Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Man Booker Prize 2015 Longlist Announced

Today the Man Booker Prize announced their longlist of thirteen titles for the £50,000 prize up for grabs this year. These thirteen titles were selected by five judges, chaired by Michael Wood, from 156 books.

Until 2014, the Man Booker Prize was only open to original English-language fiction from a Commonwealth citizen, but in 2014 it opened up to all original English-language fiction no matter the origin of the author.
The number of titles each imprint at a publishing house is entitled to submit is determined by the number of their books that have featured on the longlist in the previous five years. Publishers with 5 or more longlisted titles can submit 4 titles, those with 3 or 4 can submit 3; 1 or 2 longlisted titles allows 2 entries. Those without longlisted titles may only submit one. Self-published works are not eligible. 
In addition to these, any previous winner or any author shortlisted in the previous five years gains automatic entry. Judges may also call in eight to twelve further books that they feel should be considered. Each judge reads every entry, usually around 140 books. (Foyles)
Below are the books longlisted for this year:

A Brief History of Seven KillingsDid You Ever Have a Family - Bill Clegg, Jonathan Cape (US)
The stunning debut novel from bestselling author Bill Clegg is a magnificently powerful story about a circle of people who find solace in the least likely of places as they cope with a horrific tragedy.
The Green Road - Anne Enright, Jonathan Cape (Ireland)
Spanning thirty years and three continents, The Green Road tells the story of Rosaleen, matriarch of the Madigan family, and her four children.
A Brief History of Seven Killings - Marlon James, Oneworld Publications (Jamaica)
From the acclaimed author of The Book of Night Women comes a masterfuly written novel that explores the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in the late 1970s.
The Moor's Account - Laila Lalami, Periscope/Garnet Publishing (US)
In this stunning work of historical fiction, Laila Lalami brings us the imagined memoirs of the first black explorer of America - a Moroccan slave whose testimony was left out of the official record.
The FishermenSatin Island - Tom McCarthy, Jonathan Cape (UK)
From the author of Remainder and C, a novel that promises to give us the first and last word on the world -- modern, postmodern, whatever world you think you are living in.
The Fishermen - Chigozie Obioma, ONE/ Pushkin Press (Nigeria)
In a Nigerian town in the mid 1990's, four brothers enounter a madman whose mystic prophecy of violence threatens the core of their close-knit family.
The Illuminations - Andrew O'Hagan, Faber & Faber (UK)
How much do we keep from the people we love? Why is the truth so often buried in secrets? Can we learn from the past or must we forget it? The Illuminations, Andrew O'Hagan's fifth work of fiction, is a powerful, nuances and deeply affecting novel about love and memory, about modern war and the complications of fact.
Sleeping on JupiterLila - Marilynne Robinson, Virago (US)
Marilynne Robinson, one of the greatest novelists of our time, returns to the town of Gilead in an unforgettable story of a girlhood lived on the fringes of society in fear, awe, and wonder.
Sleeping on Jupiter - Anuradha Roy, MacLehose Press/ Quercus (India)
This is a stark and unflinching novel by a spellbinding storyteller, about religion, love, and violence in the modern world.
The Year of the Runaways - Sunjeev Sahota/ Picador (UK)
The Year of the Runaways tells of the bold dreams and daily struggles of an unlikely family thrown together by circumstance.
A Spool of Blue ThreadThe Chimes - Anna Smaill, Sceptre (New Zealand)
The Chimes is set in a reimagined London, in a world where people cannot form new memories, and the written word has been forbidden and destroyed.
A Spool of Blue Thread - Anne Tyler, Chatto & Windus (US)
Brimming with the luminous insight, humor, and compassion that are Anne Tyler's hallmarks, this capacious novel takes us across three generations of the Whitshanks, their shared stories and long-held secrets, all the unguarded and richly lived moments that combine to define who and what they are as a family.
A Little Life - Hanya Yanagihara, Picador (US)
Brace yourself for the most astonishing, challenging, upsetting, and profoundly moving book in many a season. An epic about love and friendship in the twenty-first century that goes into some of the darkest places fiction has ever traveled and yet somehow improbably breaks through into the light.
Those are the books longlisted for this year! Although they're still pretty much from Commonwealth countries, I really like the selection. There seems to be an even mix between male and female authors as well. I myself have a review copy of Sleeping on Jupiter which I'm really enjoying so I may be rooting for that one.

Are you or have you read one of these books, all released this year? Do you have a favourite?

Friday, 24 July 2015

Friday Memes and Bushnell's 'Killing Monica'

Alison Can Read Feature & FollowIt's Friday and it is my last ever Friday in Nottingham, which is slightly sad! The three years I spent here doing a Bachelor, working, meeting people etc. are over and, although I'm excited to start a new part of my life in St. Andrews, it's bittersweet to go. But let's leave my emotions behind for a second and focus on the memes!

Follow Friday is hosted by Alison Can Read and Parajunkee. This week's question was suggested by A Kernel of Nonsense:

What is your favourite movie?


Good question! I really love watching films, almost as much as I love reading books. I am incredibly picky when it comes to films as well though. When you ask me what my favourite one is I will always start thinking because, for me, there are a few films which are simply outside of choice. I will always, I repeat, always, choose Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter saga over anything else. That doesn't mean I don't like other films, I will just always love them the most. But below is a list of films I absolutely love which everyone should watch:
  • Pan's Labyrinth - Guillermo del Toro
  • Das Leben der Anderen - Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (great name, no?)
  • The Bridge to Terabithia - Gabor Csupo
  • Beauty & the Beast - Gary Trousdale
  • Spirited Away - Hayao Miyazaki
  • Pacific Rim - Guillermo del Toro (see a pattern here?)
  • Imitation of Life - Douglas Sirk
I'm going to leave it at that because I have a feeling this list could go on for a very long time!

