call it a soul. It prodded it and then it simpered like an evil waif, and vanished, leaving me looking down at a new hole. A bit surprised, actually. I didn’t think it would affect me this way.

Somebody once told me that once you have read or seen something, it is a thought in your brain. It belongs to you. You cannot un-think it.

When a writer writes so well that you feel like you are one with the characters, feeling things they feel, even though you have never felt these things… you have bent to the will of the pen. You have never felt those things? Oh, but you have. You’ve felt an echo of them. And now, you know.

I didn’t like all of the characters, but I liked them immensely.

This book didn’t sear me because of its plot, or its characters. Its plot was devastating, to be sure, and its characters deeply twisted and vastly, enormously human. But this book had a soul of its own. It is life, itself.

Sure, it was life from the perspective of one individual brain, but it seethed into being, it spluttered, it gasped, it breathed.

I really wish I didn’t read it, because I can’t un-think it.

But I am glad I did.

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A Book Lover’s Tag

 

Diana Peach from Myths of the Mirror tagged all her followers (of which I am one!) in this exciting tag all about books! I don’t usually participate in tags (mostly because I am lazy and like to generate content the minute my fingers touch the keyboard with no prior thinking, planning or organising), but I could not pass this one up.

If you would like to take part, feel free to accept this tag!

 

Questions:

1. Do you have a specific place for reading?

I would usually say my go-to place is my bed, now that I don’t live at my family home anymore, where I would have to hunt all over the house for a quiet spot to read. My bed is comfortable and allows for any reading position, be in lying down, upside down or sitting up. I usually take a book with me wherever I go, two if I can squeeze them into my handbag, just ‘in case’.

2. Bookmark or random piece of paper?

Both! During my childhood years I was a serial dog-earer but since becoming an adult recently I discovered that dog-earing was a treacherous habit and must be nipped in the bud immediately. So I use old receipts and train tickets… anything I can find in my handbag, really!

3. Do you eat or drink whilst reading?

I do, it’s antisocial I’m told, but I do. My whole family does, which is why some of our more loved books are a little sticky.

4. Music or TV whilst reading.

Neither, I can’t really focus with personal background noise, although I don’t mind it if I am in a public space – it’s psychological, somehow. If it isn’t my music it doesn’t bother me.

5. One book at a time or several?

Oh, several. I am very motivated by mood. I take two books with me when I go out, one serious, heavy one and one lighthearted or ‘much-read’ one in case I can’t mentally handle the more serious one. An example of this contrast would be Vanity Fair and What Katy Did – one is severely depressing while the other is more up-beat and hopeful.

6. Do you prefer to read at home or elsewhere?

I love to read at home, although I have enjoyed many a book on the bus or train during my countless long commutes. Nothing, however, beats reading at home by the soft, warm light of a bedside lamp, whilst being wrapped snugly in a comfortable blanket. Nothing.

7. Read out loud or silently?

Silently! Reading out loud would slow me down! Having said that, my husband who is dyslexic and despises reading, does read out loud, and I feel for the poor fellow because it does make for clunky reading. Sometimes I read for him, but it gets tiring for sure! It takes a great deal of patience to read aloud to someone. I also find that the act of reading aloud distracts me from the content that I am reading! I don’t take it in, and have to read it again to absorb it.

8. Do you read ahead or skip pages?

I have a terrible habit of being impatient whilst reading and reading ahead – I never skip pages, of course, that would be an absolute disgrace. Sometimes I spoil books on myself by reading the end. I always tell myself off about it but still carry on doing it, my curiosity is too strong. Sometimes I do it while telling myself that I won’t read far enough to actually ruin anything but it is a poor self-convincing tool, because what else can I expect from reading ahead!? It is a rude habit and must be stopped immediately – I need somebody to slap me on the wrist every time I do!

9. Break the spine or keep it like new.

Well, I like to keep my books as pristine as possible, lined up in my bookshelf in height order (I did this so well as a child, but now my husband does it for me because he thinks I am too messy – it is very surreal), so I like to keep the spine like new but when you read a book so many times, the spine is bound to break at some point. I am wonderful at mending and patching broken spines and ripped covers – I had to do it so much as a child, coming from a big family of book lovers and book-rippers. When I was smaller, I liked to think of myself as Mo from Inkheart, mending books and fixing spines.

