Category Archives: book

Book Review: The Devil in Amber by Mark Gatiss

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Needless to say, I picked up the second of Mark Gatiss’ novels, and the protagonist Lucifer Box leapt off the page. Lucifer is so damned sarcastic, and I do love a bit of wit. There was context as well; I’d just finished ‘Slade House’ and was more than a little bit wired up, so I thought I’d make a start on ‘The Devil in Amber’ in order to lighten the mood (and ensure I didn’t need a nightlight).

One line was enough to ease my tensions about attics. One line; quite remarkable really. And the next day, when I did venture to the second line and quite a way beyond because it isn’t easy to put the book down (I really should stop tying books to myself as if they are mittens) I was once again hooked in by Lucifer’s adventures.

It is twenty years on from his romp in ‘The Vesuvius Club‘; he might a bit older, but still young at heart, and just as fun. I would say that the tone of the book is a little bit more serious, but it reflects that Lucifer Box has had experiences in the intervening years between the books (mostly World War One) that have matured him.

Though thankfully not too much; there is still plenty of wit and a few silly names, not least Lucifer’s sister who makes a prominent appearance and is called Pandora. (I’m ashamed to admit that it wasn’t until I’d finished the book that I realised the reference- no need to face-palm, I’ve done that myself already. Several times.)

The serious tone also flatters the subject matter better. The light-heartedness in which Lucifer dealt with the murders of the Vulcanologists suited the Edwardian Era and nature of the story Mark Gatiss told in his first book. Dealing with 1920s fascists and satanists who want to summon the devil does need to be a bit more serious in tone. The book is still fun and addictive to read, but it is respectful of history as well.

This seriousness and the slightly bittersweet tone of the protagonist lamenting not being quite a young as anymore is what makes me love this book. Except it is a different sort of love than the thrill I got from the first novel, which I fell in love with because of the vibrancy. This is more of a settled love; the sort you feel over time after you’ve got to know someone and are more comfortable with all their quirks and foibles.

When I reviewed ‘The Vesuvius Club’ I remarked upon how much I enjoyed getting to know Lucifier Box’s distinct character voice. It’s why he leapt off the page from the very first line. The groundwork of establishing the character in the first book paid off, because in the second novel Lucifer Box’s adventures held onto my attention from the first to the last line with minimal effort. I wanted to know what happened next because I already loved the character.

I enjoyed the story of the first book as well, but the plot of The Devil in Amber is even better. Lucifer was persecuted in the first book, but this time the threat to him is more personal, and the devilish plot to end the world much more sinister. There is a move from the slightly steampunk nature of the evil grand plan in ‘The Vesuvius Club’, to a supernatural threat in the second. Given Mark Gatiss is a talented writer he pulls of the change in which speculative genre to delight us with masterfully without the books ending up disconnected.

Can’t wait to read the third and last (sob) Lucifer Box book, ‘Black Butterfly’.

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Essay: My Many Selves as a Geeky Fan

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I’ve been thinking a great deal in recent months about what it means to be a fan; bear with me, I think a lot, I write it all down, and I’m not averse to an unhappy ending. This essay is the story of who I have been all my life; I am a geek. I’m not just a geek, but that aspect of who I am has evolved over the years and is a large part of my life.

For the first time ever though I’ve evolved because of other fans and I’ve been hurt by that change. For you to understand my heartbreak you need to know the context that came before.

The Early Years

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I can remember being an obsessive person from a very young age. As a geek, it started with the Ewok cartoons, before I even knew about the Star Wars films. I was also into ‘Back to the Future’, something I have since identified as being one of my first real obsessions a one, unlike the Ewok cartoons, I am still captivated by.

I’ve always been relatively secure in my interests; if I had periods of trying to conform to ‘normal’ because of peer pressure then they were short lived. I know they did happen, and generally speaking they stopped because I was bored.

I was the kid that got called a geek, a nerd and a swot. When I was younger that hurt. Then, when I was about twelve and I turned around to someone shouting it at me with a simple reply; ‘And?”. They were confused; ‘So what if I’m a swot?”. It didn’t stop them from shouting it at me for a while, until they realised it didn’t bother me. They started shouting other things instead, but that’s different. I was sure of myself and my interests, and it stopped hurting.

This was before the internet and social media were all the rage; I spent my teen years having hushed conversations with friends about whether Next Generation, Deep Space Nine or Voyager was the best Star Trek Series (for which the answer is Deep Space Nine), or whether the Klingons, The Dominion or the Borg were the best villains (despite previous answer, The Borg, hands down). That was about as much interaction as I had with other people about geeky things; I talked with like-minded folks, who also had things like ‘swot’ shouted at them down the corridors.

And I never considered myself lonely; I had friends for other reasons. Being a geeky fan was an entirely different part of my life. It had more to do with my parents than with my peers.

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The first time I saw the Star Wars films was when they re-released the films in the cinema in 1997, branded as the Special Editions of the Original Trilogy. Like the generation when Star Wars was first released, I got to see it for the very first time in the cinema.