Book Beginnings and Friday 56 are hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader and Freda at Freda's Voice respectively. This week I'm using Killing Monica by Candace Bushnell. I haven't read anything else by her so I'm excited to see how this one will work out for me! I definitely know I love the cover though, just look at it!

Pub. Date: 23/06/2015
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
In KILLING MONICA Bushnell spoofs and skewers her way through pop culture, celebrity worship, fame, and even the meaning of life itself, when a famous writer must resort to faking her own death in order to get her life back from her most infamous creation--Monica. With her trademark wit and style, KILLING MONICA is Bushnell's sharpest, funniest book to date.
The quotes below are from the ARC copy so may appear different, or at different places, in the final version.


BB:
'IT WAS SUMMER, and Monica was everywhere again.
She was there, in the supermarket, on the rack of tabloids between displays of candy and sugarless gum at the checkout counter. And there, on the side of the bus kiosk. And there, on the cover of the fashion magazines in the salon. She was all over the morning shows, recommending what to wear, store, or toss from your summer wardrobe. She was with you in the backseat of the taxi, on the screen in front of your knees, telling you where to go, what to see, and what to buy. Selling, always selling. But mostly, what she was selling was happiness.' p.1
I really like the beginning, the way Bushnell drops you straight into the main character's mindset. I do wonder when she created Monica and why?

F56:
'They laughed the whole way through the long, long drive up the coast, stopping for fried clams and Bloody Marys, screaming profanities out the window at other drivers—“Asshat!” “Asswipe!”—and even talking their way out of a speeding ticket.' p.56
This is the kind of road trip I want to have! Hours in a car, an amazing view at the same time, completely letting go and just driving. However, I'm not a bit fan of drinking and driving, so I think the Bloody Mary's would have to wait until we got to a motel or something. But talking my way out of a speeding ticket is definitely something I want to do one day.

So, what are your favourite films? Do you have any set favourites like I do? And have you read a Candance Bushnell book?

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Review: 'Pretty Is' by Maggie Mitchell

There are some amazing books coming from Orion and all of them manage to fascinate me. Pretty Is was the first book I found after deciding it was time for me to start reading more thrillers. The fact that this novel sounded like a psychological thriller was enough to get me involved. And I am very happy to have picked it up. Thanks to Netgalley and Orion Publishing Group for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.

Pub. Date: 02/07/2015
Publisher: Orion Publishing Group
An enthralling portrait of two haunted young women, this dark, cleaver debut explores the very nature of survival. 
Lois and Carly-May are just twelve years old when they're abducted, driven across the country, and imprisoned in a remote, isolated hunting lodge for two months. That summer, under the watchful gaze of their kidnapper, they form a bond which will never be broken . . .
Decades later, both Lois and Carly-May have built new lives and identities for themselves. Lois, a professor of literature, is shaken when an obsessive student reminds her of the man who kidnapped her, a man she saw shoot himself on the porch twenty years before. 
Out in LA, Carly-May is drinking too much and watching her beauty-queen looks fade, clinging to the last remnants of a once-promising career as an actress. When she reads a shockingly familiar screenplay, she warily takes a role she knows is based on events from her own life. 
Increasingly haunted by the devastating experience that shaped both their lives, Lois and Carly-May are drawn together again in a world that both echoes and falsifies their beautiful, terrible story. 
Considering the two main characters' professions, it is no wonder that Pretty Is feels dramatic. Lois is a literature professor and is also  a secret author, whereas Carly-May is an actress. Their lives are constructed, consciously built up around the lie that they are fine, good even. That was the first thing that drew me in about Pretty Is, this sense of de-constructing the humanity of its characters, stripping away their artifice and exposing the bare bones of their being. Pretty Is doesn't go quite that deep although it definitely takes some trips down there. As the novel progresses the reader finds out more and more about Lois and Carly-May, almost against their will. This slow trickle of information is really what keeps the momentum of the novel going since the reader knows that there is more information hidden on the pages to come. Pretty Is is a novel that is largely carried by its characters, which is not a bad thing.

There are a number of different plot lines in this novel, which Mitchell braids together into one narrative which moves on relentlessly. The reader is as much caught up in the happenings of the plot as the two main characters are. Written from the perspective of Lois and Carly-May, it is no surprise that the narration is unreliable. They are narrow-mindedly focused on their own thoughts and assumptions and therefore miss crucial clues which the reader only slowly gathers themselves. It is really fun to read a book which plays with the reader while playing with its characters.At times some of the side-plots become more interesting than where the actual plot is going but Mitchell manages to bring all of them together quite easily. The only downside is that the end is maybe almost too easy. The end comes quite suddenly and maybe feels a bit rushed considering how long Mitchell allows herself to take to get there.

Having to split her narrative between two narrators required Mitchell to give her characters their own distinctive voice. Although there were no big marked differences, there was a distinct feel to both which made separating them quite easy. The characters surrounding the two protagonists are also really interesting. Some of them at times seem a bit like caricatures, but most of them are relatively well-formed. What helps is that Mitchell's writing style is really enjoyable. It is easy and quick, in the best way. If your plot could be potentially confusing, it is important to make sure your writing doesn't throw people off. Mitchell plays with her words and does so in a fun way. She allows Pretty Is move between being a thriller, being a suspense novel and, almost, a coming-of-age novel as the protagonists deal with their change childhood.

