Sedition

Sedition

By Katherine Grant

20150514_154838

Where do I start?  An unexpected pleasure and thrill to read Katherine Grant’s book Sedition.  Beautifully paced and written Grant leads us into a seductive and dark world of music, passion and love.

London 1794 is home to Pianoforte maker and obsessive, Cantabile and his disappointment of a daughter, Annie.  Annie is an accomplished and spirited musician who spends the majority of her days in the workshop and tending to her sick mother.

Annie’s world changes when a gentleman is looking to acquire a pianoforte for his daughter and her friends to learn on so they can perform at a concert in the specific hope of procuring husbands.  Unwilling to part with his beloved instruments, Cantabile is furious when his daughter sells one to this man and here begins a downward spiral.

A music master is sent by Cantabile to ruin the girls, and we are drawn into their silly girlish thoughts and not so girlish actions.  One of the girls, Alathea lives in a world of darkness but when Annie unveils herself she brings light, while Alathea offers love and hope.  These two girls share a passion for music and a love of and for each other.

Sedition is a real look into a connection between people and the harsh realities of life.  Grant’s writing is musical throughout and in one chapter she brilliantly writes one event from differing perspectives using a ‘repeat’, stressing that although it may be called a repeat, no note can be played in exactly the same way twice – the same event will be viewed and experienced differently by the participants involved.

Highly character lead, the slower pace of the introduction leads into the faster pace of the passion and intensity of emotion until the crescendo.  As the title suggests, there has been conduct, inciting the people to rebel and this is what we are deeply waiting for throughout.

What I liked most about this books was the true capturing of emotions.  There was no salacious Hollywood feel, just believable and the sometimes unexplored or discussed feelings being represented which kept the book’s feet on the ground, so to speak.  This is a definite read and a potential reread.

Advertisements

The First Fifteen Lives Of Harry August

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August

By Claire North

Death and rebirth have been subjects that have interested people for as far back as we can remember; Religions around the world are based on them. Claire North explores these themes in her novel The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August.

I was drawn to this book because I thought it was going to be about a man who is born, lives, dies then is reborn into another body in another year. However, it is about a man who is born New Year’s Eve 1918 and is reborn, after every death, on exactly the same day and in exactly the same circumstances. The thing that differs is his knowledge. In each new life, at around school age, he remembers the previous life and therefore uses this acquired information in a variety of ways to suit his needs. Some of his choices have better outcomes than others and occasionally he is forced to take his own life. Each new life is an ongoing adventure for Harry.

The book begins with a very short chapter comprising of an unusual conversation between Harry at seventy eight on his death bed and a seven year old girl. In an adult tone she relays an important message to and through Harry: The world is ending.

Apart from the obvious and his intelligence (most of which is gained from his memory of previous lives), Harry is an unremarkable guy living in unremarkable circumstances. He has family issues like the rest of us and, in general, doesn’t seem like the most interesting man although he does seem to have a dark sense of humour. The catalyst for Harry to step out of his rather boring life is his visit from this young girl. This provides him with a purpose and allows us to see what type of person he really is when pushed to the extreme.

Claire writes with great detail and fluidity. She seems to have done her research as the book is filled with references about World War 1, Russia and science, to name but a few. She’s created character well, showing us how people are through their actions.

‘… a Mrs Mason, a cheerful, rose-faced woman who could crack a chicken’s neck between thumb and forefinger and who didn’t believe in this new-fangled NHS business, not when there were gooseberries in the garden and rosehip cordial in the kitchen cupboard.’ (P197)

The story jumps between lives but does have structure so it’s not too confusing. What is interesting, apart from the main story line, is how Harry behaves in each of his lives. How he changes some of the things he does or how he doggedly sticks to some actions. It’s intriguing to the reader to not only see what it could be like to be reborn but to examine fate and question if we can really change the events of our lives if we choose or had chosen an alternate path.

This book was definitely worth a read. And with clearly an intelligent and talented author, I will be keeping a look out for her other novel Touch.