My parents introduced me to Star Trek. I can even remember being excited about the last few series of Deep Space Nine and Voyager broadcasting for the first time. It’s the same with Stargate SG-1, which I think we watched because of me and my love for the fact they combined science fiction with Ancient Egyptian mythology.

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And then there is J.R.R. Tolkien. I was never taken with ‘The Hobbit’, which I read as a child, so Tolkien was a bit of a mystery to me overall. All I knew was that ‘The Lord of the Rings’ was one of the few books my dad would read again and again. I can remember seeing the trailer for The Fellowship of the Ring, and being intrigued by the fact my dad was excited by it. And then I saw the film for the first time. Wham! In the space of 178 minutes, I became a fully-fledged fantasy fan as well as a sci-fi geek.

It was my first evolution; it changed everything. I still didn’t like ‘The Hobbit’, but I devoured ‘The Lord of the Rings’, its appendices, and swiftly moved onto ‘The Silmarillion’ and ‘The Unfinished Tales’. It made me take interest in Harry Potter. I discovered Trudi Canavan. The Chronicles of Narnia, which I had already loved as a kid, became even more important. As a writer now I write about magic, and it is all because of Tolkien and Peter Jackson.

It was also the beginning of my passion for special features; how it was made, how they did it, how the actors felt being part of the production. I read the movie guides and re-read the books again and again. It wasn’t just with ‘The Lord of the Rings’ I did this. It spread to other passions. I practically memorised the Star Trek Encyclopaedia by Michael and Denise Okuda as well.

Being a geek was something I did with trusted friends, my parents and in the privacy of my room where I could devour my interest, safe in the knowledge that no-one could stop me from enjoying myself. I didn’t know what it meant to be an introvert at the time, but knowing that now, explains a great deal about why I was a private geek. This continued on for many years.

Discovering Fan Fiction

Up until I was about sixteen the internet had nothing to do with my life as a geek. The geekiest thing I did on the computer was read the Encarta Encyclopaedia. Despite the internet becoming more popular, it was something the cool kids did.

Given they called me names in person and my books didn’t, I didn’t really gravitate towards using emails, MSN messenger or MySpace, because books were better. The first email I sent was when I started university in September 2006. I didn’t join Facebook until 2007 because my boyfriend (now my husband) persuaded me, and also set me up a personal email account at the same time.

Before then I hadn’t shown much interest; I can even remember the first time I accessed a website. It was at school, and one of the German teachers looked at me as if I was completely thick when she told us we needed to access a website and I said didn’t know how; conversation went like this.

“Miss it doesn’t seem to be working.”

“Type in the correct web address.”

“Yeah Miss, I’ve done that, but it isn’t coming up.” So I closed it down and started it up again because she thought it must have been the connection. She watched me type in the address again. I waited. “See Miss it isn’t working.” Then the look came.

“You need to press enter,” she said in an incredibly condescending tone.

“Oh, I didn’t know that,” I said. I pressed enter; it worked.

“How did you not know that?”

“Never used the internet before Miss,” I answered. The look again; I got it from quite a few classmates as well.

Admittedly, I must have been about fifteen, this was 2003 and the internet wasn’t exactly in the flush of youth anymore. I think using the internet was expected to be a basic skill. Needless to say I try and watch my tone when people admit they can’t do basic things; if you’ve never been shown then, HOW are you supposed to know?

And now I had been shown, I still wasn’t interested.

It’s rather miraculous really that I ever discovered online Fan Fiction. I’m not even entirely sure why I found it. I think it was because I’d been writing Harry Potter fan fiction (from the Marauder Era, but my protagonist was a character I created, and J.K. Rowling’s characters were just there for me to practice with). When I discovered other people did this too, it never occurred to me to join them and publish my writing online.

I was taught that sharing online was a dangerous thing to do because there were nasty people on the internet. There still is and I’m still careful, and I think the re-definition of ‘troll’ is one of the best examples of how language can be re-purposed.

It was also because I had no desire to share my stories online. If I was going to be a writer, then I wanted my work to be in a book and printed on actual paper with ink. I still want that now. I dread to think what people would have thought of my writing, because reading it back it is terrible. But it was practice. I did however have a very short phase of reading other people’s fan fiction with great interest, but I was only ever interested in Harry Potter. I knew Lord of the Rings stuff existed, but I had no interest in it.

It was I guess my first introduction to what we now call shipping. As a fan of the Harry Potter books I always thought Harry and Hermione would end up together. I still think that, but I’ve always been of the opinion that J.K. Rowling as the writer had the right to do what she wanted with her story, and I accepted that. In Fan Fiction though I was drawn to Hermione and Severus Snape ending up together.

It is weird thinking about it now, but all I can assume attracted me to it was the fact that I related a great deal to Hermione as a teenager, in the same way I did to Matilda when I was even younger. They were both girls that loved books and were rather clever, and they were accepted as such; I say the shouting of ‘swot’ down the corridor stopped hurting. It would however have been nicer to not have to hear it at all.

