Monthly Archives: July 2013

A Monday Morning Dilemma

Update!
After some unanimous advice from you, my lovely readers, I decided to go back and get the next book in the series and see how it goes. So far it’s going great (I’ve ditched the one I started this morning) so it’s quite likely I’ll be back there again tomorrow! I did have a panic though as they weren’t in the fiction section where I found the first one last week but luckily they’d only been moved as far as the detective section 🙂

Books on the Tube

Yesterday I finished reading a very good book: Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch. It was the first in a series which I was unsure whether I’d enjoy. but it turns out I did enjoy it, it’s a supernatural detective series which is funny, a bit different and features some great characters. As well as being set in London so I know lots of the locations. My dilemma now is: do I buy the rest of the series knowing that there’s a chance that I will get impatient with them if they turn out too samey?

The reason that this is such an immediate issue is that I know all three of the remaining books are available cheaply from a secondhand shop I could go to after work so I could get them all now or wait and possibly end up paying more.

To complicate matters I started a new…

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A Monday Morning Dilemma

Yesterday I finished reading a very good book: Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch. It was the first in a series which I was unsure whether I’d enjoy. but it turns out I did enjoy it, it’s a supernatural detective series which is funny, a bit different and features some great characters. As well as being set in London so I know lots of the locations. My dilemma now is: do I buy the rest of the series knowing that there’s a chance that I will get impatient with them if they turn out too samey?

The reason that this is such an immediate issue is that I know all three of the remaining books are available cheaply from a secondhand shop I could go to after work so I could get them all now or wait and possibly end up paying more.

To complicate matters I started a new book this morning which I thought I’d like but so far I am not getting on with at all.

What to do, what to do?!

Whatever You Love, Louise Doughty

Whatever You LoveAfter the death of her daughter, Laura begins to fall apart and within her cycle of despair are the beginnings of a plan to wreak revenge on the man who killed Betty and who has been convicted of nothing more than failing to stop at the scene of an accident.

It sounds like a great premise, a mother torn apart by grief and a desire for revenge but unfortunately Louise Doughty’s book, Whatever You Love failed to deliver. It was a slow burner that spent most of the time detailing Laura’s past, her meeting and subsequent life with David, Betty’s father, Betty’s early life and the bitter circumstances of Laura and David’s divorce. Much is also made of the all-consuming depression Laura sinks into after Betty’s death and this is where Doughty excels. The pain Laura feels at the loss of her daughter taints every aspect of the book and is brilliantly written.

However all of this leaves little room for the revenge which is supposedly the meat of the story and as a result I was left feeling somewhat short-changed. And the other problem is that I just don’t buy it.

For the first two thirds of the book I totally believed in Laura, I didn’t like her relationship with David, there were too many warning signs for me to condone their relationship (I mean he proposed after dangling her over a cliff edge and making her fear for her life – not my kind of guy), but she recognised them as well: recognised them, ignored them and wondered at her own reasons for doing so. I didn’t like it but I believed it.

It was when the idea of revenge occurred and everything happened all at once that it just felt…forced. It was like Doughty had set out to write a book about a mother’s grief but had realised at the last minute that wouldn’t sell so forced in the revenge story as an after-thought. It didn’t even really make sense.

For a start I didn’t see the potential in Laura to form that kind of plan, perhaps she could have been the kind of person who finally snapped under the weight of everything she’d had to deal with but that wasn’t the way she came across. And the revenge she planned didn’t really seem like something she would do and the subsequent story was impossible to fathom.

The whole thing didn’t really fit together as one story and by the end I was left scratching my head and wondering what exactly HAD happened. Of course the old misdirection is an old technique in crime fiction but this was just a little too bizarre for my tastes.

Was, Geoff Ryman

WasI don’t know if I have enough words to describe just how much I enjoyed this book (ironic, no?).

It was wonderful; a rollercoaster of emotion, a triumph of visualisation, a fantastical tale with hints of reality peeking round the edges.

The story is very loosely based on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz so to fully appreciate it you probably need to have some knowledge of that story. I’ve seen the film a few times so there’s very likely to have been some references I’ve missed out on but I still loved it (have you got that message yet?).

There are three strands to the book:

1. Dorothy, a young girl orphaned and sent to live with her aunt and uncle in the 1880s. Her story tracks her through her life growing up in rural Kansas and tells how she came to be the inspiration for L. Frank Baum’s novel. Note: this is a fictional Dorothy but an entirely plausible tale.

2. Jonathan, an actor dying from AIDS and intent on discovering Dorothy’s story and seeing the world she lived in.

3. A minor strand tells the story of the young Judy Garland (Frances Gumm as she was then) and the filming of the Wizard of Oz.The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (film)

Originally I didn’t expect to be interested in the Judy Garland story, I’ve never been one for biographies and I have very little interest in her anyway. However although it was my least favourite strand I did still enjoy it and the small part played by young Frances definitely held my attention.

