Category Archives: Books

Guest Post: Ngaio Simpson on ‘Among Others’

Hmn, looks like I’m not such a lone wolf any more.  Here is a guest post from my friend, the very talented Ngaio Simpson, lacemaker, artiste and fantasy fan.  I’m currently working on a piece on texture in writing which I hope to have finished… sometime in the near future for her blog.  But without further ado, take it away, Ngaio:

Among Others Among Others cover

Walton, Jo
2010
ISBN: 9780765321534

The story is a bit magical realism, a little fantasy and a bit of teenage angst.  But not in the twilight way.  More of a higher intelligence angst. Now, I know what you are thinking, “That makes no sense…”, but I think if you read the book you might understand. One of the most delightful things about this book has to be all of the book talk. If you like SF and fantasy and you’re looking for a new book for after this one, you could easily get one through reading this book.  I think I’ll be Googling the book list from this book straight after writing this.

The main character is Mor, her father, mother and various other family members and school “friends”… Yeah I wasn’t that sure you could really call them friends. Mor has an unknown past muddled in with her crazy mother and twin sister and her injured leg. Some of these facts become clearer as the story goes on and some stay a little grey which I think is okay. We follow Mor as she attends a new school and tries to fit in and find some people who are interested in the same things she is. You will have to read it to find out how that pans out. Oh, and there are fairies and magical beings around so look out for them, they give the story it’s difference. I really wanted to believe that she was completely in her own mind but I have to say sometimes I wasn’t 100% sure if everything that was happening wasn’t just happening in her head. Read the rest of this entry

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You’re scaring yourself, child.

Needful ThingsNeedful Things cover image

King, Stephen

Hodder and Stoughton, 1991

ISBN: 0 450 57458 X

Hey cublings – after quite the hiatus, I’m back to the blogging, and badderer than ever.  Suffice to say, I thought I’d start gentle and then work my way up (or down, as the case may be) to the other stuff that I’ve been reading over the past… oooh.  That long, huh?

Needful Things is a weird one.  It’s part of Steven King’s Castle Rock oevre, that famously infamous township in Maine which is an amalgam of Rockwellian imagery, Orwellian politicing, and Lovecraftian beasties lurking just below the surface.  In true King style, most of the beasties are lurking in human form, but Needful Things has a few notable exceptions to  this rule.

Being part of the Castle Rock group there are certain recurrances that pop up – actually that’s not even just true of the Castle Rock novels, but of King’s work in general.  I’d like to think that I’ve read enough of his stuff by now (a fact that this blog will attest to) to see the seams on the monster suit.  Alan Pangbourne is referenced in other places, and also references in his turn, events in Cujo and in The Dark Half as well.  Alan Pangborne is such a godamn likeable character, its always one of those moments which makes the teeny writer inside of me shrivel up and die a little bit inside, just marvelling at the creation.  But I digress – it’s not just Alan who is showing up like a bad penny; Leland Gaunt has more than a passing resemblance to that bad-guy-to-beat-all-bad-guys Randall Flagg from The Stand and Eyes of the Dragon, and ol’ Buster Keaton also resembles “Big” Jim Rennie from Under the Dome.  Those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head, as well – there have got to be more out there.

Brian Rusk is the first character who sets foot in the new store in town, Needful Things (“Funny name for a store” one of the characters remarks – suspicious name for a store, says I); he’s a young lad with a slight speech impediment, a little-kid crush on his speech therapy teacher, and an avid collector of baseball cards.  Baseball is one of those things that keeps cropping up in King’s work, much like the little towns in Maine.  He’s written a whole book on baseball – I haven’t read it, given that I have little understanding and less interest in the sport, but I hear it’s pretty good.

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Booksluts Reading Challenge #3.2: Cancer Ward

Cancer Ward

Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr

Bodley Head, London

ISBN: 0370006569

 

Jeez Louise, there’s impenetrable Russian literature, and then there’s this book.

What was I thinking?  My brain is fried enough as it is these days without trying to wade through this kind of thing.  It seems to be the problem that I constantly have with literary fiction, right?  That I just can’t seem to do it, to enjoy it, to not wallow in the fact that what I’m reading is supposed to be hard, to feel martyred (and secretly pleased with myself) because of this wodgey fortress of a book.  To give you an idea, the edition that I got out of the library was the first time that Cancer Ward had been published as a single volume.  A single volume, that’s right cublings – it used to be two books!  It weighs nearly two kilograms! Okay, so I made that up, but it gave me wrist cramp just getting through the first chapter, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.

This was meant to count towards the Full-Frontal Challenge, because Solzhenitsyn was a Nobel laureate, but damnit, I didn’t read enough of it to even fake having read it.  I did learn some interesting stuff about Solhenitsyn (though, not how to say his name quickly) in the course of researching my next read for the Booksluts Award-Winning Challenge.   But really, I’d just be padding out the post, and it’s nothing that you couldn’t find out for yourselves on Wikipedia.  And I love you cublings too much to fry your brains, so I’ll just content myself to steering dinner party conversations onto gulag’d Russian authors of the 2oth Century to show off my retention skills.