And Snape was for me the perfect complex character. I didn’t quite know what he was really thinking or who he was really working for; he was a mystery and I loved him as an anti-hero. At this point Alan Rickman had also been cast, and I have a soft spot for him, because I loved him as the Sheriff of Nottingham.

I cried, several times, when I learnt he had died; I do that very rarely for celebrities, Natasha Richardson having been the previous instance. All I can assume is that I liked the combination of Hermione and Snape, because as a hormonal teen, it was a weird way of having a crush on an actor.  This phase lasted probably about three weeks as a deep obsession, before I got bored and it petered away, and I went back to how I had been before; private.

There is however a reason why I have mentioned it; it was my first foray into the idea that people explore stories outside of canon. I’ll come back to that.

The University Years

I consider being a student at University as my formative years. Because in university, I met more geeks, and being into geeky stuff at university isn’t uncool. I didn’t have to talk in a hushed voice about my opinions. People in university are a lot more grown up than school kids.

I also theorise that alcohol, partying, and the freedom to do whatever you wanted outside of parental constraints but within the law, changed most people that thought being a geek was a bad thing by teaching them a lesson. The lesson being that people are allowed to be whoever they want to be. All the geeks, nerds and swots actually had a head-start on the cool kids with that freedom, because we had been free being ourselves for a lot longer.

I went out in Newcastle on my first night as a student; I was out until 3am with a girl I didn’t know but who I had to now share a bathroom with. I was also utterly naïve to partying, and I hated every minute of it. I stayed sober, and somehow managed to get myself to my 9am introductory lecture in the morning. I was bleary eyed, but I paid attention enough to discover I could be a student representative, and thus started my interest in politics, but that’s another story.

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That night, rather than go out again I stayed in reading a new book I’d treated myself to with my student loan ‘The Time Traveller’s Wife’ by Audrey Niffenegger. It is the only time I have read the book, because the context I read it in is too important for me to consider going back to it just yet (this is how I still feel ten years later). I lost myself in its pages, rather than go out to ‘have fun’ just because I could. I already knew who I was as a person, and it was the sort of person who curls up with a good book rather than light up the ‘Toon’.

I did meet people at university though, including the man that is now my husband. I did it my way though, via social interaction that didn’t involve being hungover the next day. I was bruised, but that happens in Karate. I made friends on my history course, and through my hobby, and discovered commons interests with them. With my partner, we shared our interests by binge watching box sets, and talking about geeky stuff we loved as we got to know each other.

I was no longer a private geek; I had my partner and I had friends at university that were a lot more open to accepting me as being a geek. I was also becoming a great deal more certain about the fact that I want to be a writer. This lead me to the internet.

Social Media

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I have this blog, and it is the foundation stone for my platform as a writer. It links to Facebook and to Twitter. It linked to Google+ and being a good little social networker, I set myself up on Pinterest and Tumblr too; I was connected.

Google+ was the first to fall away due to it being mysterious. Pinterest never really worked for me and my blog. Tumblr just became somewhere else where I copied my WordPress posts to without much readership. It is only really on Facebook and Twitter that I’ve maintained my author platform.

Pinterest and Tumblr though become something else to me; they became the places I went to follow my geeky interests. I find crossovers amusing; there are some really great examples of fan art out there, and while I don’t participate myself I have been stunned by the creativity and dedication some people put into their passion.

I evolved again; I was no longer a private geek, I was a social media geek. I laughed alongside everyone else at the joke about the ‘basic’ girl being a bit frightened by fandoms.

I began to identify as being part of fandoms. I connected with other like-minded people. It became something that I would share with my partner; I’d even share content on Facebook with my non-geek friends as a demonstration of who I am as a person. I would laugh at, like, re-blog, pin, and tweet about things geeky that I loved. While my platform was still there for writing, it also became the online extension of the geeky part of my personality.

I was no longer a private geek, and when on this very blog I started to write reviews, I deliberately developed sections dedicated to certain fandoms. I doubt that I am alone in having done this, and I would very much correlate this rise in geeks creating content for the internet with the rise in franchises. Because why not? Fan content is free marketing. Why create something new, when what you can do instead is simply add to an existing franchise with a fandom that will go on to passionately share their fan-art and memes. Many will even go on to write fan-fiction.

This is who I became. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t admired everything that I’ve seen over the years with wide-eyed naivety. There are things that don’t amuse me, there are fandoms that I’m not a part of, and I don’t always agree with everything shared on the internet.

I am also just not that into shipping; the foray into Harry Potter fan fiction was brief. I also very briefly developed in interest in Reylo because of one sketch by a fan. I read one fan fiction dedicated to Kylux. Then people started shipping Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver, and alarm bells went off in my head. I stopped paying attention to shipping and went back a step to crossovers, memes and great art work.

