Sunday, 31 January 2010

Reivew: Friction - Joe Stretch



Published: 2008, Vintage


Acquired: Sent to me by the lovely Fiona at Random House







“Life in Manchester is sexy and stinking. Hold your breath.” So begins the blurb of Stretch’s debut novel, Friction. Believe me, I was holding my breath. Books about illicit sex between attractive twenty-somethings generally seem to disappoint and, to be honest, my expectations of Friction were not particularly high. However, Stretch’s writing style is infectious, his characters brilliantly crafted and his story electric.

Friction is the story of six characters, told by a nameless, faceless narrator who is holed up in an Orwellian asylum, pondering each person’s relationship with sex. We have Carly, the ‘fit as fuck’ sex mad girlfriend of Steve, who only cares about money and cool haircuts. Their relationship is based around sex, cash and a constant power struggle, particularly when Steve finds himself second best to Carly’s newly acquired sex machine.

Justin and Rebecca start off as strangers but, after Justin inherits sixty thousand pounds he teams up with stripper (and Dostoevsky enthusiast) Rebecca and together they seek out ‘brand new ways of having sex’, which take a dangerous turn when Colin, a lonely psychopath who lives in a rat infested apartment, gets involved. And finally there’s Johnny, the virgin. All his wants is sex, preferably with Rebecca.

Something that really interested me was the narrator’s tone of voice. He genuinely seems as though he can’t really be bothered to tell the story. Any secondary characters are given the simple monikers of ‘Boy 1’ or ‘Girl 2’ and he frequently ends a sentence with ‘blah, blah, blah’, as if it doesn’t really matter what exactly is going on, as long as we get the gist.

By the time I’d finished the final chapter I was feeling a little depressed. Everything just seemed so hopeless and I couldn’t help but think the consumer-driven, hateful world depicted in Friction is not so different from the world we’re living in today. Maybe it’s only a matter of time before we ditch our men and parade around strapped to a Japanese sex robot. Then again, maybe not.

The epilogue, though, was a stroke of genius and elevates this novel from an average debut to a work of art. With the new slant on things the epilogue gives us, I suddenly saw Friction in a whole new light and realised what a clever writer Stretch really is.

On the surface Friction seems like a quick, sexy read that you can flash through in a matter of hours but if you look a bit deeper you’ll find the sort of excellent writing that so rarely finds its way into an author’s debut novel, particularly one as contentious as Stretch’s first effort. Friction is controversial but it doesn’t rest on the shock factor. While reading Friction I was reminded, more than once, of J. G. Ballard’s fantastic style and I thought of Crash many times which, in my opinion, can only be a good thing.



Rating:


Writing: 4.5/5

Plot: 3/5

Characters: 3.5/5

Cover: 3.5/5


Total: 14/20

In My Mailbox (2)

This week I received boxes and boxes of books through the post (it was very exciting)! I think in total I got sent about 30 (arghh, so many books, so little time) so this week I'm going to post the ones I'm most excited about:


From Luisa at Chicklish: The Liberators - Philip Womack:


"When Ivo Moncrieff arrives in London to spend Christmas with his aunt and uncle, he steps off the train and into a nightmare..."








Sent by Random House: Friction - Joe Stretch:


"The pornography of everyday life."









Bought myself: Just Listen - Sarah Dessen:


"I'm Annabel. I'm the girl who has it all. Model looks, confidence, a great social life. I'm one of the lucky ones. Aren't I?

My 'best friend' is spreading rumours about me. My family is slowly falling apart. It's turning into a long, lonely summer, full of secrets and silence."







Sent by Random House: Menage - Ewan Morrison:


"In 1993, Dot, Saul and Owen lived together on the fringes of the Hoxton art scene, shoplifting, dole scrounging, doing drugs and swapping clothes and beds. Their year as a menage, however, led to a suicide attempt, to art stardom, and to one of the three vanishing from the world."





Bought myself: Girlfriend in a Coma - Douglas Coupland:


"It's 15th December, 1979, and Richard's girlfriend Karen has entered a deep coma. She only took a couple of valium washed down with a cocktail, but now she's locked away in suspended animation, oblivious to the passage of time. What if she were to wake up decades later - a 17-year-old girl in a distant future, a future where the world has gone dark?"