I give this book...

3 Universes!

Pretty Is is a really fun read, gripping, thrilling and relatively quick. There are twists, a number of gripping moments and some great character analysis. Mitchell's main characters are interesting and you won't be able to help finishing this novel within days. I'd recommend this to fans of thrillers and suspense novels.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Intros and Teasers - Barker's 'The Incarnations'

The IncarnationsTuesday again and another amazing book! Once again I've managed to pick a read that is China-based but I can't help it that so many great books are being written about its history at the moment. And to be fair, with the kind of mythology and history that all of Asia has to offer I am always surprised that there isn't more literature about them in the West.
Hailed as “China’s Midnight’s Children” (The Independent) this “brilliant, mind-expanding, and wildly original novel” (Chris Cleave) about a Beijing taxi driver whose past incarnations over one thousand years haunt him through searing letters sent by his mysterious soulmate.
Who are you? you must be wondering. I am your soulmate, your old friend, and I have come back to this city of sixteen million in search of you.
So begins the first letter that falls into Wang’s lap as he flips down the visor in his taxi. The letters that follow are filled with the stories of Wang’s previous lives—from escaping a marriage to a spirit bride, to being a slave on the run from Genghis Khan, to living as a fisherman during the Opium Wars, and being a teenager on the Red Guard during the cultural revolution—bound to his mysterious “soulmate,” spanning one thousand years of betrayal and intrigue.
As the letters continue to appear seemingly out of thin air, Wang becomes convinced that someone is watching him—someone who claims to have known him for over one thousand years. And with each letter, Wang feels the watcher growing closer and closer…
Seamlessly weaving Chinese folklore, history, and literary classics, The Incarnations is a taut and gripping novel that sheds light on the cyclical nature of history as it hints that the past is never truly settled.
Tuesday Intros is hosted by Diane over at Bibliophile by the Sea and Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by A Daily Rhythm.

Intro:
'Every night I wake from dreaming. Memory squeezing the trigger of my heart and blood surging through my veins.The dreams go into a journal. Cold swear on my skin, adrenaline in my blood, I illuminate my cement room with the 40 watt bulb hanging overhead and, huddled under blankets, flip open my notebook and spill ink across the feint-ruled page. Capturing the ephemera of dreams, before they fade from memory.' 1%
Any beginning to a book that uses the word 'ephemera' has my interest. I am, somehow, reading a lot of first-person narrative novels although I have often said I dislike it. But I guess my choosing skills are improving since I have enjoyed almost all of them.
TeaserTuesdays2014e

Teaser:
'"Do you think we'd be friends, if we hadn't met in hospital?" Zeng asked, "Why would someone like you, who goes to Beijing University, be friends with someone like me?"' 42%
I looked ahead in the book for this one and couldn't help but read on afterwards and oh God are there exciting things waiting for me! But let's get back to this teaser. I'm a sucker for characters meeting in interesting places because it always hints at interesting background stories and potentially hilarious adventures. I have a feeling this read isn't exactly hilarious though, but I am definitely excited to read more of it!

Does The Incarnations sound like your kind of book? Or have you already read it? Leave a link to your post in the comments below!

Monday, 20 July 2015

Review: 'Precocious' by Joanna Barnard

There are books which remind you how important and crucial blurbs are. The blurb for Precocious was what drew me in and intrigued me because it seemed to question how people remember their own lives, how they reinterpret and arrange memories and how our past affects our future. Thanks to Netgalley and Random House UK for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.

Pub. Date: 02/07/2015
Publisher: Random House UK, Ebury Press
There are some lessons you shouldn’t learn in school… 
Fiona Palmer is (un)happily married when a chance meeting with her former teacher plunges her headlong into an affair. 
Intercut with the realities of their adult relationship, Fiona remembers first meeting the enigmatic Henry Morgan as a precocious and lonely fourteen-year-old. Her schoolgirl crush developed into an intense relationship, but it was always one which she controlled.Or did she? 
A controversial, compelling debut novel from an award-winning writer
Sometimes it is said of books that their plot unravels and this can be meant both in a good and a bad way. Precocious is a novel that unravels, on many different levels. The initial plot is an interesting one, if potentially cliché. Many people will remember having crushes on teachers in high school or having friends who nurtured a crush. But what happens when that develops into a relationship and the tension is never resolved? What makes Precocious more adventurous than what its plot might suggest is the way Barnard has layered her narrative. The reader starts with Fiona and follows her as she unravels the layers of her own life. Barnard doesn't back away from describing difficult issues but does so in a starkly honest way. There is no typical black-and-white, good vs. bad in Precocious. Rather, Barnard's word is cast in shades of grey, varying in darkness. There are characters who consciously do wrong and those who do so accidentally. Only one character seems to be an angel, but much of this, I believe, is down to Fiona's unreliable narration rather than a slip-up on Barnard's side.

My only true fault with the book is that it takes some time to really get started. Although the plot takes off pretty much from the end of the first chapter, it could take the reader quite a while to get in touch with Fiona. Partially this is because Barnard, quite consciously, never truly sets the reader in Fiona's shoes. Her inability to find clarity, emotionally and otherwise, means that she feels like an unreliable narrator to the reader, keeping them constantly distant. This is really interesting once the crux of the novel really comes into view and many things stat unravelling, but before then it can feel as if Precocious is simply dragging you along without getting you involved.