To be honest, I ashamed that I didn’t see what happened next coming from a mile off.

‘The Final Problem’

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Needless to say I no longer laugh at the joke about the ‘basic’ girl being a bit frightened by fandoms. Whether she was ever real or not, the joke was real and that girl saw something I didn’t. She saw the obsession of some fans and was frightened by how intensely protective they are their interest.

I’m not frightened; I am really disappointed.

As you can see from my essay, I have evolved as a fan over the years. I was the little girl pouring over books, and watching the television with my parents. I dipped my toe here or there into the internet, before becoming a confident half of a partnership not scared to be geeky together. And then I became the social media geek.

Over the years, what I have liked has changed. I mentioned ‘Matilda’ before; I was a massive Roald Dahl fan. That faded for years until I recently read ‘Love from Boy’.

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I am still a massive fan of ‘The Lord of the Rings’, ‘The Silmarillion’, and I also like ‘The Hobbit’ films, despite the fact I dislike the book.

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I have had a love/hate relationship with the MCU for years; I hate Tony Stark, but ‘The Winter Soldier’ made me fall into love with the rest of the MCU. Now though I’m a bit ‘meh’ about it because I’ve got bored.

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I’ve also figured out why I’ve struggled to connect to Doctor Who in recent years because of the cancellation of Doctor Who Confidential which satisfied my love of knowing how it was made.

And there are many more; I am a Browncoat; I find joy in Benedict Jacka’s Alex Verus books. There are standalone books like ‘The Moon is a Harsh Mistress’ that have wormed their way into my heart. I’ve never blogged about Harry Potter, but Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them re-sparked inspiration for my own writing.

I blog reviews and I talk about my passions a lot. However, except from having the odd discussion on WordPress with other bloggers, all of which have been pleasant even if we haven’t always agreed, I was only ever really an observer of internet fandoms.

I’m really struggling to be that anymore. Every time I go on Tumblr now I leave it feeling low. I’ve pretty much stopped because instead of cheering me up and being a place of refuge it has become a place where I only find hatred. If it was not for the fact I go on Tumblr to also read about Feminism, LBGTQIA and INTJ, I might have already followed through with my deleting my account entirely.  I’ve retreated on Pinterest; I haven’t deleted my ‘Geek!’ board but it is now a private place just for me and my husband.

I want to be a private geek again; someone who talks with like-minded people in person. The appeal of being part of a fandom died a sudden death and it utterly broke my heart. There have been actual tears because I loved going on the internet and seeing that I was not alone as a geek. I even tweeted this not long ago before I’d come to fully realise and process all of my recent feelings.

 

Like I said I wasn’t lonely as a geeky child, but there were fewer of us. Before the internet I hadn’t really been able to discover the true richness of being able to share your passions with other people. I was able to become that person over time and through the development of technology that put other people in the palm of my hand wherever I was, provided I had enough battery and a decent 4G signal. Pulling back from what I had become hurts.

It hurts all the more, because it isn’t what I love that’s changed and changed me like it had been before. Other fans crossing the line has forced this transformation.

I have been disappointed over the years by things I love. I don’t like ‘The Half-Blood Prince’ all that much, either the book or the film. I don’t hate J.K. Rowling because of it though. I was deeply disappointed by ‘Civil War’; I don’t hate the creators of the MCU though. I don’t dislike Tolkien just because I’ve never liked ‘The Hobbit’. I might never forgive the BBC for cancelling Doctor Who Confidential, or Fox for cancelling Firefly; I don’t hate the people who made that decision though.

And I might not have been thrilled with ‘The Final Problem’ the last episode in the fourth series of Sherlock, but I mostly certainly don’t hate Stephen Moffat and Mark Gatiss because of it. I certainly don’t send threating tweets or blog on Tumblr about how the creators are now not allowed to identify themselves as being who they are because people disliked what they didn’t do in Sherlock. I don’t lash out angrily at other fans because they are fans of Sherlock in a different way, and didn’t have the same hate-fuelled reaction to the episode. I don’t believe my opinion is the only one that matters and anyone else is wrong, which therefore justifies bullying.

I have never hated a writer because they did something I disliked. I’ve been disappointed, and fine yes the first time I watched ‘The Final Problem’ I was a bit bored. I wasn’t the second time though and while it will never be one of my favourite episodes it is still better than most television I’ve ever watched. In fact I would credit Stephen Moffat and Mark Gatiss with sparking off a bit of a television revolution. I doubt clever shows that don’t dumb it down for their audience such as ‘The Man in the High Castle’ or ‘Westworld’ would exist if the foundation of modern clever television that started with Sherlock hadn’t been laid.

I will never agree with the reasons people are justifying those actions ; the creators are human beings and that in itself is enough for me to be respectful. I reserve hatred for rare examples of human beings who are actively making the very real lives of human beings miserable. I’d never hate someone because of something fictional.

The fact people are acting like this has actually made me ashamed of being a geek, something I have never felt in my life.