Sent by Curled Up With A Good Book: Fallen - Lauren Kate:


"There's something achingly familiar about Daniel Grigori.
Mysterious and aloof, he captures Luce Price's attention from the moment she sees him on her first day at Sword & Cross boarding school in Savannah. He's the one bright spot in a place where cell phones are forbidden, the other students are screwups and security cameras watch every move.
Except Daniel wants nothing to do with Luce - he goes out of his way to make that very clear. But she can't let it go. Drawn to him like a moth to a flame, Luce has to find out what Daniel is so desperate to keep secret...even if it kills her."


Sent by Random House: Butterbabe - Rebecca Golden:


"Rebecca Golden weighed just over 6lb at birth. By the time she graduated from high school she weighed almost 26 stone and a few years later she tipped the scales at over 40 stone. Although morbidly obese she never had high blood pressure, heart disease or diabetes; she drove a car and worked and ‘never became fused to a sofa’. But being so large meant there were things she simply couldn’t do, like get up off the floor unaided and sit in booths in restaurants. Then, at the age of thirty-three, she took the difficult decision to have a gastric bypass, and lost over 15 stone."


Sent by Curled Up: Some Girls Are - Courtney Summers:


"Climbing to the top of the social ladder is hard--falling from it is even harder. Regina Afton used to be a member of the Fearsome Fivesome, an all-girl clique both feared and revered by the students at Hallowell High... until vicious rumors about her and her best friend's boyfriend start going around. Now Regina's been "frozen out" and her ex-best friends are out for revenge. "

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Review: Wait Until Twilight - Sang Pak




Published: 2009, Harper


Acquired: Sent to me by Curled Up With A Good Book (original review can be found here: http://www.curledup.com/waittilt.htm)



Sang Pak had been recommended to me numerous times before I even cracked the cover of Wait Until Twilight, and I was slightly apprehensive that his writing wouldn’t live up to the hype. Luckily, he more than exceeded my expectations. I can safely say that I’m a convert to his dreamy, lyrical prose and true to life characters.

Sixteen-year-old Samuel lives with his father in a small Georgia town where secrets are few and far between. However, Samuel stumbles across a hideous secret that haunts him in his dreams and obsesses him in his waking hours. Three horribly deformed triplets are being hidden by their mother, who believes they were immaculately conceived. Samuel realizes that he must save the triplets from their troubled mother and terrifyingly unhinged older brother, but to do so, he has to first face the monster inside himself.

I don’t think I can sum up the tone of the novel any better than the blurb on the back of the book, which reads:

‘This psychologically complex story of survival and self-determination explores the dark, often contradictory worlds of young contemporary life, laying bare the ugly truths and secrets that haunt us all.’
So what is it that makes Pak’s story so captivating? It’s a combination of the beautifully lilting prose and fantastically written characters, who are so realistic that one can’t help but think they must be based on people Pak has known in his life - that and the fact that Pak takes an extremely strange story and makes it easy for readers to relate to his protagonist. Without any personal experience in trying to save three deformed babies, the reader nonetheless knows exactly what Samuel feels every step of the way.

Samuel’s voice is incredibly strong for a sixteen-year-old boy. On one hand, he’s happy to hang out with his friends and pretend to like the taste of beer; on the other hand, sometimes his inner thoughts are so complex that it’s like reading about somebody years older. Here Samuel tries to reason with the darker side of himself:

‘I just want to do everything I can to bring my reality back together again, anything to forget what I saw…what I did…and get back to normal. Don’t even think about it, I tell myself. It’s over anyway. Keep it normal, I say to myself. Normal. Normal. Normal. No, don’t say it too much or it sounds strange.’
Purely because of the strange subject matter, Wait Until Twilight is not the kind of book I would be drawn to buy in a bookstore, but I found it absolutely fascinating and would definitely recommend it to anybody who loves tension and mystery in their books. Sang Pak is a name to watch. I’ll certainly be looking out for his novels in the future.


Rating:

Writing: 4.5/5
Plot: 4/5
Characters: 3.5/5
Cover: 4/5

Total: 16/20

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Review: The Graveyard Book - Neil Gaiman


Published: 2008, Bloomsbury.

Acquired: Sent to me by Luisa at Chicklish (original review can be found here: http://keris.typepad.com/chicklet/2009/11/review-the-graveyard-book-by-neil-gaiman.html)



I reviewed Coraline for Chicklish earlier in the year and absolutely adored it (coincidentally, I did think the film was a bit of a let down but that’s by the by) and I’ve always been a massive Neil Gaiman fan. Naturally, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on The Graveyard Book but I’ve never read a Gaiman book I didn’t love so I had very high expectations.