The Moaning of Life

The Moaning of Life

By Karl Pilkington

Karl Pilkington is a simple guy with some interesting thoughts and quotes. Whether you are watching him being berated by Ricky Gervais or reading one of his 6 books, you will be struck by his complex straightforwardness. I find him fascinating while his intelligence, stupidity and insightfulness flummoxes me. The main reason is because he is a successful writer and producer. Not that I want to be mean, on the contrary, but after watching and reading Karl’s thoughts I wonder how he ended up where he is now.

He’s not interested in travel and likes to live modestly, so why has he travelled around the globe and put himself in the arena for potential fame and ridicule? Was it the force known as Ricky who shoved Karl on a plane and gave him terrible tasks to do just to be annoying or did Karl deep down want to see some of the world.   Maybe Karl just though it would be a good little earner? Whatever it was he’s grabbed this bull by the horns and continued travelling and writing books including The Moaning of Life.

Written plainly with a northern twang The Moaning of Life is set out into sections with a witty introduction clearly stating his lack of interest in fuss and surprises and allowing us a little insight into his confusions at traditions like marriage and having children. Simply named the headings are: Marriage, Kids, Vocation and Money, Happiness and Death. We follow Karl as he travels the world partaking in these everyday occurrences in life.

Marriage sees Karl exploring the concepts of matchmaking and marriage. He works as a wedding planner for an Indian family and observes a couple who marry in Vegas in a laundrette. They exchange dirty clothes and wash them, therefore beginning the marriage on a clean slate while accepting that there may be less pleasant times or habits which one has to accept. During his involvement in wedding ceremonies and meeting the people involved Karl offers his point of view.

I find it odd that we’ve named it the ‘ring finger’. It just goes to show that we have too many fingers. I reckon we’d get by okay if we had lobster hands.’ P12

A typical Karl comment.

Kids begins with an excellent explanation as to why he doesn’t want offspring – it’s actually quite sweet really. Karl is in a hotel and there is a knock at the door, he’s nervous about letting the person in as he is hiding something in his room. He answers the door and he’s relieved it’s just the director and not the hotel staff. Karl says he’s knackered as he hasn’t slept then he shows the director the problem: a turtle in the bath.

Karl has rescued a turtle from a street market in Tokyo. Unfortunately, in a Karl-like manner, he hasn’t thought it through. He has decided to keep it in the bath, but was so concerned the turtle would strangle itself with the plug chain Karl stayed awake to make sure it was safe. He sees this as proof that he shouldn’t have children. He thinks if he’s worrying about a turtle that much then what would he be like with a child? He’s got a point. Like he says:

‘Having kids is the biggest decision you have to make in life, cos once you’ve had one, you can’t send it back.’ P86

Karl opens the Vocation and Money section by saying:

‘I left school with no qualifications worth speaking of, and the only work experience I’d had was playing a shepherd in the Christmas nativity play,’ p147

I find this inspiring. I bet he’d never think he’s an inspirational guy, but I like that he is who he is; he hasn’t come from a position of privilege yet he has a successful career. From a shepherd to producer and writer. I wonder if he sees it that way?

Happiness is a strange (or should I say stranger) section. Karl meets people who hang themselves, by their skin, from hooks; people who get happy by exercising and others seeking happiness though dancing. Now, here is one activity Karl always seems to enjoy. For someone who doesn’t like a fuss made of them because it’s embarrassing he clearly has music in his veins because if there’s an opportunity to dance he doesn’t need asking twice and without a moan he’s up and moving. During this chapter Karl even gets into the swing of cosmetic surgery.

The book ends (obviously and aptly) with Death where Karl experiences funerals, mourning and the dead. On such a dark subject Karl manages to lighten the mood. On moving a body he says:

‘It’s hard to describe the chaos, but just imagine the Chuckle Brothers trying to shift a mattress.’ P312

His description provides us with an all too clear image. He isn’t disrespectful, even though it may sound like it. He admits he has limited emotions and through the book you do get a detached sense of Karl amongst the world. This is probably why his insights and comments can be taken without too much upset because he always seems a little removed to mean any harm plus his honest thoughts and simplicity of style allows him to slide under the radar of reprimands because telling him off would be like scolding a Labrador.

This brief look into the book and unusual mind of Karl Pilkington will hopefully make you want to read some of his writing. It’s an entertaining, funny, light read and for those who have never heard of him you will be shaking your head as you delve into the Pilkington mind. Perfect for this festive period when some escapism is required.