I shed tears when I first saw Gandalf fall in Moria; I still cry when Dumbledore dies; I struggle to watch John Watson talking to Sherlock’s grave; and the ending to The Moon is a Harsh Mistress chokes me up just thinking about it. I’ve been moved to tears many times over the years because of the books, films and televisions shows that I have let into my heart.

I never thought I’d ever cry because another fan had hurt me, but I have, and those tears have been the most painful, because they came from the very last sort of people I ever thought; the sort of people who like me probably got called a ‘swot’ or a ‘geek’ or a ‘nerd’ when it was meant as an insult rather than as a way of identifying ourselves.

Moving forward…

I detest the word fandom now; I’m seriously contemplating editing my entire blog to remove the word. If it does disappear then you know I did.

I’m in two minds about keeping my Tumblr account, and I doubt my ‘Geek!’ board will ever re-emerge as a public board on Pinterest. I’ve stopped reading the comment threads on twitter, especially on anything Mark Gatiss tweets. I’ve followed him for years, for various reasons and loved reading the commentary because many of his fans are witty and respectful. Now, I always find one that isn’t.

I don’t want to be associated with that backlash. I don’t want to be thought of as a member of any fandom, because for me the word has come to be associated with being part of the ownership of what has been created. Rather than the writer being the owner, the audience is instead, which is a very postmodernism viewpoint and I dislike postmodernism for many reasons.

Fan Fiction in the days when I developed an interest in Snape/Hermione was a bit of fun. I should have known when people started shipping Daisy and Adam, rather than Rey and Kylo that the lines between reality and fiction, canon and fan fiction have become blurred. For some people I don’t even think they exist at all.

And I think it is going to take me a long time to come to terms with the disappointment I felt when fans of Sherlock lashed out in hatred.

For now I’m just pottering along; I’m still going to blog, because I’m not going to silence my voice because I’ve been disappointed by what others have said with theirs. I’m using twitter to tweet some geeky stuff, because I’m not going to deny part of myself because other fans have made me feel ashamed.

But the most recent evolution of myself as a geek has shaken me to the very core and I’m not going to get over that easily. I also don’t see this evolution of myself as a geek being able to move forward with the sort of positive progress I have made over the years; I can’t ever go backwards, but I don’t see forwards as being an option either.

I’m stuck as a geek who can no longer entirely trust other geeks to have my back even if we have a different opinion. We didn’t all hush our voices because we were ashamed of being who we are, some of us just weren’t as confident about being a geek as others. We whispered to save those that were a bit embarrassed from being overheard by our bullies.

I never thought the geeks would become like the bullies. Maybe I am just a bit more wide-eyed and naïve than I had thought.

Book Review: The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

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I will admit I was introduced to the world of The Man in the High Castle via the Amazon adaption for TV rather than the book. I wasn’t even really fully aware of Philip K Dick’s wider work, because while I’m a massive science fiction fan, I’ve never been much of a reader of the genre, and I’ve never seen the other adaptations of his work.

I will say that for anyone who came across the ideas behind the story via the TV series first, and is now interested in the source material, there are quite a lot of differences – the TV series makers have certainly been very complimentary of the original material, but they have expanded upon the plots, the story world and the developed the characters differently, so don’t expect what you see on screen in the book.

However, I am whole-heartedly glad that I have read this book, because it is simply sublime. Science Fiction is normally more straight forward, in your face, fiction. The Man in the High Castle though read more like a literary novel, full of subtle nuances and gently developed characters.

 

I could say a lot about the plot and the story world, but for me the very best part of this book is definitely the character development. While I certainly enjoyed the story of Frank Fink and Mr Tagomi, I very much preferred the development of Robert Childan and Juliana Fink.

Juliana in the book is a very passive character, and while I’m not keen on the ways in which she is portrayed in very stereotypical slightly sexist ways, she really does step up to the mark when required to do so, and proves herself as someone that is not to be underestimated. And of all the characters reading the novel within the novel The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, she herself is singular in that she figures out the truth behind where the material came from and its meaning.

It is in a way a shame that Philip K Dick never managed to finish a sequel for the novel, as it would have been very interesting to not only see more of the world he created in his counterfactual history, but it would have been very interesting to see what Juliana could have done with the knowledge that the ideas behind the novel within the novel were true.

However, of all of the characters Robert Childan was most certainly my favourite, not necessarily because he is the most sympathetic of characters, but he certainly had the best epiphany about how he as an American is treated by the victors. As much as he appreciates and admires Japanese culture, and uses his country’s history to develop his connections and power, he becomes someone who is proud of the new artistic developments of his countrymen despite the Japanese disdain for it. It is one of the best character arcs that I’ve read in ages, and it was great to see an underdog, who figures out he’s an underdog no matter what he does, find something that cannot be taken away from him.

I highly recommend the book to anyone, as it is a truly fascinating read and the interconnections between the characters’ plots are subtly woven into the wider fabric of the story world. It is quite literally a masterpiece in how to interweave a story told from multi-perspectives.