Nobody Owens (or Bod, as we get to call him) had a tragic start to life. His family were brutally murdered by the man Jack when he was just a baby. However, something let Bod survive and he found himself in the graveyard, where he was adopted by the Owen family (who are ghosts, naturally). Bod is raised in the graveyard and educated by a Hound of God (werewolf, to you and me) and his guardian, Silas, a mysterious being who isn’t quite alive but isn’t quite dead either.

The man Jack is still out there, though. He’s still searching for Bod and won’t rest until he’s dead, for reasons that we don’t quite understand at the beginning of the novel. Of course, when Bod grows up he becomes increasingly curious about the human world; the world that his parents had begun to raise him in.

Bod has questions, questions about his parents and his past and he wants answers. The Owens and Silas will stop at nothing to keep him safe but Bod soon outgrows the confines of the graveyard and wants an adventure in the human world, though it is a place where he will always be hunted, by the man Jack and his terrifying accomplices.

As I said before, I’ve always been a huge fan of Gaiman and the things I love about his other books are wonderfully present in The Graveyard Book. The dark wit, the fantastical landscapes and the constant feeling of unease; all the classic Gaiman elements are there and this book is sure to satisfy every fan and fantasy lover alike.

I particularly love the different tones that Gaiman uses as Bod matures. At the beginning of the novel the prose is simple and childlike (though still insanely creepy): ‘He could smell the baby shampoo in its hair, and something small and rubbery – a toy, he thought, and then, no, something to suck – that the child had been carrying.’

However, as Bod grows up so does the imagery Gaiman uses and as the story becomes darker, the prose becomes more beautiful too: ‘Now his face was a book written in a language long forgotten, in an alphabet unimagined. Silas wrapped the shadows around him like a blanket, and stared after the way the boy had gone, and did not move to follow.’ Stunning.

It’s normally at this point I’d mention the parts of the book I didn’t like but, honestly, with The Graveyard Book, I adored it all. I had to force myself not to read it all in one sitting, as I wanted to enjoy the story for as long as possible. I wholeheartedly agree with the Financial Times, who said that The Graveyard Book is ‘a novel that is a captivating piece of work, light as fresh grave dirt, haunting as the inscription on a tombstone.’ I think that says it all.


Rating:


Writing: 4.5/5

Plot: 4/5

Characters: 4/5

Cover: 3/5


Total: 15.5/20

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Review: Blue Light - Gary Paulsen


Published: 1998, Macmillan Children’s Books

Acquired: Myself - Ottakers, Yeovil



I frst read Blue Light (known as The Transall Saga in the US) shortly after the new millenium (I wasn’t aware of this fact until I opened the front cover to find a Pokemon sticker (circa 2001) blinking happily back at me) but recently cracked open the spine one more time, to see if it was as good as I remembered it to be. The short answer? Yes and no.

I have nothing but fond memories of this novel and the faded yellow pages are testament to the many happy afternoons I spent thumbing through it. It’s the only Gary Paulsen novel I’ve read but he’s a writer I’ve always wanted to read more of. I’m definitely going to look into reading more of his books for my YA Reading Challenge this year.

But I digress. Back to the story. Our protagonist, Mark, is a thirteen year old survival and wilderness enthusiast, who is hiking through the challenging Magruder Missile mountain range. Suddenly he’s struck by a beam of blue light, which takes him away from his comfortable teenage life and leaves him in the middle of a dense jungle, on what appears to be another planet.

However, instead of giving up, his survival instinct kicks in and Mark tries to live off the land, all the while avoiding the terrifying mutant animals that spend their days pursuing him. Eventually he stumbles across a camp, where (almost) human inhabitants called the Tsook have managed to make a life in this primitive environment. Although, the tribe are wary of Mark’s presence and things take a dark turn when he begins to fall for the cheif’s daughter, Megaan.

Blue Light is not the typical novel that I enjoy. Normally I’m enthralled by stories of tan lines, pretty boys and cocktails but it’s good to venture outside your comfort zone every now and then and this is a novel I’d definitely recommend to those looking for a break from the norm.

Paulsen’s alternate universe has been designed and researched to perfection and his prose is simply brilliant. Just take a look at the following quotation:

‘The jungle grew darker, more tangled and more overgrown. Vines hung snakelike from the trees all around him. Grotesque lizards with abnormally large heads darted in and out of the foliage And there was a new sound. In the tops of the now almost black trees, he could hear animals chattering. They made a clicking noise like stone hitting stone.’