I might start off a bit slower next time and read The Gulag Archipelago instead.

Danger is Out There, Not in Here.

Defiance: The Bielski Partisans

Tec, Nechama  (directed by Edward Zwick)

1993, Oxford University Press  (2008, Paramount Vantage)

ISBN 0 195075951

History is a bitch.  So is memory.  And when you get down to it, memory often has to serve as our personal history, and the way that we relate that personal history to others (if we ever do) can reflect in interesting ways on the actions we took during the course of our life.  Tuvia Bielski and his brothers led an otriad comprised of Jews who had escaped the cities of occupied Belorussia during World War II, and managed to keep so many of them safe while also contributing to the undermining of the German forces.  This wasn’t such a weird thing – there are other examples of Jewish otriads and resistances during the Second World War, but the main difference in the Bielski otriad was that Tuvia’s stated aim was to keep people safe, no matter if they could fight or not.

I had read this book before, but not before I’d seen the movie of the same name.  The movie is pretty damn fancy, Daniel Craig plays Tuvia Bielski, which is pretty cool.  The recollections of Tuvia that the survivors of the Bielski otriad made this a pretty good casting choice, at least in my opinion (not in the looks department though – Daniel Craig is, as ever, sans moustache).  There are a few instances in the book where the survivors recollect how inspiring Tuvia was, which seemed to give Daniel Craig a lot of opportunity to do some manly horse riding and gun shooting and frowning.  Plus he seemed to be pretty good with the ladies too – slightly heartless sometimes, but you know, treat ’em mean, keep ’em keen, I guess.  Tuvia was the undisputed leader of the group, but the movie makes quite a bit of the relationships between him and his brothers, Asael (played by Jaime Bell) and Zus (played by Lieb Schrieber – I must have watched too many X-Men movies though, because in my head he’s always going to be Sabretooth).  Particularly the relationship with Zus, who was a bit of a hot-head, and eventually left the group to join up with a different Russian partisan group.

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Campfire Chat #3: Madness

I’m going on a bit of a hiatus for November – like a damn fool-slash-epic genius, I’ve signed up for National Novel Writing Month.  The plan is to finally write this  novel that I’ve had stewing around in the old brain pan for about a year.  It could have been a sign of uncanny foolishness, but I think that a bit of applied pressure is just what I need to at least have a good go at it.

So, have a lovely November without me.  I’ll be slaving away over a hot goulash of raw idea while the Southern Hemisphere begins it’s shimmy into summertime, and any Northerners out there begin having dreams of snowshoes and mittens.  But I’ll be back in December, with more random choices from the bookshelf and other junk as I see fit.  I’ve just started reading Carlito’s Way by Edwin Torres in preparation for December, which is a teeny tiny little book, but should make for interesting reading, since I know that movie like the back of my hand.

Wish me luck then.  I’m off.  But I’ll see you again in December, slightly more deranged than usual.  Hopefully it will be deranged with success rather than utter disillusionment, but you know, better to have tried and failed… blah blah blah.  Ahh.  Novel writing.  Somehow I think I’ll fit right in.

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A Parrot among Crows

Let the Right One In

Lindquist, John Ajvide

Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, 2007

ISBN: 978 0 312 35529 6

Pre-movie

You may know this movie as ‘Let Me In’, but it’s the Swedish version (the original version, I should add), which has been sitting in the pile of ‘to be watched’ DVD’s for a good long time.  We’re terrible at that kind of thing, the Lad and I – we have probably about seven movies sitting in the pile next to the TV at the moment.  I prefer to look at it as ‘seasoning’ them, but I don’t know what I’m seasoning them for exactly… still, to get back on topic, I didn’t even know this was a book until I found it by accident while looking through horror stuff at the Book Depository.  Since I knew it was a movie already I tried desperately not to get the edition with the movie poster as it’s cover (God, I hate that.  I mean, it was a book before it was a movie, right?  So why would you need a whole new cover for it? Are people that lazy that they don’t recognise a movie is taken from a book unless it has a dirty great movie poster on it?  Okay… climbing down off my hobby horse now.  I promise.), but I failed and settled for the movie poster version.

So, I don’t know, I may have jinxed myself out of liking this movie by being determined to read the book first.  I guess I just didn’t want to be seeing the actors from the movie in my head – particularly Håken post-acid-face.  There were a couple of really beautiful scenes in this book, so I could see why whoever it was wanted to make a movie about it; particularly the scene with Oskar and the school group on the ice when the body is discovered, and the scene in the church with Tommy and the saltpetre in the baptismal font.  But tone is always the thing, don’t you think?  I mean, when you’re reading a book, the thing that either leaves me cold or makes me keep reading is the tone, the feeling around the edges of the events.  Ugh, you know, that’s a phrase that I use a lot, ‘feeling around the edges’, but it’s the only real way that I can think of to describe that sort of thing.  It’s like an emotion that’s not directly described, it’s just there, and in Let the Right One In, it’s a feeling of desolation, of loneliness and the desire for a connection, almost at whatever cost.