As I mentioned above, Barnard's writing is great to read. As frequent readers of this blog will know, I'm not a bit fan of first-person narration because it so often doesn't manage to draw the reader in but rather create such an ever-present main character that it becomes annoying. However, Barnard finds a way to use her first-person narration in a very clipped way. Fiona's thoughts actually feel like thoughts, short, clipped and sometimes confused. The lines below are a great example:
'Can't move for ... stuff. Just want silence, and space. I long for a white canvas, a blank page. Close my eyes and wish that when I open them again it will be the same, smooth blank space as behind my eyelids.'
Barnard puts the reader in Fiona's shoes while also allowing Fiona to be separate from the reader. Throughout the novel there are some beautiful passages and great twists, some of which are more predictable than others. It makes for great and enjoyable reading. In my case I found it hard to put the book down once I'd gotten into it.

I give this book...

4 Universes!

Precocious is a great read which touches on a number of very interesting topics. Barnard approaches her characters sensitively but honestly, showing them for all they re but never making caricatures of them. I'd recommend this novel to fans of literary and women's fiction. However, fans of thrillers will also find aspects of this novel very enjoyable.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Weekly Overview

Somehow I keep apologizing for being so MIA from this blog but there is a lot of stuff happening. Aside from that, I am missing the regularity and structure of university life which translates in my daily life being a bit of a mess as well. I have read some amazing books though and I can't wait to share those with you, hopefully next week!

In this post I'll be summarising the last few weeks, rather than just last week since I haven't posted enough this week to warrant an independent post!


This post is linked up with the Sunday Post over at Caffeinated Book Reviewer.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Beginnings and Teasers - Voltaire's 'Candide'

CandideSoo, it's a Friday and guess what's happening tomorrow? I'm going to the Harry Potter Studios! My amazing sister has bought us both tickets and I'm really excited to go! Ooh and also, I graduated last week around this time, which is why I was MIA then. It's been ridiculously busy in my life but in the next few weeks it will probably calm down! But let's move on to the memes!

This week I'm sharing Candide by Voltaire, which I've been reading for my 100 Classics Club list.
Brought up in the household of a powerful Baron, Candide is an open-minded young man, whose tutor, Pangloss, has instilled in him the belief that 'all is for the best'. But when his love for the Baron's rosy-cheeked daughter is discovered, Candide is cast out to make his own way in the world. 
And so he and his various companions begin a breathless tour of Europe, South America and Asia, as an outrageous series of disasters befall them - earthquakes, syphilis, a brush with the Inquisition, murder - sorely testing the young hero's optimism.
Book Beginnings and Friday 56 are hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader and Freda at Freda's Voice respectively.

BB:
'In the country of Westphalia, in the castle of the most noble Baron of Thunder–ten–tronckh, lived a youth whom Nature had endowed with a most sweet disposition. His face was the true index of his mind. He had a solid judgment joined to the most unaffected simplicity; and hence, I presume, he had his name of Candide. The old servants of the house suspected him to have been the son of the Baron’s sister, by a very good sort of a gentleman of the neighborhood, whom that young lady refused to marry, because he could produce no more than threescore and eleven quarterings in his arms; the rest of the genealogical tree belonging to the family having been lost through the injuries of time.'
I loved this beginning because Voltaire is so sharp in his assessments of people throughout the book but the beginning eases into it so simply that you'd never expect it!




F56:
'The villainy of mankind presented itself to his mind in all its deformity, and his soul was a prey to the most gloomy ideas.' 
I have to admit that I love Voltaire's writing style. It's all wit and sarcasm until he gets to his punchline which is delivered with incredibly severity and soberness!

What are you reading at the moment? Does Candide sound like something you'd enjoy?

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Orbit Books launches Fantasy Writing Workshop with Karen Miller

I have got some amazing news to share with you guys! I got word from Orbit Books that they will be launching a Fantasy Writing Workshop, led by Karen Miller.

The international science fiction and fantasy publisher Orbit Books will be launching an online fantasy writing workshop this summer, hosted on OrbitBooks.net. It will be led by Karen Miller - a million-copy bestselling author who rose to fame with her debut The Innocent Mage, and whose most recent release is the critically acclaimed epic fantasy The Falcon Throne. 
The free week-long event, which starts on 27th July 2015, will invite aspiring authors to take part in a communal online “write-along” challenge, during which they will each be encouraged to pen their own sample of a new fantasy novel. They will also be invited to submit this sample into a competition at the end of the week. 
Miller will be kicking off the writing workshop by setting a writing challenge for aspiring fantasy authors on 27th July, and will be providing advice and words of encouragement throughout the week. She will also taking part in a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” session, during which time participants will be able to put their own questions on writing to her.
Miller said: “One of the hardest things about starting a writing career is the feeling that you're alone, that nobody understands what you're going through, and that it's really hard to figure out how to do it right! That's why I'm so excited to share a little of what I've learned since I wrote my first fantasy novel. It's been a wild ride, these past few years, and if a new writer can be helped by something I've said, it will make all the hard work worthwhile.” 
Any aspiring authors interested in taking part should follow @OrbitBooks on Twitter for details and updates. 
For further information contact gemma.conley-smith@littlebrown.co.uk or anna.jackson@littlebrown.co.uk.
Karen Miller is best known for her Kingmaker, Kingbreaker series, the first novel in it being The Innocent Mage.