Despite the alien landscape and mutant animals throughout the novel, Paulsen manages to give the story a sense of realism that helped to make it such a success. Blue Light is strong where many fantasy novels are weak. Sure, the lead characters may be midgets with webbed feet but that didn’t, for one moment, play on my mind and ruin the magic surrounding the novel.

In short, Blue Light is probably never going to be quite the novel I loved in my childhood; I’m older now and my tastes have changed but Gary Paulsen’s classic survival story will always have a warm place in my heart.

Rating:

Writing: 3.5/5
Plot: 4/5
Characters: 3/5
Cover: 3/5

Total: 13.5/20

In My Mailbox - 1

So this is my first In My Mailbox post and I'm really excited about it. Of course, IMM is hosted by Kristi (the Story Siren - you can view her blog at http://www.thestorysiren.com/).

This week I received a nice package of books through the post. Some were sent to me for review and some I'd ordered for myself.

So, here we go!

From Luisa at Chicklish: Crawlers - Sam Enthoven:

'Four boys and four girls are on a trip to the theatre. Little do they know they will never see the play. They're about to be plunged into a nightmare. Beneath the theatre lies a secret. And now she has been released...'







Naive. Super - Erlend Loe:


'The narrator of this funny and poignant novel is searching for meaning. Going back to his childhood, onto the web and off to New York to find it. He writes lists, obsesses over the nature of time and finds joy in bouncing balls - all in an effort to find out how best to live life. An utterly enchanting meditation on experience. Naive. Super was a No. 1 best-seller in Loe's native Norway.'






Notes to my Mother-In-Law - Phyllida Law:

''My mother-in-law Annie lived with us for 17 years and was picture-book perfect.' It took a while before the family realised that Annie was increasingly (as she would put it) 'Mutt and Jeff'. So Phyllida began to write out the day's gossip at the kitchen table, putting her notes by Annie's bed before going to hers.'






Mouthing the Words - Camilla Gibb:

'Mouthing the Words tells Thelma's story through to adulthood, in a novel that is by turns harrowing, terrible and wonderfully funny. This is an inspiring fictional debut, written with a deftness and precision that is extraordinary.'









Sarah - J T Leroy:


'Cherry Vanilla has one ambition: to become the most famous 'lot lizard' in the business. With his blonde curls and naked ambition he is determined to be more woman than most and to match his idol and rival in the business: his mother Sarah.'







(Blurbs taken from Amazon.co.uk)

Saturday, 16 January 2010

The 2010 Young Adult Reading Challenge

I happened to stumble across J Kaye’s fantastic blog (http://j-kaye-book-blog.blogspot.com/) on my travels earlier and found this brilliant challenge. The rules are set out below and anybody that wants to join is welcome. I’ve decided on the Stepping It Up YA Reading Challenge, so I’ll be attempting to read 50 YA novels before December 31st 2010.

I’m going to keep a list going at the bottom of this post so check back to see my progress. I’d love and appreciate your suggestions so please leave any recommendations as comments on this post.

Wish me luck!



The rules:

1. Anyone can join. You don't need a blog to participate.

--Non-Bloggers: Post your list of books in the comment section of the wrap-up post.

2. There are four levels:

--The Mini YA Reading Challenge – Read 12 Young Adult novels.

--Just My Size YA Reading Challenge – Read 25 Young Adult novels.

--Stepping It Up YA Reading Challenge – Read 50 Young Adult novels.

--Super Size Me YA Reading Challenge – Read 75 Young Adult novels.

3. Audio, eBooks, re-reads all count.

4. No need to list your books in advance. You may select books as you go. Even if you list them now, you can change the list if needed.

5. Challenge begins January 1st thru December, 2010.

6. When you sign up under Mr. Linky, put the direct link to your post where your Young Adult novels will be listed. Include the URL so that other viewers can find this fun challenge. If you’d prefer to put your list in the sidebar of your blog, please leave your viewers the link to the sign up page. Again, so viewers can join the challenge too.