HOW I LIVE NOW

How I Live Now

By Meg Rosoff

Being a winner of the Guardian Fiction Prize, I was, to say the least, a little surprised at how underwhelmed I was by this novel.

The reader follows 15 year old Elizabeth, AKA Daisy, on her journey from New York to the depths of the countryside in England. The reason? She’s anorexic with a hatred for her stepmother and her unborn sister so her father unburdens himself and plonks this messed-up teen on her cousins and busy aunt.

The real journey however, turns out to be her relationship with her cousins during the (a) war. Now, I write ‘a’ in brackets because I was confused right from the start. Daisy tells of the war as if it the Second World War but then speaks of not getting a mobile phone connection and not being able to send emails. In other parts of the book she also mentions terrorism. No date is ever mentioned Im so confused. My mum read it and couldn’t enlighten me either. I feel like I’ve missed something. I feel as if I should read it again, but I really don’t want to.

Personally, I was instantly irritated with the voice of the fifteen year old (and I say ‘personally’ because The Mail on Sunday and author Mark Haddon say the voice is original and faultless, respectively). I felt sometimes she sounded about five years old and other times much older possibly beyond her years. Alongside the mixed references of the war and contemporary media and the strange, old-style names similar to something youd find in the Famous Five nothing sat comfortably with me. Even if I took into account her mental instability I couldnt get my head around it.

I enjoyed the second half of the book more because we see Daisy on a perilous mission to find her cousins, so you do wonder whether she will live long enough to actually reach her destination and complete her search.

There are funny moments of dialogue and I did feel a twinge of emotion towards the end, but it soon passed. This book was easy to read yet complicated. What I mean is, you can read it quickly – which is a good thing because it will leave you feeling like a second read is a must just to see what you missed. I will hopefully be enlightened and a little less confused if I dare to venture into this book again.

Maybe I should think about it like a Francis Bacon painting: it isn’t supposed to be comfortable or easy. Yet, it wasn’t the topic which I found challenging it was the voice, style and lack of clarity as to what war was going on. Please read it, and offer me your views on what I have missed. I don’t usually struggle so much with any of the arts and I’m finding it frustrating.

 

The Last Dance

The Last Dance and Other Stories

By Victoria Hislop

In this collection of evocative short stories Victoria captures the intimate lives of the Greek people.  Through her intricate observations of daily life she allows the reader to be drawn into poignant events through memorable characters.

The detailed description is what makes Victoria’s writing come to life.  She doesn’t skip the grime or sadness – in fact she embraces it and uses it to evoke the atmosphere of a place and the heart of a person.

“It was the silent hour.  The wind had dropped, traffic had disappeared, pedestrians had vanished.  It was hard to tell whether the stray, still dogs in the shade were alive or dead.  Flies seemed to be the only living creatures, ceaselessly flitting from one animal to the other.” P69

The Lesson captures the intensity of a bond between two children just beginning their school lives together.  Giannis is constantly berated and humiliated by his overbearing teacher who is annoyed by his disobedience and defiance of her authority.  The children are inseparable and the teacher takes huge offence to their defiance as they continue to remain in each other’s company as long and as frequently as possible.  Once grown a chance encounter brings Giannis and his teacher back together.

One story tells of feuding butchers with grudges from the past while another sees a saddened mother watching her twin sons competing ferociously with each other to the detriment of their relationship.  Another is a wistful love story with a beautiful and intriguing opening:

“In a Melbourne suburb, a young man was unpacking.  He retrieved two small objects from the bottom of his suitcase, removed several layers of tissue and placed them carefully on his desk.  Apart from the key ring of the Parthenon that he had been given by his aunt, they were his sole souvenir from Greece.  The figures, a bear and an eagle, were perfect in every detail and he would treasure them.” p57

All the stories (typical of Victoria’s writing) are thought provoking and enjoyable to read.  The benefit of a short story is it doesn’t take too much time to read.  And because it is like an emotional capsule – capturing a moment – you don’t feel short changed; you feel like you’ve just peeped through a window and witnessed an argument, an intimate kiss or a lonely tearstained face.