10. Do you write in books?

Yes, sometimes. I don’t like to tarnish another work with my ‘lowly’ opinions, but I love reading comments other people leave in books! I always thought that it took a very confident, self assured and intellectual kind of personality to write in a book. My father, a collector of books, writes little notes in them. I revere my father; I think he is vastly intelligent and wonderfully talented; his work is on par with none I have ever seen before, and his meticulous skill is one which I can only dream of achieving, so maybe that is why I am loathe to think I have thoughts worthy enough to grace the pages of a printed book!

11. What books are you reading now? 

Currently I am reading The Handmaid’s Tale for the first time, a book which I discovered whilst listening to Jenni Murray’s ‘A History of Britain in 21 Women’. I don’t have much time for reading anymore, unfortunately, so it is taking me quite a while to get through it, usually on my lunch break. It has ensnared my curiosity, that’s for sure! I am also reading  Perfume Island by fellow blogger Curtis Bausse – I am halfway through it and thoroughly enjoying it. Curtis has a writing style which is reminiscent, to me, of that of William Golding – he has the marvellous ability to use few words to create crisp images and emotion even though the reader has never experienced these feelings themselves.

12. What is your childhood favourite book?

I really can’t choose, there were so many, and all dependant on my mood at the time! I will go by the most read book in my childhood.. or three books.. it was the Anne of Green Gables series, book 1 through to 3. I can still recite entire passages from Anne’s life, and her experiences and thoughts influenced much of my hopes, dreams, aspirations, language, preferences and thoughts even today. What sticks with me the most is her enchanting combination of the beauty in nature with a magical fairyland. She made it all so real – a tree wasn’t a tree but the home of a beautiful dryad, a lake wasn’t a lake but a bowl of glittering diamonds – and Paul Irving’s famous thought, ‘Do you know what I think about the new moon, teacher? I think it is a little golden boat full of dreams. And I think the violets are little snips of the sky that fell down when the angels cut out holes for the stars to shine through. And the buttercups are made out of old sunshine; and I think the sweet peas will be butterflies when they go to heaven.’

Living in the desert like I did, I was starving for this kind of beauty. How can words create images of lands so real, yet so intangible? It’s a stunning phenomenon.

13. What is your all-time favorite book?

I really, really cannot say. I love so many. So, so many. They are like my precious children, and to favour one over the other is to maim a heart or slight a soul. High up on the list are the Anne series, Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings, all books by the wonderful James Herriot, Alcott, the What Katy Dids, Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre et cetera. Don’t well-loved books make you feel like you have been given a literary hug?

 

What’s your favourite book? And why do you love it?

Amy and Isabelle

I bought this book as an afterthought, selected out of a range of pickings offered to me on Amazon after I’d purchased a book already. It stood out because of its simple, no-nonsense title; I wanted to know more.

The New York Times Book Review daubed it “one of those rare, invigorating books that take an apparently familiar world and peer into it with ruthless intimacy, revealing a strange and startling place”.

Set in a baking town in the middle of an intensely hot summer, the vivid imagery of a rotting green river snaking through the heart of the town makes for a stunning metaphor of the rotting sickness underlying the relationship between mother and daughter. Not that its long-term, of course. The story explores the complicated relationship between a girl on the cusp of adulthood, and a mother who has made many sacrifices in order to lead, at least in her own mind, a ‘respectable’ life.

At the heart of this story is a tale of two minds, formed and influenced by unfortunate circumstances. It speaks of loneliness, desperation for human contact, and highlights the way your own mind can form a barrier between you and your basic human desire to be social. In a way this novel spoke to me directly, because I related on a very personal level with the loneliness felt by Isabelle, the construction of social events in her mind. I was terribly lonely when I moved to a different city, leaving all my friends behind. Gradually we lost contact, and I found it immensely difficult to make new friends. It got to a point so severe that I did something incredibly stupid – for want of human contact. It’s sad and pathetic, but so real. Elizabeth Stout painted this in such a raw, open way. It was quite tough subject matter to navigate through.