The Innocent Mage (Kingmaker, Kingbreaker, #1)Enter the kingdom of Lur, where to use magic unlawfully means death. The Doranen have ruled Lur with magic since arriving as refugees centuries ago. Theirs was a desperate flight to escape the wrath of a powerful mage who started a bitter war in their homeland. To keep Lur safe, the native Olken inhabitants agreed to abandon their own magic. Magic is now forbidden them, and any who break this law are executed. 
Asher left his coastal village to make his fortune. Employed in the royal stables, he soon finds himself befriended by Prince Gar and given more money and power than he'd ever dreamed possible. But the Olken have a secret; a prophecy. The Innocent Mage will save Lur from destruction and members of The Circle have dedicated themselves to preserving Olken magic until this day arrives. Unbeknownst to Asher, he has been watched closely. As the Final Days approach, his life takes a new and unexpected turn ...
Kingmaker, Kingbreaker is a series I have been wanting to read for ages and the chance to follow a workshop by the author herself sounds like an amazing opportunity!

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Review: 'The One' by Kiera Cass

Once you're two books into a trilogy there is really no discernible reason why you wouldn't get working on the final instalment as well. Cass' Selection-trilogy stirred up quite the hype upon release and has therefore always held a slight fascination for me. Now that I have finished the whole trilogy, I wonder why. This review may be considered to contain spoilers. Thanks to Netgalley and HarperCollins for providing me with a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 05/06/2014
Publisher: Harper Collins UK
THE SELECTION changed the lives of thirty-five girls forever. Now, only one will claim Prince Maxon’s heart… 
It’s swoon meets the Hunger Games in the third instalment of THE SELECTION series!For the four girls who remain at the palace, the friendships they’ve formed, rivalries they’ve struggled with and dangers they’ve faced have bound them to each other for the rest of their lives. 
Now, the time has come for one winner to be chosen.America never dreamed she would find herself anywhere close to the crown – or to Prince Maxon’s heart. But as the competition approaches its end and the threats outside the palace walls grow more vicious, America realises just how much she stands to lose – and how hard she’ll have to fight for the future she wants. The breathtaking third title in THE SELECTION series will make you swoon!
Let's start with the main character, America Singer, whose name is as much a clue to her personality as most of the book's description of her is. Whereas in The Selection her development seemed relatively simple and stereotypical, Cass really expanded upon her in The Elite. Not until The One, though, did America get interesting storylines to work with, which should strange considering this trilogy is supposed to be about her. However, it is not until this book that America seems to actively create situations rather than just respond to what others do. It makes her a much more interesting and well-rounded character since the whole 'show, don't tell' advice still counts for published authors. As The One progressed America became much more likeable and yet there are still aspects about her character which felt incredibly empty, i.e. felt under-developed. Considering that a relatively short period of time was stretched over three books, it would have been great if more of that time had been spent on genuine character development.

In my reviews of the previous two instalments of the trilogy I commented upon the world-building going on in Cass' novels. On the one hand, certain aspects are highlighted a lot and emphasized continuously, but on the other hand, these are hardly ever backed up by a consistent history or a true sense of culture. When is this trilogy meant to be set? What has actually happened to America (the country, not the protagonist) and does it even matter? This comes back to only a few things being made important by the author and the rest passed over by quick narration. When an author doesn't feel the need to get into her protagonist's country's history, then why should the reader care? Personally I do not believe that a story can work without being set in an environment which impacts the story somehow because if a narrative is so theme and trope dependent, it loses almost all of its originality and creativity. The One only slightly improved upon the other books in this respect. Again there were aspects to Ilea's history that mattered to progress the plot and those were only then dragged into the limelight, shifted into favourable positions and then discarded again. Although it makes for easy reading, it always feels as if there could have been a lot more. It's the reason I would never consider this trilogy dystopian, since there simply isn't enough world-building to support that.

The major let down of this book was the quick ending. Within two chapters and what feels like ten pages the whole plot is wrapped up neatly and brought to the ending that doesn't really surprise anyone. For the fact that as the series progressed the books gained complexity, and even depth in some places, it was a shame to see Cass put a stop to it so easily. I had remarked before on the easy with which the narrative of the whole trilogy flows. It sucks you in very easily, the way that reality tv does as well. This is down to the fact that it is a very similar story to ones we've seen already. The core plot of the The Selection-trilogy comes down to a number of well-known tropes and readers love recognizing familiar story-lines. What keeps us so entertained is the fascination with the tiny details which make a particular series or novel different. Nothing is wrong with following traditional story-lines, but it's a shame when the details that differentiate a novel actually aren't that fascinating. When a big reveal is met with simple acceptance rather than shock or horror, what is there left to say? The One put an end to all the story lines that had been started and resolved any potential tension quite successfully. It's a book I could close and move on from without problem though.

I give this book and series...

3 Universes!

I read this book quite some time ago and yet never got round to writing the review. When I don't feel the need to talk about a book that's significant because I always want to talk about books. The One was a suitable ending for the The Selection-trilogy. It amped up the tension that had been building in the previous two books without really adding anything new, major or unexpected. For YA and Romance readers this trilogy will be fun, but it's far from life-changing.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Beginnings and Teasers - 'The Ten Thousand Things' by John Spurling

The Ten Thousand Things: A NovelTime for one of my favourite meme-days! I love the whole sharing and teasing that happens each Tuesday! It's not good for my wallet, but I enjoy it nonetheless.