New Year’s Resolutions – Book Tag 2017

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I did this tag last year after Tangling Thoughts tagged me to do it, and I absolutely loved every minute. I haven’t been tagged again this year, I’m doing this off my own back, purely because I find this sort of blog post quite refreshing, and a little bit different from what I normally do.

Get in shape : name a book that doesn’t quite fit on your shelf correctly

This is definitely a tough one, as my answer for last year is still relevant – my encyclopaedia of swords is still a weird shape. However in 2016 I moved house and naturally that meant moving all the books, and then finding a new home for them. My cookbooks are all weird shapes, my various crochet/knitting/various crafting books are all a bit of an odd shape. I think though it might have to be the Star Wars- Galactic Atlas, purely because it is quite tall but also thin, and doesn’t really have a place on a shelf yet.

 Eat healthily : name a book you feel was good for you to read

 First Bite: How We Learn to Eat by Bee Wilson was definitely one of the most enlightening books I read in 2016 followed very closely by This is not a diet book: a user’s guide to eating well also by Bee Wilson. I’ve been consciously struggling with food this year because I have been reading a lot about quitting sugar, eating more super foods, and swapping to plant based diets, all in the attempt to get myself thinner. Well I got married in 2016 and being thin is seemingly the main message broadcast to brides – that resulted in me getting fatter and actually at the point I got married I was at my heaviest ever weight (at that point in my life – I’m even fatter now).

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Reading Bee Wilson though has been good for the soul and for my relationship with food. So much so I will be reviewing the books soon enough, but for now she has helped me have a much healthier attitude towards food.

 Read more : name a book you keep telling yourself to read but haven’t yet

 Well I still haven’t read 1984 by George Orwell, so that is still on the list. However turns out my husband owns a copy (which came up from his parent’s house after we moved somewhere bigger than we had before) with a step further in the right direction than I had been last year.

 Quit caring about what others think : name a book you kept going back to even though you had finished it

 Last year I chose Poems that make Grown Men Cry as the book I kept going back to – poetry for me is a bit of a spiritual journey, and at the time I wrote that last year I’d assumed Poems that make Grown Women cry would become the replacement. Nope – I bought the book but my spiritual journey with poetry had ended by that that point.

Most unfortunately I don’t have a book in this category for this year – this is because of a bad experience I had with a book that put me off reading for a very large chunk of the year.

 Save more money : name a book you got for a really good price

I managed to pick up Colour: Travels Through the Paintbox by Victoria Finlay from a sale last week. I think it was cheap only because the cover was a bit damaged. I know people that would be bothered by that, but not me, at least not in this case. Part of my Master’s dissertation was about how colour was used in food in medieval Europe so I’m really excited about having managed to pick up this book at such a low cost.

 Be more organized : how do you organize your bookshelf?

This has been a bit of a pain this year owing to the move – but we have fiction books we love ordered in series on some shelves in the lounge, and the rest of the fiction books on the shelves in the guest room. The study holds the rest, mainly history and various other non-fictions books ordered according to how well they fit on the shelves. The language books and various foreign language dictionaries I own have their own section now.

 Be punctual : shortest and longest time it took you to read a book

If it wasn’t for the fact I needed to sleep in order to go to work the next day, I think I would have easily read the screenplay for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by JK Rowling in a single sitting. I devoured that book with a gusto I have rarely felt this year.

fantastic beasts and where to find them screenpaly cover.jpg

 

I haven’t read much this year, so I think for the longest it would have to be Vermeer’s Hat: The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World by Timothy Brook. I started it about three months, and because I haven’t finished it, but I do intend to, I’m therefore still technically reading it. Only taking so long though because it’s a history book that I’m deeply interested in and I’m taking notes as I go.

 Go out more : what book made you isolate yourself from the outside world?

 I’ve always said that Harry Potter isolates me from the outside world more than anything, but for the majority of 2016 I haven’t been reading much.

For me, I connect to the world through reading and writing, and I was isolated from that world because of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. From what I read it isn’t a bad book, and I wouldn’t discourage anyone from trying it. But for me it triggered something within me that isolated me from reading and writing.

I blame the book, but it is very much a scapegoat – I was stressed out by getting married, moving house, having a long complicated honeymoon, changing jobs, and just generally being fed up with the world. 2016 was a good year to get a lot of change out of the way, but I will never be able to read that book because the stress of trying to read it cracked something inside of me and took the relief and pleasure of reading away from me.

 Be unique : what was your favourite book of 2016?

Easily Star Wars: The Force Awakens by Alan Dean Foster. I love the film – I love the book even more though.  Easily the best Star Wars Book I have ever read, and I’ve read quite a few, including the novelisation of Rogue One  by Alexander Freed. The latter is a great book and a really good accompaniment to the film, but the novelisation of Episode Seven captivated me more.

 Be more personal : what book are you waiting for most this year?