Small Island

Small Island
By Andrea Levy

Last Christmas my writing group had a fabulous social gathering. As part of the literature theme of the evening (although I think wine was the main focus) we, the guests, had been asked to bring a book we wanted to share with others. However, I’d somehow missed the email and I had no book to impose on my companions. Luckily for me the group was kind and they handed me a spare paperback called Small Island. On first glance I thought it was a tad too large for my bag, but I said thanks and gratefully took it home.

After reading the YA fiction trilogy Matched I came to Small Island and I’m so glad I did. On the books first opening I was intrigued to find a postcard with a hilly landscape sketch on it. On its reverse was a written explanation as to why this anonymous person had provided this book. Here is a sample:

‘I do hope you enjoy this book as much as I did. It was important to me in helping me to understand more about the England I grew up in – I was born in 1940. We lived in rural Somerset, so I had very little idea about the larger patterns of social change in the UK.’

Small Island is set during WW2 and after in its period of recovery. We are taken into the heads and lives of the four main characters: (English) Queenie and Bernard and (Jamaican) Hortense and Gilbert.

We explore societal and personal relationships. We see how Hortense and Gilbert, who have longed to make a life in England as a lawyer and a teacher, encounter racism and prejudice. We observe the change in society as the war finishes and cultures and races mix. I found it shocking and fascinating at the open levels of racist abuse and the more subtle, underlying, accepted racism and perceived superiority at being white and British. Although, one hears of how people were treated it’s quite difficult comprehend. I think this book goes a little way to assisting the understanding of how black people, specifically Jamaicans, who were fighting for the Britain, were treated.

Andrea Levy writes so beautifully and easily, capturing the heart of personal and intimate moments through the most banal of daily tasks. On Bernard’s return from war we see both his and his wife’s struggle at getting back to ‘normality’.

‘“Took me a while to find the teapot,’ he told me. ‘Not where it usually is.”’ p435

Levy doesn’t skip the detail of daily lives and I think it’s this that draws us in and provides us with the essence of each character. We see how they perform on a day-to-day basis both in solitary mode and in company; we examine how they live and how they respond.

Each moment and event is perfectly crafted with her insightful words. During war she evokes in our minds the struggle and bizarreness that the men found themselves in with beautiful simplicity.

‘The relief had the whole trench sighing as one man.’ P346

And

‘Chap looked about eighty. We all did, with our pantomime aging of dust.’ P347

With Levy’s excellent prose I was taken on a journey of discovery where I held tight to the note on the postcard. It felt like a treasure that someone else had experienced something great in this book and now I was too. I kept this unidentified message inside the book during reading. It felt personal. I hope it remains with the book when I pass it on as it definitely added an unexpected dimension to my reading experience.

Read this book and if you’re lucky you may come across this magical copy.

Reached

Reached

Reached

By Ally Condie

‘You cannot change your journey if you are unwilling to move at all.’

Reached is the final book in the Matched trilogy which now combines the thoughts of, not only Cassia and Ky, but Xander: Cassia’s Match.   Xander’s voice is a welcome addition; his viewpoint is required in this book when the three rebels and friends are separated and undertake their own personal journeys alongside their intertwined goals and desires.

The Society is falling and the Risings efforts to infiltrate and dominate are looking promising, until unexpected events cause death, fear and distrust. The central characters are separated and their efforts and objectives are in question.  The reader is left wondering not only who Cassia will end up with, but will she end up with anyone at all?

The voices of the three protagonists are more grown up and reflect their struggles.  I find Ky’s voice can sometimes feel like an echo of Cassia.   Xander’s voice is much more individual.  The pace is quicker than Crossed and contains frequent contemplations, mainly from Cassia about the arts and life:

‘And it strikes me that this is how writing anything is, really.  A collaboration between you who give the words and they who take them and find meaning in them, or put music to them, or turn them aside because they were not needed.’ Cassia.

The arts, except for the select 100 chosen by the Society, have not been enjoyed or understood by many.   Cassia comes to realise how much it is needed especially as death all too frequently knocks at their doors:

‘Writing, painting, singing – it cannot stop everything.  Cannot halt death in its tracks.  But perhaps it can make the pause between death’s footsteps sound and look and feel beautiful’ and ‘the journey there between footsteps makes up our lives.’