But the real battle for my affection was between Dorothy and Jonathan. Despite opening the book, Jonathan doesn’t get much of a look in for the first half but when he is brought back he certainly makes up for it! In the latter part he and Bill (his therapist and a minor character but someone I fell for quite hard) go hunting through Kansas looking for traces of Dorothy which is exactly the sort of research I find fascinating. I love looking at old records and getting a sniff of the people behind the names. Real people who lived, loved and laughed just like we do. This is a big part of why I loved this book.

So I loved Jonathan but Dorothy, oh Dorothy! How I felt for you! I rooted for you from the first moment you were flung off that train in Manhattan (Kansas) and left to fend for yourself. I was with you on every step of your journey through life, at school, at Mr Sue’s and on your late night excursions, I was so willing someone to help you change your life. And yours was the story that drove me to skip ahead through several chapters to read the next part of your tale rather than be distracted by Jonathan or Judy. Oh Dorothy.

I truly didn’t expect to love this book. I picked it up because it was written by Geoff Ryman whose book 253 was a masterpiece and perfect for nosy commuters like me (see this post to find out why). So I expected it to be well written and maybe a bit different but I wasn’t thrilled by the ‘story behind the Wizard of Oz’ premise because I’m not a huge fan of the film. But I ended up loving not only the stories in Was but also the references to the other book/film, all the references to rainbows and witches and the need for brains, heart and courage.

I even loved Ryman’s afternote detailing his sources and what was and wasn’t based on fact because it gave the book the notes of realism I craved, it also stopped me getting carried away and believing everything he’d written.

When I turned the last page I sat and hugged the book and it was only very reluctantly that I was able to put it away and start something new this morning.

National Organ Transplant Week

This week is National Organ Transplant Week in the UK and so this post is to extol the value of being an organ donor. This is a book blog first and foremost but once in a while something comes along that I feel too passionately about to not mention. This is one of those things.

I am lucky enough to never have had any serious medical problems and happily no one in my family has ever had to endure the horror of waiting for an organ and I hope we never will. Nonetheless I have always had strong feelings about the importance of organ donation.

The human body is an amazing thing which has evolved against all the odds to make us all intelligent, loving sentient beings who can think, laugh, cry and blow our noses but it can’t be perfect. Sometimes things go wrong. Sometimes because of something we did to our bodies, sometimes because of a mutation that was passed on to us by a parent. Sometimes because of dumb bad luck. And sometimes we’re lucky enough to know how to put that thing right.

Organ transplantation is no mean feat. From the earliest experiments it’s been fraught with difficulty. How do you know which organ is which? How do you keep the dead person’s organ alive for transplant? How do you fit a new organ in and wire it up correctly? And how do you stop the recipient’s body hunting down and destroying the new organ?

But remarkably we now have the answers to all those question and organ transplantation is now a daily reality allowing thousands of people across the world to live longer, healthier, happier lives. And ain’t that a wondrous thing?

But it isn’t wondrous for everyone. In the UK last year 3,960 transplants were carried out saving countless lives. But there are still more than 10,000 people waiting for organs and an estimated 1,000 of them will die each year because there simply aren’t enough to go round.

Many times when someone dies they will be unable to donate their organs because of illness, because they died outside of hospital and their organs couldn’t be harvested in time but most often because they aren’t on the organ donor list. In fact only 31% of the population are on the NHSBT organ donor list. But how many of the other 69% would take an organ if they needed it? I’d bet most of them would.

So why do people refuse to donate their organs? Is it because of fear? Fear of what will happen to their organ? How can anyone be afraid to save a life? After you die your organs will rot away into nothing and how anyone can prefer that to allowing a part of them to live on and give the amazing gift of life to another person I will never understand.

I am on the list; it says so on my driving licence and my family are all aware of my wishes so when the time does come I hope to go on to save many lives rather than taking all of my tissues to the grave with me. I fully support the notion of an opt-out system where organs will be harvested unless otherwise stated like the one which has recently been brought in in Wales (but not the rest of the UK). but until that day comes I will continue using every argument I can think of to talk as many people as possible into signing up to the organ donor register. So if you’re not signed up yet, do it. Do it now.

Those in the UK click here: http://www.organdonation.nhs.uk/ those elsewhere try here: http://worldwidedonorlinks.blogspot.co.uk/ and if you don’t find your country then Google it.

It will take 10 minutes of your time and you could transform many lives by donating your:

  • heart
  • lungs
  • liver
  • kidney
  • pancreas
  • small bowel
  • corneas
  • skin
  • tendons
  • bone
  • cartilage
  • heart valves

Not to mention that we can all donate blood as healthy living people. I hope you’re all doing that too.

Thank you for reading and I hope I’ve managed to put forward a persuasive argument but if you need any more convincing then read some of the stories here told by families of donors and by recipients and if they can’t change your mind then no one will: http://www.organdonation.nhs.uk/newsroom/life_stories/index.asp

92. The Clan of the Cave Bear, Jean M. Auel

I’ve just reread this book for the first time and good news! I still love it.