Despite loneliness being the driving force behind the main characters’ actions, there were many more complex themes driving the plot forward. Amy’s burgeoning sexuality, Isabelle’s anxious, overprotective and even jealous tendencies towards her daughter, feelings of inadequacy, lack of communication and even Amy feeling a little embarrassed of her mother, were just some aspects explored by Stout, and which made for often uncomfortable reading.

I didn’t particularly enjoy reading this book. It was difficult, at times revolting. Despite this, I couldn’t put it down. The narrative was compelling; with Strout interweaving the minds of the two protagonists, combining two very separate outlooks on the same world (which I suppose is the reality of our lives, viewing the world through a million different perspectives), and setting them amidst vivid descriptions of the town, the slow, almost zombie-like townsfolk who, as it happened, had very real, very raw lives of their own.

This book was brilliantly written, the exposition foreshadowed almost poetically, and the emergence into truth almost like a blossoming of understanding, which I felt fitted in marvellously with the subject-matter. The novel ‘came of age’ beautifully, in a way which is wistfully reminiscent of much of our growth and understanding. This novel is about learning to love, learning to let go, and learning to ‘live’.

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The Age of Miracles

This is a review.

The Age of Miracles is a coming of age debut novel by Karen Thompson Walker.

As debut novels go, this one was outstanding. Walker did not waste a single moment getting to the point, which I found refreshing and mesmerising.

The tale followed the story of an eleven year old girl ascending slowly and painfully into adolescence, chronicling all the awkwardness of the age, in an apocalyptic time when the earth begins to slow, rendering the days longer. With each cycle around the sun, more minutes are added to the day, and this phenomenon is called the ‘Slowing’.

It was a new idea, and what made it plausible was that it was backed by scientific theory – which gave life to the events unfolding.

I loved how Walker combined the coming of age with this almost sic-fi plot line, and wove them together seamlessly. This was a girl, growing up, going to school, experiencing what we have all experienced with friends and parents and troubles that might seem insignificant to an adult but could make or break a child struggling to make sense of their rapidly changing world – and to have that world very literally change around her too, is remarkable.

Walker, I felt, took a great idea and delivered it excellently. I did not feel as though I was reading words. I felt submerged in the tale and when I was jerked out of it at one point because it had got so dark out that I literally could not see the words on the page anymore, I felt as though I had resurfaced from another world.

It takes a great deal of skill in writing to make you feel like that, and I think Walker has delivered this very well. I would say it was the defining factor of this book. It is a beautiful tale, tragic and extraordinary. I had me thinking about it days after I had turned the last page, and I found myself wanting a bit more.

I would give this book five stars out of five, and would love to read more from Karen Walker.

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The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society

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I must admit I thought this book would be a boring read when I first opened it, despite it’s magnificent title. The first page was a letter. So was the second and third and, in fact, flicking through the book I found it comprised entirely of letters to people!

How tiresome, I thought. How terribly lazy. But then I remembered that some of the most beautiful books I had ever read were comprised of letters. Letters do not hinder a plot if they are properly written.

I also learnt a new word in the reading of this book, although not gleaned from the book itself! It is ‘epistolary’, meaning ‘contained in, or carried on by letters’.

This book was captivating. The character development was excellent, and through the letters one could see exactly what everybody thought of each other, and how their relationships developed through the stories of hardship and moments of laughter during the war. Characters who didn’t even exist in the novel, their voices created by other characters, were so vibrant and alive, that it was quite an unfortunate disappointment to find they never made an entrance at all.

The story follows the tales of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a covert group formed  in the Guernsey Islands during the second world war. Books were scarce in Guernsey, and so was food and luxuries, but they never lacked for love. The story is told through the multiple perspectives of the Islanders, the majority of whom had emerged from the war unscathed. The letters are sent to a certain Juliet, a writer herself, who, in undertaking a literary project, found herself drawn into the lives of these islanders. What happens next I will let you find out yourself.

I am so glad I own this book now, it is one I would recommend recommend recommend. It’s sad and sweet and also surprisingly informative.

What I loved most about this story was that it was centred around, and celebrated books in a most familial and cosy way. It is not very often that you will come across a book that fits so perfectly in your hands, that sits so comfortably in your soul, that promises to stay with you forever and ever, it’s words a nostalgic echo through the passages of time. So, that being said, I will end my review with one of my favourite quotes from this classic treasure of a novel:

Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers. How delightful if that were true.