This is a sad reflection of how bad a year I have had with reading, that I haven’t been in the loop of what is going to be new and big in 2017. Haven’t a clue.

2017 is for me the year I’m going to save a bit of money and work through the books I already own that have gone unread so far. The only book I’m currently planning to get a hold of is The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick. I love the TV adaptation, and I want to know the original material as well.

 Really, resolutions? : what book do you promise to read this year?

Technically I have started it, but I got distracted and it was heavy so I can’t really commute with it, but I want to read A Little Life  by Hanya Yanagihara. I’ve read part one, but I’m planning on starting over, this time with a little notepad to jot down the names and backstories as I go to help keep a better track of what is going on.

So there we are, that is my year in reading  – hopefully 2017 will be a better one.

Book Review – Everyday by David Levithan

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everyday

I never judge a book by its cover; I also try not to judge a book by it’s first chapter on its own either. I have to admit though that the first chapter of this book was a bit boring. But it is crucial. However, once you get past the first chapter this book is more than worth the time you will dedicate to reading it.

The premise behind the book is very imaginative; ‘A’ the main character (yes that is their name) wakes up each morning to find themselves living inside a different body. Essentially, ‘A’ is a human consciousness without a permanent corporeal form. They drift everyday into a different life and a different perspective on the world. That has how they have always lived.

I say ‘they’ very deliberately as a pronoun because ‘A’ does not identify with either gender, they do not have a preference when it comes to sexuality. They judge people based on their actions and falls in love with people because of their personalities. And that is what ‘A’ does in the book; they fall in love with Rhiannon. The entire book is about ‘A’s desperate attempts to be able to connect with this girl and have a proper relationship with a person that lasts more than just a day.

Now this is actually an entirely normal desire for somebody to have, and how the book works brilliantly as a concept is that it explores what it means to do that. It is very open about depression, body image, gender and sexuality, to the point that I think the vast majority of people in the book would find at least one character to relate to, with the exception that the ideas of asexuality aren’t really explored which I would have thought for a person who lives in a different body each day would be the sort of relationship that could be cultivated.

In truth there is also a bit of body shaming of people who are fat and heavy; as a person on the heavier side, if not the extreme heavier side I know that inhabiting such a body isn’t easy at times, however I really didn’t like the way ‘A’ was very judgemental about that. It is one of the only weaknesses though, in an otherwise brilliant book.

And the reason the book is so good, is because the protagonist has such a unique viewpoint on the world. Having to live like that is not something that we have to experience, and despite ‘A’ taking desperate and at some points doing some really questionable things to other people’s bodies and their lives (even if it is just for a day) we can’t judge ‘A’ for doing this. ‘A’ judges humans for not all being open with different gender identities and sexual preferences, in truth all ‘A’ has to base their experience on is their observation of human life by living so many different human lives.

Every desire they to want make a permanent connection to a person comes from having observed from humanity that doing so is for the majority a desirable thing to do. To have friends; to have lovers; to have siblings you stand up for and are concerned about; and have a loving and respectful relationship with your parents. ‘A’ understands that depression and drug addict has massive effects on the human body and changes a person’s perspective on their life and others. ‘A’, learns that from us.

We can’t really be too harsh on them for taking desperate measures in order to try and have what comes so easily to the rest of us. I mean how many of us can say we didn’t do something a bit silly when we were sixteen and in love. ‘A’ is a teenager, and learning about growing into an adult is what being a teenager is all about.

And in the end A does come good; the resolution is beautiful.

Book Review – Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch

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Moon_Over_Soho

Unfortunately I’m not much keener on PC Peter Grant in the second of Ben Aaronovitch’s book than I am of him in ‘Rivers of London’. He is less boring in ‘Moon Over Soho’, but not by much. Everything interesting about this character comes from his interaction with other characters who are interesting and engaging. His only redeeming feature is that he is genuinely a very nice and decent bloke.

I think my main problem with him is that he is incredibly swallow. It’s a theme that comes from ‘Rivers of London’ and is seen an a regular basis in ‘Moon Over Soho’; he likes his women beautiful. Admittedly the character is well aware that he is swallow, but that doesn’t really help me like him very much. In the first book he doesn’t like being in the ‘friendzone’ with one of his colleagues, Leslie May who is dedicated to her job and helps Peter as much as possible. He says there is unresolved sexual tension; in my opinion she likes hanging out with her friend who she doesn’t view in a sexual way, but as a professional colleague.

In the second book her ends up in a relationship with a woman who is mostly described by how she looks and how much she likes cake; the only time her interests in Jazz come up is because she brings it up in the conversation. And to be honest the less I say about the completely unrealistic sexual encounters they have the better. Magic might be involved, at some level, but I doubt and even if it was I still don’t thing it would help with the time the character says he’s dedicating to the activities.

Besides my major problems with the main character, ‘Moon Over Soho’ is a better book than ‘Rivers Over London’. The plot still isn’t as tight as I would expect, and if I’m entirely honest I’m not sure how some of the plot is actually connected together. Given this is something that I’m usually very good at with books and films, I’m not sure how Aaronovitch has managed to allude me quite so well.