Today I'm sharing a book with you which I'm planning on starting this weekend. This book is The Ten Thousand Things by John Spurling which has me ever so slightly absolutely fascinated.
In the turbulent final years of the Yuan Dynasty, Wang Meng is a low-level bureaucrat, employed by the government of Mongol conquerors established by the Kublai Khan. Though he wonders about his own complicity wit this regime—the Mongols, after all, are invaders—he prefers not to dwell on his official duties, choosing instead to live the life of the mind.

Wang is an extraordinarily gifted artist. His paintings are at once delicate and confident; in them, one can see the wind blowing through the trees, the water rushing through rocky valleys, the infinite expanse of China’s natural beauty. But this is not a time for sitting still, and as The Ten Thousand Things unfolds, we follow Wang as he travels through an empire in turmoil. In his wanderings, he encounters, among many memorable characters, other master painters of the period, including the austere eccentric Ni Zan, a fierce female warrior known as the White Tigress who will recruit him as a military strategist, and an ugly young Buddhist monk who rises from beggary to extraordinary heights.

The Ten Thousand Things is rich with exquisite observations, and John Spurling endows every description—every detail—with the precision and depth that the real-life Wang Meng brought to his painting. But it is also a novel of fated meetings, grand battles, and riveting drama, and in its seamless fusion of the epic and the intimate, it achieves a truly singular beauty. A novel that deserves to be compared to the classic Chinese novels that inspired it, The Ten Thousand Things is nothing short of a literary event.
Tuesday Intros is hosted by Diane over at Bibliophile by the Sea and Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by A Daily Rhythm.

Intro:
'The times are turning bad again. I have been arrested for going to see a private art collection. Can you believe it? An old man of nearly eighty, a retired magistrate, is put in prison on suspicion. Instead of sitting on a dais giving judgement, here I am sitting on a stone floor waiting to be judged. Of course I'm only on remand. No one has tried or condemned me yet for the crime I am supposed to have committed, but still I've been here for weeks - long enough almost to have got used to the stench of the bucket in the corner.' 1%
I love how Spurling consciously puts the reader on the wrong foot with his first line. With the slightest of references to Dickens' greatest opening line, Spurling seems to set a very heavy mood, only to then flip it with his hilarious second line. I can't imagine getting arrested for seeing an art collection. The beginning paragraph only seems to be getting more absurd until the reality of the protagonist's situation actually hits towards the end of it.


Teaser:
'The geomancer discovered an auspicious day for the funeral later that week.' 37%
TeaserTuesdays2014eI saw this line while browsing for a fun teaser and I simply couldn't  not pick it. I mean, there is something beautifully absurd and yet logical about this sentence and I can't wait to see what happens in that first third of the book to get us to this line. Also, whose funeral are we planning?

Does The Ten Thousand Things sounds like your kind of book? I personally love big sagas that span generations, so I think I'll enjoy this one very much.

Monday, 6 July 2015

Review: 'The Book of Gold Leaves' by Mirza Waheed

The Book of Gold Leaves had me fascinated the moment that I read the blurb. There was something lyrical and magical to the novel. Besides that I have been fascinated by the culture of the Kashmir area and was really happy to find a book set there. Thanks to Netgalley and Penguin Books for providing me with an edition of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 30/10/2014
Publisher: Penguin Books
Mirza Waheed's extraordinary new novel The Book of Gold Leaves is a heartbreaking love story set in war-torn Kashmir. In an ancient house in the city of Srinagar, Faiz paints exquisite Papier Mache pencil boxes for tourists. Evening is beginning to slip into night when he sets off for the shrine. There he finds the woman with the long black hair. Roohi is prostrate before her God. She begs for the boy of her dreams to come and take her away. Roohi wants a love story. An age-old tale of love, war, temptation, duty and choice, The Book of Gold Leaves is a heartbreaking tale of a what might have been, what could have been, if only. ' 
I loved it. The voice is lyrical, to match the beauty of Kashmir, and yet it is tinged with melancholy and grief, as is the story it tells' Nadeem Aslam (on The Collaborator) 'Waheed's prose burns with the fever of anger and despair; the scenes in the valley are exceptional, conveying, a hallucinatory living nightmare that has become an everyday reality for Kashmiris' Metro (on The Collaborator) 
Waheed's novel is one that is infused with sentimentality, in a good way. Each page holds a beautiful description of flowers, smells, little streets, whispers exchanged by lovers in the dark, etc. As such, The Book of Gold Leaves really takes the reader on a visual and emotional journey. This is largely done through the perspective of Waheed's two main characters, Faiz and Roohi. Their love story is the heart of the novel and very much keeps it going the way a heart keeps a body going. It is at the centre of the narrative and at the same time is key to holding the novel together. The hope, love and despair that surrounds these two characters is developed beautifully by Waheed and his description of Kashmir and the surrounding areas only adds to making them and their story come to live.

There are a number of shifts within The Book of Gold Leaves which happen on different levels. On the one hand there is a constant shift between narrators between the different chapters, but on the other hand there is a continuing shift in atmosphere and tone. The decision to shift between narrators is always a tricky one since it can very easily go wrong. Not every character is equally interesting to readers and a narrative can easily run out of steam if the wrong character is narrating a crucial scene. In The Book of Gold Leaves, none of this happened. All scenes were narrated by the right people, making sure that each narrator added something unique and definitive to their narration. It's a similar story with the shifts in atmosphere which occur throughout the novel. As Kashmir becomes more dangerous there is a sense of nostalgia to the simpler, earlier parts of the novel. As the characters find themselves in danger, the mood of the novel becomes darker. It must be a conscious choice on the side of the author, but the reader will find himself only recognizing the shift later on which makes for a very interesting reading experience.