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The Dream Thieves

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Normally, sequels are a huge splash of disappointment and and a tangled web of unfulfilled fantasies.

The same cannot be said of The Dream Thieves, the sequel to The Raven Boys. The Raven Boys was good enough, but The Dream Thieves surpassed it by leagues and leagues and left it dwindling behind like one of those coal ravaged cities old Dombey mourned over. It was brilliant and sparky and had me on the verge of falling off my seat (well, bed) with excitement at 6am in the morning. When I turned the last page my heart sank in pitiful desolation because I had no idea when the third book was going to be released, and I felt as though I couldn’t brave this taunting anonymity. I still do not know when it will be released, which is very daunting, considering that I gave up on reading Inheritance because the gap between it and Brisingr was too long.

This book started off being very confusing but as I have learnt from Maggie Stiefvater, her confusion is just a pathway to glorious clarity. So whenever I didn’t understand anything, I just carried on reading. Sure enough, my befuddlement lifted and my curiosity was satiated in a most beautiful manner.

Maggie explored her characters in greater depth in her sequel. Suddenly they all had separate lives, and feelings, and opinions which clashed, as opinions are wont to do. They all suddenly made so much sense. You started off the book thinking, gosh what a rambling mess this all is, and finished it thinking, DAYUM, MAGGIE, YOU SORCERESS.

So anyway, yes I fully recommend this book. One hundred percent. I am very hard to please, you see. Roll on book the third!

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The Raven Boys

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You know what made this book so great for me? The prologue. Was it a prologue? The dead, the church, the path? Whatever it was, it was a beautiful, fascinating, magnificent start and it surged in my veins, readying me for something great.

I have been reading quite a lot of dystopia recently and lots of it was, quite frankly, despicably written. There was a severe want for great writers to pen the already great ideas down. Perhaps those writers WERE great writers, but they lacked proper editing, or perhaps they didn’t edit at all.

I was preparing myself for another shoddy fantasy, when I turned the page of the second chapter.

I thought, alright Lenny, benefit of the doubt and whatnot.

I can smell coffee right now and it is making me hunger for it.

This book has caught me in its traps. I am currently reading the sequel (The Dream Thieves) but I am trying my best to take it slow, because the third one isn’t out yet, and I cannot be sitting around hankering after a piece of literature that hasn’t even been written yet, probably! It’s too heartbreaking!

Alright, enough rambling. There are no spoilers in here so do not worry. The book is about a daughter of a psychic. The girl is called Blue. Now how about that for a nice, pretty, unique name? Her fate appears to be crossed with four school boys, who go to Aglionby Academy, an all boys’ school reputed to be full of snobs and rich snotty nosed lads. This isn’t exactly a love story. It is a fascinating tale of one boy’s hunt for a vast treasure (of the spirit kind, not the gold kind), and the dubiousness of whether he will find it before his time (as predicted by the mother of Blue, and her other odd psychic family members) runs out. It is also the tale of the secrets of the boy (Gansey)’s three friends, Noel, Ronan and Adam. Everybody is entwined with a magic of their own; a secret, a history, a ghost.

It was my first book by Maggie Stiefvater, and it is definitely not my last. I have embarked upon the thrilling ride that is this Maggie, and I have discovered some amazing writings by her. The Scorpio Races is one such example. I simply cannot wait to read more!

Under the Never Sky – A Pretentious Review

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Warning to all humans.

This review is packed with spoilers. Completely littered.

Under the Never Sky was a book that I put off reading for as long as I could. I had it on my phone, and as a result, it lacked a blurb. So obviously I was going to have to plunge into this completely blindfolded (this is why I prefer real books).

The first chapter started off in an artful manner. Veronica Rossi (who I kept confusing with Veronica Roth, but I am now pretty sure they are not the same human) dropped us right in the middle of an action about to surge with tragedy. You knew it hung with doom because she opened with it. There was no escaping what the humans were about to do, because they were all so terrified. This in itself was premise enough for me to carry on reading.

The majority of humans who wrote reviews on this book complained that it was too slow and took ages to get into. I didn’t find that this was the case, although I can see how people would think it was, because the constant switch between the perspectives of the two main characters made the general plot seem slowed down, although the switches carried on with the plot more than anything!