I’m going to keep this short as I don’t want to give too much away.  I think what sums up this book as well as the trilogy as a whole is a love triangle, a rebellion against a society for freedom of choice and a contemplative discussion on the importance of the arts within a society.  It’s an enjoyable read, better than Crossed but not as good as Matched.  It does what YA dystopian fiction should do: create an emotional response towards the lovers (the reader can choose who she wishes Cassia to be with depending on their own preferences) and make us think and question our society and our place within it.

 

Matched Trilogy

Matched

By Ally Condie

Image

Dystopian Young Adult fiction has been doing the rounds for a while and is getting even bigger with The Hunger Games now being made into a series of films.  Matched, set somewhere in the future, follows a trilogy format and has been written specifically for this style.  Although it’s possible to read each independently I don’t think you would get the best out of the books.

We follow the thoughts and travels of Cassia, a 17 year old girl who is due to be ‘matched’ to her future husband at the extravagant and much awaited Match Banquet.  The Society record and measure their citizens to provide the best life possible for them – from calorie controlled meals, whom to marry, to the time you should die.  All of the results are collated and your life is predicted and controlled accordingly.  Cassia’s match has been carefully chosen to suit her (and his) needs perfectly.

Everyone including Cassia enjoys the structure of their daily lives and respects the order and expectations because it leads to a healthier, productive, happier society.

After the joyous Match Banquet, where in a rare occurrence Cassia is matched with Xavier – her best friend who lives in her district – Cassia is presented with an event which changes the course of her life.  Each person matched receives a Microcard with information about their future partner on it.  On viewing her Microcard, Cassia is momentarily presented with another face – Ky, another boy from her district.  Throwing everything into question, Cassia is confused: the Society doesn’t make mistakes.  Cassia loves Xavier and is relieved and thrilled to be matched to him – it’s meant to be, it’s been predicted.  However, Ky’s face won’t remove itself from her mind and this begins a slow change in her perception of the Society and even herself.

As the story unravels we, along with Cassia, discover the deeper workings of the Society and become aware of just what they’re capable of.  Without giving too much away, the end is the start of Cassia’s search for her future and the truth and the beginning of the next book.

As an adult I enjoyed this book and I feel it suits the YA age group. A lot of books are called ‘cross-over’ but have an adult voice – and although this does house adult concepts and the occasional word you wouldn’t expect a teenager to use (it can be forgiven because of the futuristic environment) you do still feel it’s a teenager speaking.  Cassia goes on a journey and like most teenagers moving into adulthood we see her opening her eyes and becoming aware of the world as a whole and not just her own little, egocentric bubble.  Although the protagonist is a teenager it doesn’t matter because the concepts of conspiracy theories, society’s control, love etc. are ones which draw us all in.  All you adults out there don’t restrict yourself to books with people of a similar age, sex and ethnicity to you – it’s limiting and a bit boring too.  I just like reading and am happy to devour any book that comes my way and if I don’t like it then it doesn’t matter – you can’t like everything but how do you know if you don’t try?

Crossed and Reached are the next books in this trilogy and I look forward to reading and reviewing them too.

World Book Day with Mr Benn

Quote: “nothing exciting ever happens to me,” Mr Benn.

Mr Benn

With World Book Day Thursday 6th March I thought I’d take on a children’s classic: Mr Benn – Red Knight by David McKee. I acquired a copy from a child I look after and she eyed me with suspicion when I asked to borrow it. I made sure I said ‘borrow’. She said yes but reminded me it was a very special book (as if I didn’t know); I have read it to her loads. But why have I read it to her loads? This tale was first published in 1967 and this girl is 6. So what makes it rise above contemporary stories?

The story goes like this:

Mr Benn, a suited man in a bowler hat, is invited to a fancy dress party. He goes to a fancy dress shop and chooses a red suit of armour to try on. In the changing room there is a second door which leads him into another world. In this world he meets a dragon who used to light the fires for the king but was banished after a matchmaker came to the town. The matchmaker wants to get rich selling his matches so sets a barn on fire and tells everyone it was the dragon. At the same time the king’s horse runs away which makes the king think the dragon has something to do with it (why? I don’t know). The dragon says the horse is living near him but he was too scared to return it to the king.