The plot though is fairly interesting because it is about the history of the Jazz Scene in London, in particular in Soho, which brings Peter’s parents into story a lot more. It is also more about the magical community in the past but also in the present, and who else there might be out there beside Inspector Nightingale. His character and story is a lot better than in the previous book. Before he was a dull wizard; now he’s a wizard who has a lot of grief in his past, he’s older than he looks and he is facing the possibility of having to go up against wizards who practice Black Magic and have been doing so for decades. In truth I can’t wait for that storyline to develop further.

There’s not much more I can really say; I’m still not keen on the main character, but the premise of the books as being crime with a magical twist do make then worth reading. There is enough imagination there in the stories as well as some great characters for Peter to interact with, but I still feel the execution of the writing could be a lot better.

Book Review – Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch

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It’s not often that I am completely torn about a book. I first read ‘Rivers of London’ a few years ago. I liked it but I didn’t love it. I don’t think it helped that I discovered Benedict Jacka’s ‘Alex Verus’ series at the same time. If you’ve read my reviews of Benedict Jacka’s books the you will know that I am completely head of heels in love with them. They aren’t perfect, but they are still brilliant. Aaronvitch’s book isn’t perfect either, however ‘Rivers of London’ just is not on an equal footing.

rivers of london

They are both urban fantasy books set in modern day London dealing with mysterious magical occurrences that need investigating and solving. The reason why Jacka trumps Aaronovitch in my opinion though is because Jacka created Alex Verus, a deeply complicated ex-dark Mage who finds himself in dangerous situations. In  comparison there’s, PC Peter Grant, a probationary police constable who joins up to become a wizard policeman, in order to avoid having to join the data entry department where he’s being sent because he gets easily distracted.

Honest to god, PC Grant’s superiors had a really good point, at least based on the plotting and telling of the story, because Grant gets so distracted with telling you information about by-gone times and interesting facts about London that the storytelling just grounds to a halt. Honestly, I very rarely put down a Jacka book to go make something as complicated as a cup of tea. I got water out the tap because it was quicker and I didn’t have to put down the book to fetch it.

‘Rivers of London’ though I put down and left down for long periods of time because I had got so tired of hearing about barely relevant facts about London that cluttered up the plot and got in the way of the murders being solved. There was more than one occasion that I essentially felt the author was showing off that he had done his research in order to set the scenes, while ramming it down the reader’s throats that London is the greatest city on earth.

Now admittedly being a northern member of the British North/South divide I can be a little bit defensive when it comes to people boosting about the south. However, I love London, I think it is one of the greatest cities in the world, and as a historian I am interested in the quirky little facts about my capital city. I have no problems with the information I’m being told, I just don’t want to be told it by a protagonist who is as dull as dish water in the middle of a very interesting and imaginative storyline.

And here is where I am torn about ‘Rivers of London’; the ideas in the book are very good. The mysterious murders of London citizens, which are very violent and result in some people having their faces fall off because of the effect of the magic being used on them is compelling. As a murder investigation, with a magical twist it is a bloody brilliant.

Unfortunately it’s not the main plot in the book and not the plot the book is named after. The ‘Rivers of London’ are the human personifications of the deities of the rivers in London, who are in conflict with each other. Again as a plot line it is very good, it’s just a shame it gets in the way of the better story of the murder investigation all of the time.

The book is a cross between a crime and a fantasy genre book, but it is mainly sold as a crime novel with a bit of a magical twist. While the idea behind the personifications of the rivers is fascinating, the very loose and tenuous link to the murders at the end made me roll my eyes and the fact it got in the way of the murder investigations all the time shot to pieces the type of fast paced plot I expect from a crime novel.

Crime novels are meant be filled with tension, and frustration at the lack of progress. While Aaronovitch wrote a very good plot that is more reflective of reality, if I was looking to read about the reality of modern police work I would have visited the non-fiction section. Books are not about reality, especially ones with wizarding police.

And then there is Grant’s introduction to the magical world by Inspector Nightingale, who is as equally as dull and as uninteresting as PC Grant. And he’s a wizard. I hadn’t believed it was possible to make a wizard dull, but in ‘Rivers of London’ its been achieved. I also have absolutely no idea why, because everyone else in the book, the rest of the entire cast of characters who you see through Grant’s eyes leap off the page and grab your attention. Aaronovitch is capable of making interesting characters, he just hasn’t quite managed to achieve it with his protagonist and his wizard mentor.

Which is a massive shame, because the type of stories he’s writing in his series about Grant and Nightingale working in London as modern day policemen fighting crimes of a magical nature are unique. It’s a brilliant idea, and it is only because it is a brilliant idea that I’m willing to try the rest of the series, in the vague hope that all the things that made ‘Rivers of London’ nearly damn near impossible to read get ironed out as Aaronovitch develops the series.