The Book of Gold Leaves has a very interesting authorial presence. The reader and the author are, in many ways, one throughout the novel and operate as 'we'. We are an outside party and Waheed's occasional references to the way in which the story has come down to us is always interesting. Similarly, The Book of Gold Leaves is not historical in the sense that it recounts specific events and functions as a time-line. Rather, the novel feels as a memoir and ode to an area torn apart by war and chaos. This sense is aided by Waheed's descriptions but is also down to his way of presenting twists and turns in unexpected places, some of which are surprisingly shocking, giving the reader the feeling that the characters exist in a dangerous world.

I give this novel...

4 Universes!

I really enjoyed Waheed's The Book of Gold Leaves. It was a story that constantly draws you back in and is infused with a sense of beauty and longing that will remain with the reader for a long time. Although I would recommend it to historical fiction fans, I wouldn't classify it as historical fiction perse. It is full of fascinating characters of all backgrounds, classes and genders and purely for their development The Book of Gold Leaves is worth reading.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

R.I.P. Abdullah Hussain

Yesterday the news broke that famous Urdu author Abdullah Hussain, who called himself an 'accidental writer', had passed away.

Hussain was nominated for the 'Kamal-e-Fun' award in 2012, which is Pakistan's highest literary award for achievement in creative and research work. Other won awards included the 'Adamjee Award'. His death has been marked by Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The Minister for Information, Broadcasting and National Heritage, Pervaiz Rasheed, expressed what the loss of Hussain means:
"Pakistan has lost one of its shining stars and its pride in the passing away of Abdullah Hussain, a great author, writer, novelist and intellectual." (Dawn)
Hussain's most famous novel, lauded as a landmark text of Urdu literature, was Udaas Naslain. Even fifty years after its publishing it is still a key novel. In English it was published as The Weary Generations.

The Weary GenerationsPublished ahead of Paul Scott’s Raj Quartet and long before Midnight’s Children, Abdullah Hussein’s ambitious saga of social struggle The Weary Generations was a bestseller in Urdu. Published in 1963 and now beyond its 40th edition, it has never been out of print. A vivid depiction of the widespread disillusionment and seismic upheavals of the Partition era that lead to the creation of Pakistan and Bangladesh, there has never been a more opportune time to discover one of the most important writings about the post-colonial trauma in the region. Naim, son of a peasant, marries Azra, the daughter of a rich landowner. Fighting for the British during World War I he loses an arm. Invalided home, he becomes angered at the subjugation of his countrymen under the Raj and aligns himself with the opposition. His ideals are swept away after Independence in 1947 when he realizes that, as Muslims, his family is no longer safe in their Indian home and that they must migrate to the newly created Pakistan. Regarded as one of the half-dozen most influential novels dealing with Partition or post-colonial malaise, this is an immensely powerful novel in its own right and is essential reading for English language readers seeking to comprehend the historical origins of the tensions in the Indian subcontinent.
I previously wrote about the need for translation to go both ways. Hussain's writing is an example of that. As one of the most important authors to a culture which has been intricately linked with the West in the last century, it is remarkable that Udaas Naslain, or The Weary Generations, isn't better known.

Hussain passed away at 84 on Saturday in Lahore after suffering from blood cancer.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Spot the Trope #1: the Gay Best Friend


Some time ago I wrote a post about the frequent use of love-triangles in contemporary Young Adult literature and the damage that I believe it does to female characters and the perception of female characters in literature. Recently I read a book which seemed to be made up solely of tropes. Page upon page was filled with recognizable story-lines and standard characterization with nothing new being added. Although I don't believe the author did so on purpose, she included many tropes which once started off as interesting but are now stereotypical and damaging. After reading this book I decided that it might be interesting to take a look at some of the most established tropes currently around and have a look at what they really say. This series won't focus solely on literature but aims to analyse an aspect of story-telling which is often ignored.

What is a trope?
The word 'trope' comes from the Greek word τρόπος (tropos) which means 'turn, direction, way'. Initially this referred to figurative language, the use of a word or phrase for artistic effect, examples being metaphor and hyperbole. More and more, however, the word has come to mean frequently occurring literary devices such as 'the old mentor' or 'the fairy god mother'. Tropes are recognizable and can be used to settle the piece of literature in a genre or in a certain time period. Nowadays readers easily refer to tropes while reading books or watching television, recognizing them instantly and even selecting reads based on their use of certain tropes. These tropes direct the narrative of literary works in a certain way and make them, unfortunately, quite predictable at times. They also hide some very archaic and damaging stereotypes by repackaging them as fun and recognizable, and therefore comfortable. Up today is: the Gay Best Friend

What is 'the Gay Best Friend'?
The Gay Best Friend (also known as GBF) was one of the first "token diversity characters" which was embraced with open arms by the audience, in both literature and TV shows. The GBF is there to add some diversity and representation of the "other" to an otherwise completely straight-laced story of any number of hetero-sexuals falling in love. When the protagonist is female they are always the best friend she could possibly have because apparently gay men have an amazing insight into both male and female behaviour. When the protagonist is male they are always a good friend with a secret crush on the protagonist. Mind, the GBF is almost always male. The gay men in these books or shows are usually about as stereotypically "gay" as a straight person would imagine them to be. They are fashion aware, incredibly chatty, camp, promiscuous, and forever alone and therefore available to their female friends. The GBF is, more crudely but perhaps more honestly, sometime also known as the 'Pet Homosexual'.