After telling Mr Benn of his woes he (Mr Benn) rides off on the horse to the castle to explain. The King punishes the matchmaker by imprisoning him in the dungeon and forcing him to make free matches for the people while the dragon returns as the king’s personal firelighter.

Mr Benn has sorted all the problems and returns to the changing room. He decides he’s too tired for the party after all and goes home to dream about all the other adventures he might have.

Mr Benn and the dragon

The idea is genius. It lends itself to vast numbers of adventures for Mr Benn and therefore numerous books and, as we know, television programmes too. The concept of dressing up is a great one for children – they completely understand dressing up and can get to grip with that concept immediately. It crosses the boundary into the wilds of their imagination whilst maintaining a safe familiarity.

An equally important part of this book (and my favourite) is the illustrations. Line drawings, which are akin to doodles, are alternated with bright, child-like, stylised paintings.

Mr Benn line drawing

Back to the text. When reading out loud to a child you’ll notice the difference in sentence length, structure and language. For example, one sentence I always trip over is:

‘The shop bell tinkled and as if by magic there was suddenly a strange little man, with a moustache and an odd hat, standing in front of Mr Benn.’

I think it is because I’m expecting a full stop after ‘tinkled’ and the next sentence to start ‘As if …’ The sentences do feel longer than the current books and the word usage is different too; words like: desolate, barren and triumphal procession are used. Today’s writers for children are told (by publishers and those in the know)to use language children understand and can potentially read without stumbling or wondering what on earth it means. I also feel when Mr Benn meets the dragon and hears of the dragon’s back story it is ‘telling’ rather than showing (which writers always get told off for) and it’s a long and slightly confusing backstory told like a story within a story. I think it would work better if it was told by the dragon and not by the narrator.

Mr Benn and the shops

However, what do I know? The story is popular and has been since 1967. This isn’t the first book from years ago that is still being, not just enjoyed, but loved by children; they don’t seem so confused by the language, they seem to take it in their stride and ask what ‘desolate’ means or understand that no one can possibly know all the words. Children don’t seem to care if they’re being ‘told’ a story either. I think they just want something that taps into their imagination and can take them on a jolly good romp. Hoorah! As Enid Blyton would write.

Line drawing of trees

Enjoy World Book Day! Let me know of your interesting reads.

Noughts and Crosses

Noughts & Crosses
By Malorie Blackman

Noughts and Crosses
Award winning Malorie Blackman writes a Romeo and Juliet tale. Two childhood sweethearts want nothing more than to be together. In a world where colour divides the two young lovers have an obstacle in their way: colour. Callum: a pale nought can never be with the dark skinned Cross, Sephy. Living in a society where colour determines class, intelligence and power Callum and Sephy struggle to overcome such prejudice.

The novel is told from the alternative viewpoints of Callum and Sephy. This, for me, is what kept the pages turning. It was each person’s experience and view of an event/conversation which was interesting. It works perfectly, showing how things can be easily misconstrued and how each misinterpretation affects the characters and in turn, the plot line.

I was surprised how simple the writing and general story was. I felt it never really went anywhere. I wanted more fight against the segregation of the noughts and Crosses. But it was very much about the relationship between Callum and Sephy and when/if they would see each other again and if they loved each other (to which the reader knows the answer) and will they die, separate or end up together? I think either finale would have felt a little disappointing for me as I wanted them (especially Sephy) to wholeheartedly rise up and revolt against her kind and really make a difference. However, it just ends.

Even though I had some mild irritation for some of the simplistic language/style it does raise an excellent awareness about racial issues. By making the couples struggle within their small, inward looking environment we do feel a sense of helplessness for the situation as the couple try to get to grips with how prejudice and oppressive their immediate and wider society is.
Malorie probably writes a more realistic version of what would happen to two lovers who were not allowed to be together because of discrimination. But I wanted to hear that they fought against it and made a difference. She deserves huge praise for bringing these issues into a novel for teens and creating an intense, passionate world.

In conclusion, I enjoyed reading about another pair of star-crossed lovers and found the racial tensions fascinating, but (and I hate to say this) I still felt a little surprised I was reading a novel by an award winning author.