Friday, 31 August 2012

The Family Fang

The Family Fang – Kevin Wilson
The premise of this book is one of the more intriguing I’ve come across and it more than lived up to my expectations. The Fang Family are performance artists – emphasis on the ‘Artist’, they travel the USA creating chaos and filming it as artistic statement. From their births the Fang Children Annie and Buster (A&B) have been the centrepieces of the art their parents create, from Busters winning of a beauty pageant (as the prettiest girl there) to Annie’s many observations of her parents being dragged out of various places screaming in protest. Fast forward a few years and Annie and Buster have become a film star and a writer respectively. But not all is going well. Cue the siblings moving back home and the action takes off.
This was such a wonderful read! It was extremely well written with such vivid characters, a plot that had me cringing one minute and laughing out loud the next. I especially enjoyed the twists and turns and general madness that the family creates. The story skips seamlessly from the present and the previous exploits of Caleb and Camille Fang as each artwork brings the reader closer to the events of the novel and to a deeper understanding of the characters. Wilson artfully explores the concept of Art and its many forms and meanings along with the nature of family and the depth of connection that exists there. I would not hesitate to recommend ‘The Family Fang’ to anyone.

Song for the Road

Song for the Road – Various
When I picked up a book that contained the touring tales of 24 of Australia’s singer-songwriters naturally I felt that this would be a debauched romp through the darker hours on the tour bus. To a degree this was the case, there were a couple of acid trippy tales, however I was pleasantly surprised to find that for the most part what these celebrities value in their travels are much the same as the rest of us plebs. A particular favourite of mine was Murray Cook’s (aka the Red Wiggle) contribution, his was a love affair with New York, his first visit and the subsequent trips he took as the Wiggles went from being a family based group to one of Australia’s most recognisable exports.
The majority of these stories were well written, however I found some to be the type of pointless retelling that so many of us have when we get home ‘first I went here, then I did this, then we went to bed, then I got up and did it all over again’.  This was the fine line ‘Song for the Road’ trod, between being an entertaining romp through other peoples travels, and being a boring recounting of the same trips many of us had taken. This is also what made this book so enjoyable and accessible, that I could relate to these stories and see my own in them.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Daughter of Smoke and Bone – Laini Taylor
This genre has seen a resurgence in the past few years – however the majority of those books on the top ten lists contain at least one of the walking dead. Not so Laini Taylor’s latest novel, ‘Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Set in Prague we follow Karou, a young woman with extraordinary artistic talent and shockingly bright hair who hides a considerable secret. Raised by a chimera, or demon, named Brimstone and the motley crew which composes her family, Karou is a young woman who exists between worlds. Sent on errand after errand to collect human teeth for Brimstone, yet never knowing why, Taylor leads her readers into the labyrinth and mystery of the world that exists just beyond Karou’s understanding – where does the forbidden door in Brimstone’s lair lead? Why does he need teeth??
All these questions fade into the background as the doorways into Brimstone’s world begin to close, leaving Karou locked on the outside with no idea where her family has disappeared to. What’s more, an angelic warrior named Akiva is shadowing her – but for good or ill? I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, the first in a trilogy. The writing is intelligent and the plot is exciting in a way that only an original idea such as this can be. At its core this is a novel that questions what we know of good and evil, right and wrong, and the lengths a people will go to in order to protect and maintain their way of life.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

West End Front

West End Front – Matthew Sweet

There have been a plethora of books written about the Second World War and its effect on the common man in the UK, yet Matthew Sweet's investigation into the lives of the more extravagant hotels on London’s west end presents a fresh view of a world at war. The Savoy, Claridge’s and The Ritz are the protagonists as they cater to a London that refused to let Hitler interrupt the sacred ritual of tea. These hotels were home to those who called the shots, made the big decisions, with entire floors rented to MI5 and war ministers. Within the richly upholstered walls were Kings and Queens, Spies and Agents, and the many men and women who served them. 

Sweet’s writing is extremely accessible and enjoyable to read, full of atmosphere and characters that jump off the page, in particular the vivacious men recalling their time at the Ritz’s Pink Sink – the best place to ‘pick up’ in town. Yet this is not the romp behind formerly closed doors that I had imagined it to be. Even at their most extravagant this London was one that suffered (albeit less than the general populace), tales are told of monarchies exiled to rooms in the Savoy who were never able to go home, innocent waiters who were interned under Regulation 18b and of Winston Churchill hearing about the end of the war he fought so hard to win from the sidelines of a room at Claridge’s. Ultimately the reality of War could never be escaped, however much the great hotels tried, even the moments of oblivion they provided could not stop the world from turning. This was a great read; I would really recommend it for History buffs and anyone simply enjoys a good yarn.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Alif the Unseen