Okay, okay, so it’s also a vampire book.  What is it with ladies and the fanged ones, eh?  I have to say that I am no exception to the craze of vampires, though I like to think that I was kind of riding the wave before they became cool.  Hopeless justification, but hey.  And just to get this out in the open, yes, I have read Twilight, and I seem to be powerless to resist Sookie and the Bon Temps gang, but mostly that’s just romance dressed up in horror drag – sort of like those cute zombie cheerleader outfits you see around now we’re approaching Hallowe’en.  This is not that.  Not at all.

I don’t feel like I can comment too much on the writing style of this book because of the translation issue. Just so you know,  this version was translated by Ebba Segerberg in 2007. I mean, how can you say that something is well written when all you have to go on is the translated version?  It’s enough to me that the story was compelling, and thought provoking, which isn’t something you can say about a lot of books that come under the Fanged Canon.  It’s a pretty intricate plot, with a lot of seemingly unconnected characters who are swirled up in several violent events.  So I’m slightly concerned about how that plot is going to suffer being told in only115 minutes.  We’ll see though.

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The Target of the Well-read Man

Fahrenheit 451Fahrenheit 451 cover

Bradbury, Ray

Del Ray, 1992

ISBN: 978 0345342 966

Ray Bradbury’s brain scares me.  I mean that in a nice way of course, but it took me a really long time to get back into his writing after I read Something Wicked This Way Comes when I was about thirteen or so.  I totally thought that I’d outgrown the whole nightmare thing – “Ha!” Thirteen-Year-Old Me said, “nightmares are for babies!” – but it would seem that I am not immune to the powerful power of the Dust Witch.  Even typing those words gives me the goosebumps.

However, about a year or maybe a little longer than that ago, I read that Ray Bradbury was “riding out”, as the Guardian put it, in defence of libraries (you can also read a piece that the New York Times came out with around the same period).  “Well,” Present-day Me said to herself, “that’s very nice of him, but it’s no more than I would expect of any author… I mean, der, libraries buy books.”  Whoa, was that presumptuous.  I had not just underestimated the sheer volume of love that Ray Bradbury has for libraries, but attributed a kind of cruel and mercenary reason for that love.  Why all this blithering about libraries, you ask?  Hey, it turns out that I’m a librarian.  Who would have thunk it?  This post is so not about libraries though – I’m currently studying towards my masters, so I’m thinking, breathing, eating and sleeping libraries, and I really don’t want it to infect this blog as well.  It’s the last library-free bastion of one-sided conversation for me. Read the rest of this entry

Ceux qui ne peuvent pas, enseignent

The Professor

Charlotte Bronte

ISBN:978 1 85326 208 1

Whoa, but there is a lot of French in this book.  Thank goodness for me this edition has translations in the back, because otherwise I’d run the risk of going my whole life thinking that the main character in this book was stirring his morning coffee with a small gun, rather than a bread roll. Pistolet was the word that tripped me up… I mean, I knew it was unlikely, given the setting, but he had just discovered that his lady-love was dating his boss.  It really could have changed the whole flow of the story. Oh, and in case you didn’t realise from that little rant, I don’t speak French past the completely stupid phrase “Ou est la piscine?”, which is going to serve me exactly no good at all if I ever go to France, since I don’t swim.  God only knows why I remember it at all.

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Little tales, told at night

Books of Blood, volumes 1 – 3

Barker, Clive

ISBN:0 75151022 X

Did you ever look through a kaleidoscope as a kid?  Do you remember twisting the end to make the little bright jewels and beads inside fall into different patterns?  Remember how some of the patterns where better than others, even though they were all beautiful – some of the patterns inside were just a little on the dull side, and although they were all pretty, some just didn’t have that certain something.

Books of Blood is a little bit like that.  Some of the stories enclosed in the three-volume set (the Books were originally published as individuals, and then combined at a later stage, which is apparently how Clive Barker had intended to publish them all along) are amazing – descriptive, interesting subject matter, good character development.  I wouldn’t say that they were strictly scary – some of them are certainly creepy, but I can read them before bed without any ill effects.  However, some of them are rote, or done better by other writers (The Yattering and Jack being a case in point – that whole concept was much better done by C.S Lewis in The Screwtape Letters).

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Campfire Chat #2: And… Sleeep.

Big thank you’s to Hayley Merrick for the factoid that Mr. Stephen King is set to release a sequel to The Shining.  You can hear Stephen read a chapter from the book, which is titled Doctor Sleep, in the video below.  It sounds pretty interesting – this is the first time that he’s revisited a book so long after it was originally published, and I’m glad that he’s getting back to Danny Torrence’s story.  Poor kid.

Anyway, that’s enough distraction – watch the vid, he’s a great reader, you don’t even need to watch, just listen.  It’s glorious.  I should really get back to my assignment (procrastination, thy name is Blog).