Cave Bear is set way, way back 18,000 years ago just before the last Ice Age and it tells the story of Ayla, a young Cro-Magnon woman who is taken in by a group of Neanderthal people after losing her parents in an earthquake.The book chronicles her fight for acceptance growing up in the Clan where all her natural instincts mark her out as being one of ‘the Others’.

I remembered the book being quite slow to get going the last time I read it so for the first couple of chapters I had to bite my tongue to stop myself from worrying that I wasn’t going to enjoy it this time round. The problem with Auel’s writing is that while it is undeniably meticulously researched, she tries to tell us everything that she’s learnt. In the first few chapters the Clan are on the move so we’re treated to a seemingly unending description of the terrain they pass through and the flora and fauna about them.

While this is very interesting there’s only so long that descriptions of plants can hold my attention. Especially when there’s some action to get my teeth into. Having said that I absolutely love the parts of the book when we’re told what people cook with and when Ayla begins her training to be a medicine woman and has to start identifying and using therapeutic plants. Those parts are fascinating.

But the meat of the story is all about Ayla’s fight for acceptance by the incredibly traditional Clan and her inner battle to control her ‘unacceptable’ traits. Taking Ayla in splits the Clan into two parties – those who see her as another human and those who see her as too different and although she falls under the protection of the highest ranked family in the Clan there are some people who never fail to make life difficult for her. It’s this fight which makes for the most interesting action in the story and it would be a hard heart indeed which wasn’t rooting for Ayla to overcome the prejudice she spends her life fighting.

And I can’t write a review of Cave Bear without giving a shout-out to my two favourite characters of the whole series – Creb and Iza. These two siblings take Ayla in despite knowing all the harm they could be doing to the stability of the Clan and knowing all the trouble it could cause and they raise her as their own child. They are both warm, loving and genuinely wonderful people. Plus Creb is super-cool and magic. I find the ‘magic’ quite hard to buy – the idea that Neanderthals were all born with innate racial memories and that’s why their heads were so big sounds like nonsense to me but it was the one point that really jarred in the whole novel so I let it go.

As I mentioned this is the first book in a series, Earth’s Children, of 5 (there’s actually 6 but the last one was so chronically bad that it doesn’t count) and it is by far the best. I think you could read it as a stand-alone novel and be quite happy. Books 2-5 see Ayla back among ‘the Others’ and the Clan only feature as very minor characters now and then which I think is a shame as they’re some of the best characters Auel has created.

So in conclusion, I love this book, I love the whole concept of the series and how well researched it is and if you read only one book in this series, make sure it’s this one!

Emotion on the tube

I’m not posting much at the moment which is mostly due to real life getting a bit too real and demanding all of my time and attention. But I want to promise you that I am still reading!

Currently I’m reading a book called Was by Geoff Ryman (there was a very funny conversation where I tried to explain to my housemate that Was IS the name of the book and I wasn’t just really forgetful “My book is, Was….”!). Anyway the book is very good and is a sort of spin on The Wizard of Oz and while I was reading it today on my way to and from work (yes on a Saturday, what did I say about real life getting demanding?) it got super emotional. As in something majorly bad happened to one of the main characters and I was spellbound (pun intended).

Was  is one of those books that has several different stories woven together and tonight is the only time that I can remember indulging myself and skipping ahead to read the rest of one character’s story instead of waiting to get round to it. Part of me feels guilty but I just couldn’t wait to find out what happened.

Anyway the point of this somewhat-rambley post is that this Majorly Bad Thing got me so involved that I was getting quite emotional over it. I’ve mentioned before that I find it hard to mask my emotions when I’m reading something particularly good and anyone who’s ever watched a film with me will be able to tell you that I’m kind of obvious when I find something especially upsetting. So there I was reading my book with my distress written all over my face when I noticed the guy sat next to me.

I’m not often distracted when something has me so pinned to the page but this guy was also reading a book and out the corner of my eye I saw him make a fist and softly bang it against his knee.

If you’ve ever been to London then you’ll know that the proper way to act when on the tube is to pretend that no one else exists so I didn’t feel I could look at what he was reading but it was more reassuring than I can say to see someone else display visible emotion at the written word! Since I’d been distracted I then looked up at the man across from me and saw that he too was glued to the page with a look of distress on his face (although he was reading the non-fiction book, Guns. Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond so whether his distress was emotional or theoretical I couldn’t say).

As I say it’s the first time I’ve seen emotion from other readers on the Underground and it made me feel much better about my obviousness. Would it be too much of a terrible pun if I described myself as an open book in this scenario?! But it made me wonder, maybe my thoughts aren’t as obvious as I thought? And maybe I’m not the only one who’s so transparent after all? Which are comforting thoughts, I always wondered if maybe other Underground-readers don’t get as much out of their books as I do which would be a sad thing indeed.