The world Rossi has created is a mixture of sci-fi and fantasy, and manages to escape the boring monotonous passages of description, whilst keeping just enough imagery in there to create vivid pictures of what her wonderful world looks like. She has the uncanny ability of folding in her portrayal of the world Aria and Perry live in, with her plotline. It really felt as though I was there, looking at all the scenery flashing before me, as the plot thickened.

Rossi’s style was average, if anything. It will not do to compare her style with other writers, namely because each writer has their own unique style, but I did feel as though her writing wasn’t captivating enough, as the story went on, for me to give it five stars. I rated it 3 stars because it was quite a unique story, and unlike most fantasy/sci-fi these days, it was not predictable. I did feel as though lots of things were fobbed off, however.

SPOILER ALERT.

What bothered me about the book was the lack of actual answers. Rossi didn’t expand on anything she said, for example she described the Aether (brilliant invention, by the way), but she never went into full depth about what exactly the aether was and how it came about, and whether or not it was always there. The concept that it might have been a phenomenon brought about by the latest changes in human living standards seems to be very plausible given that the aether intensifies when it comes near to things made by the Dwellers, such as the suit Aria wore when she was dumped in the Death Shop. Another example is the history of how these ‘Dwellings’ in ‘Pods’ came about. There is frequent talk of a ‘unity’ but nothing else, and it is all very confusing. However there are two other sequels to this story so perhaps this is something Rossi plans on explaining further. At least, this is what I am hoping!

I did like how the lack of answers did not make the book particularly hard to read. I feel as though this was because the plot was closely related to the personal struggles of the characters, and this relates into my previous point. Given that the story is told from the perspectives of two very different people, it would stand to reason that they wouldn’t go into depth about the whole history of their world. It makes sense that they wouldn’t understand much about what had happened to years before to separate their worlds. They were two outcasts, from entirely different lives, cast together and it made sense that their alliance would give them more difficult, first hand problems to deal with, such as their immediate survival, and their adaptations to each other’s very different personalities and ways of thought. I think Rossi did a great job analysing these differences.

Her characters were delightfully well-rounded, which is something that can only be said about a very small number of sci-fi/fantasy novels out there. Most of them focus too deeply on world/plot building and leave out the important characterisation that is vital for bringing about a compelling novel.

SPOILER ALERT.

Despite this, however, I did feel as though there was something severely lacking in the story, to make it less than the wonder it could have been. After pondering on this a while, it came to me. Lots of things were just so unrealistic! For example when the wolves attacked, there just miraculously happened to be a tree house in front of Aria and Perry, which just miraculously happened to be empty, and just magically happened to appear just as Aria’s magically heightened sense of hearing heard the pattering of wolf paws behind them. And they just miraculously managed to get up in time, and then, to make it all seem like a ruse for setting, they just decided to have sex up in a tree despite just having been chased down by a pack of salivating, howling, snapping wolves who were supposed to be waiting at the foot of the tree, but who somehow decided to slink away because Aria howled at them.

The whole situation fell a little thin. It was too good to be true. Lots of these narrow-escapes-from-death littered the novel, making it seem just a little bit like the author lent her hand in far too much. Like how the boy comes and saves them from the cannibals at the last instant. It’s predictable, and banishes all sense of plausibility. This is what prevented me from enjoying the novel as much as I could have.

I did warn y’all about the spoilers.

After reading lots of reviews, I noticed a pattern in people’s reactions to the romance in this book, in that it wasn’t instant and unrealistic, as is so much of the romance in so many dystopian novels. People found this realistic and relatable.

SPOILER ALERT.

The romance between Perry and Aria blossoms naturally. There are the initial feelings of mistrust, anger and fear towards each other, as is natural given that they both come from such different worlds, and are almost completely alien to each other. However I personally that it was slightly overdone, and rather unnecessary. Lots of people commented on how much they enjoyed the fact that the romance did not interfere with the plotline much, and I found that this was true. It was refreshing to be able to focus on an interesting plot without the frequent romantic episodes that scatter most dystopian novels.

There is so much more I want to know about this never sky, and the history of the people in the land, and what happens to them all, so despite the criticism, I will say that I did enjoy reading this book, and cannot wait to read Through the Ever Night.