Here's a little sneak peek for ya'll - Alif the Unseen – G Willow Wilson

Alif the Unseen is being hailed as the ‘Harry Potter of the hacker generation’, this is not something I agree with – the themes and characters are so far removed from Rowling’s world that I feel the comparison was made simply to drum up a buzz. Which is a shame, as this is a wonderful novel, full of atmosphere and written with a precision that allowed a complete computer illiterate like me to comprehend the world that Alif inhabited. Wilson plays with concepts of power, such as a name and the personality inherent in all those we take on, the Jinn are a people who place a great deal of importance in a name, and the fact that Alif chooses to be known by his ‘handle’ rather than his given name is proof of how he views himself. I found the world created by Wilson to be wonderfully foreign, yet at the same time incredibly real, I felt the world Alif lived in surround me as I read – this is a rare occurrence.

This is novel firmly set in the Middle Eastern world and mindset – Alif and his hacker friends (most of whom he has never met) struggle to provide a modicum of freedom in world where even the words you type are censored and cause for disciplinary action. This is a world that Alif is proficient in, a world in which he has a nobility that eludes him in the real world. However, all too soon Alif’s controlled world spirals out of control when the woman he loves sends him a copy of the mythical Alf Yeom – the Thousand and One Days, said to contain the wisdom of the Jinn, the magical creatures that inhabit a world alongside our own. The knowledge this book contains is enough to make Alif a target, a fugitive, it is worth killing for. Alif must use all of his skills and knowledge to free not only himself, but the oppressed people of his country.

'Cause everyone has to have a favourite...

The Obernewtyn Chronicles – Isobelle Carmody

I started the Obernewtyn chronicles in 1998 and I’ve probably read them again every second year since. Needless to say I’m over the moon that in less than a fortnight I’ll be the proud (very anti-social) owner of the latest offering in the series ‘The Sending’.

Set in a world that has been ravaged by ‘weaponmachines’ that cause a nuclear apocalypse, the series follows the misfit (people with mental powers such as talking to beasts and each other with their minds) Elspeth Gordie as she strives to find a place for herself and her misfit friends in the cruel, authoritarian land run by the Council and the fanatical religious order the Herder faction.

With the aid of her friends, cat Maruman and horse Ghaltha in particular, Elspeth must follow the clues left only for her many years ago to the site where the weaponmachines are sleeping, waiting to finish the job they started. It’s a race against time as she strives to outwit her counterpart seeking to end the world. Amidst all this she still manages to live her life and it is this and the wonderful characters that surround her that makes these books well worth the wait.

Carmody is a wonderful writer, the worlds she creates are always complete and despite the differences still familiar. Her characters are flawed and loveable and so real I’ve always thought of them as old friends. The only problem is the time it’s taken her to finish this series – but given the other wonderful places she’s taken me to in the meantime I’ll forgive her. 

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Shadow of Night

Shadow of Night - Deborah Harkness

I first read about ‘A Discovery of Witches’ in 2009 – many months before it hit the shelves. I waited with an anticipation I had not felt for a new publication in quite some time – there seemed to be something about this novel of witches and history that would give a post twilight world the intelligent escapism it was crying out for. Happily I wasn’t disappointed, I found the protagonists ambivalence to the magic dynasty she was born into to be intriguing, her obsession with history understandable and the tall handsome stranger intent on protecting her very titillating. Furthermore, the world Harkness created was both credible and vivid. So often in fantasy today it falls to authors to completely reconstruct the mythos of the magical world in order to put their mark on it – and this was certainly a new world with politics and magical hierarchies that set Harkness apart. 

The plot flows quickly and methodically – we meet Diana and Matthew whilst Diana is working at Oxford, when she innocently calls up Ashmole 782. This book is one that Witch, Daemon and Vampire kind have only heard rumours about – is it the first Spell book? Or something more, could it be the book that contains the answer to the origins of all three species? One thing is for certain; both Witch and Vampire will go to any lengths to get their hands on it. Diana and Matthew must defy centuries of prejudice if they are to survive and understand both their feelings for each other and the implications of the book. This journey will take them from modern Oxford, to France, to the USA and finally to Elizabethan England. 

Not always is a sequel as polished or as inventive as a debut novel, especially when an authors first book garners the acclaim of ‘A Discovery of Witches’, yet I was thrilled to find that I enjoyed ‘A Shadow of Night’ just as much as its predecessor. The character arks were written skilfully and so the characters grew as the plot was driven on. I find Harkness’ writing style to be extremely readable and enjoyable, my only criticism is that it will be another year before I find out what happens!