What's good about it?
For a long, and dark, time homosexuality was linked by many people with paedophilia. Aside from this, it was also illegal for a long time to be openly gay and gay marriage was only recently legalized in America. Hence, they hardly featured in popular culture for a long time, except as a cheap joke. The GBF was a different way for homosexual characters to be part of normal and popular narratives. However, at its most stereotypical, the GBF only allows space for one kind of homosexuality, one which is usually ridiculed and presents no danger to the masculinity of the book.

When done well, as, to a certain extent, in The Perks of Being A Wallflower, the male gay character isn't reduced to just a friend without their own personality but is an independent character with an independent story arc. Patrick goes through his own struggles, not necessarily with his sexuality but with the outside response to it. Although his story-line moves along some pretty stereotypical lines such as the the Jock and the overt flamboyancy, his characterization is still insightful and well done which is why the book has made such an impact. However, Patrick's independence as a character is exactly why he doesn't fit into the GBF trope.

Why is it questionable?
As I've hinted at above, the GBF only really gives space to the over-the-top, fashion-aware and promiscuous gay man, despite the fact that this is hardly an accurate portrayal of the average gay man. Fundamentally, the GBF is not there as an independent character. He is part of a support structure and is like a Genie who appears  whenever the protagonist needs advice and then disappears. They are incredibly close with the, usually female, main characters to an extent that their presence often suggests deep friendships can't exist between straight members of the opposite sex, or even between members of the same sex. As a support character, their story arc often revolves completely around the protagonist and leads to enforcing the stereotype around gay people. They are usually referred to as 'my GBF' which has only strengthened the fetishizing of the gay community. A 2013 film, aptly titled GBF, documented the bizarre chasing after a gay men by the whole female population of an American high school.

There is a reason why the GBF is so popular: because he is a male presence that is presented as a non-threat. He can stay the night, be taken underwear shopping or be complained to without the female characters having to fear that he will take advantage. This seems to continue the belief that men are incapable of controlling their sexual instincts and form a danger to every woman who seems available. This has also led to the rise of the 'fake GBF', a man who pretends to be gay so he can get emotionally close to a woman he likes in the hope she'll fall in love with him. Although films and TV shows present this as romantic, it is actually inherently creepy and, again, gives both men and gay men a bad name. The GBF isn't just "safe" for women though. For the male romantic lead, a gay man is no threat and maybe even a help. He is a male presence in the woman's life who will not steal her away and maybe even help his cause. This also leads to a woman being surrounded by a lot of men who are "good" for her, whereas a female friendship is often presented as having issues. 

What the GBF trope leads to is the idea that there are no real stories to be told by gay characters, or that their sexuality is the only thing that identifies them. It puts a label on a large section of humanity and prevents literature, and cinema, from exploring these characters more. As the need for diversity is given more attention, it is also important to look at our existing uses of diversity and reassess them. The GBF-trope isn't representation but damaging. For an author it may be an easy way to get a romance plot on the road, but it often looks like lazy writing and characterization. Although the GBF may have started off trying to include gay characters in mainstream popular culture, by now the trope is trailing behind actual social changes to be more open and acceptant of homosexuality. 

And to finish this post off, here's one of the many 'Sassy Gay Friend' sketches, which illustrate the use of gay men to prop up female characters quite well. They're also hilarious!

Friday, 3 July 2015

Beginnings and Teasers - 'The Age of Innocence' by Edith Wharton

The Age of Innocence It's been a busy week and I am once again back in London because apparently that is what I do nowadays, spend every weekend in London. I've got some reviews ready for next week, so hopefully my next week won't be as dry as this week has been. Today I'm using The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton.
Newland Archer saw little to envy in the marriages of his friends, yet he prided himself that in May Welland he had found the companion of his needs--tender and impressionable, with equal purity of mind and manners. The engagement was announced discreetly, but all of New York society was soon privy to this most perfect match, a union of families and circumstances cemented by affection. 
        Enter Countess Olenska, a woman of quick wit sharpened by experience, not afraid to flout convention and determined to find freedom in divorce. Against his judgment, Newland is drawn to the socially ostracized Ellen Olenska, who opens his eyes and has the power to make him feel. He knows that in sweet-tempered May, he can expect stability and the steadying comfort of duty. But what new worlds could he discover with Ellen? Written with elegance and wry precision, Edith Wharton's Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece is a tragic love story and a powerful homily about the perils of a perfect marriage.
Book Beginnings and Friday 56 are hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader and Freda at Freda's Voice respectively.

BB:
'On a January evening of the early seventies, Christine Nilsson was singing in Faust at the Academy of Music in New York. Though there was already talk of the erection, in remove metropolitan distances "above the Forties", of a new Opera House which should compete in costliness and splendour with those of the great European capitals, the world of fashion was still content to reassemble every winter in the shabby red and gold boxes of the sociable old Academy.' p.1
I like this beginning. You get a bit of a sense of this 'world of fashion'. And Wharton's writing style is simple beautiful! I can't wait to dig into this one.


F56:
'As he wrote a word on his card and waited for an envelope he glanced about the embowered shop, and his eye lit on a cluster of yellow roses. He had never seen any as sun-golden before, and his first impulse was to send them to May instead of the lilies. But they did not look like her - there was something too rich, too strong, in their fiery beauty.' p.56
I loved how this moment shifted in perspective. Initially you start focusing on 'him' writing, but then it moves to the flowers and from there to May. Also, the last sentence is absolutely beautiful, I'm not quite sure why. It just really is.

So, that was me done for today! What are you teasing?