My Progress:

1. Almost Perfect - Brian Katcher (16/1/10)

2. Fat Cat - Robin Brande (10/1/10)

3. The Perks of Being a Wallflower - Stephen Chbosky (8/1/10)

4. Crawlers - Sam Enthoven (20/1/10)

5. The Boy Book - E. Lockhart (22/1/10)

6. The Boyfriend List - E. Lockhart (27/1/10)

7. The Pillow Book of Lotus Lowenstein (2/2/10)

8. Fallen - Lauren Kate (6/2/10)

9. Some Girls Are - Courtney Summers (7/2/10)

Review: The Virgin Suicides - Jeffrey Eugenides

The Virgin Suicides - Jeffrey Eugenides

Published: 1993, Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Acquired: Sent to me by Curled Up


(First published at Curled Up With A Good Book: http://www.curledup.com/jevirgin.htm)



I first experienced The Virgin Suicides upon its initial release, back in 1993, when I was seven years old and definitely much too young for it. I remember reading the opening paragraph, realizing that the book was about people dying, and promptly put it down. My Little Ponies were more my thing back then, but I’m pleased to report that my second attempt at the book was much more successful.

I’m not going to beat around the bush: I absolutely adore this novel. The language is beautiful, the story is heartbreaking but brilliantly told, the characters are superb. Honestly, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

‘On the morning the last Lisbon daughter took her turn at suicide – it was Mary this time, and sleeping pills, like Therese – the two paramedics arrived at the house knowing exactly where the knife drawer was, and the gas oven, and the beam in the basement from which it was possible to tie a rope.’
And so it begins. How could you not want to read on after that opening? I think one of the most fascinating things about The Virgin Suicides is the fact that the story begins with the revelation that the Lisbon daughters are all dead. Normally I find it difficult to bond with a character I know is going to die, but that was definitely not the case with this story. I almost cared more about them because I knew what was going to happen, but that owes entirely to Eugenides’ great characterization.

We’re introduced to the five sisters close to the beginning of the novel, when they hold their first - and last - party with the neighborhood boys. It can get confusing when so many similar characters are brought into a story at one time, but Eugenides differentiates between each of the girls, giving them their own individual quirks.

Lux Lisbon is the main focus of the novel; she definitely has the most distinctive personality. She’s naughty and interested in boys, and when her parents try to ban her from leaving the house, she rebels by having sex on the roof with strangers.

The Virgin Suicides is a relatively short, novel but Eugenides’ use of words is fantastic and he introduces us to so many characters and situations without anything ever feeling forced. The writer’s choice of words is brilliant - myriad tiny observations about the sisters make the prose shine.

‘Parkie Denton remembers Mary’s studied movements, her poise. “She led,” he said. “She had a Kleenex balled in one hand.” During the dance, she made polite conversation, the kind beautiful young women make with dukes during waltzes in old movies. She held herself very straight, like Audrey Hepburn, whom all women idolize and men never think about.’
The only bad thing about the novel is that the ending feels a little sudden. By the time the story drew to a close, I was so immersed that I wanted to hear so much more about what happened after the final suicide. But then again, isn’t it always best to leave the audience wanting more?

Don't miss this gem

Rating:


Writing: 4.5/5

Plot: 4/5

Characters: 4/5

Cover: 3.5/5


Total: 16/20

Review: The Declaration - Gemma Malley


The Declaration - Gemma Malley
(First published at the wonderful Chicklish: http://keris.typepad.com/chicklet/2009/05/review-the-declaration-by-gemma-malley.html).






The first thing I have to mention about The Declaration is the beautiful cover art. I know, it isn’t as important as the story inside but first impressions count and it really drew me towards the book. It just goes to show, a little bit of glitter and a pretty butterfly go a long way.

Anna is a fifteen-year-old girl, living in an Orwellian children’s home, known as Grange Hall, where day to day life is dictated by the cruel Mrs Pincent and she has no option to speak or even have an opinion of her own. She does what she is told and prepares herself for life outside Grange Hall, where she will perhaps become somebody’s house keeper, if she’s extremely lucky.

Anna’s only solace is the diary she hides in the girls’ bathroom. The diary is her chance to escape from the monotony of Grange Hall and the only place where she can express her thoughts and feelings. For years Anna obeyed Grange Hall’s rules and was a good surplus (the name of a child born illegally into the world) but lately she has realised there’s more to life than Grange Hall and she wants to experience it.

A mysterious boy, Peter, is brought to Grange Hall one night and it is at this point that everything changes for Anna. Peter begins to refer to her by her full name, Anna Covey, and tells her that her parents love her. This is something incomprehensible for Anna. For years she has been taught to hate her parents, that it is their fault she is at Grange Hall and, at first, she simply cannot believe that they would love her.

However, as Peter and Anna’s relationship begins to develop, so does her belief that maybe he is telling the truth, maybe her parents do love her. Maybe she doesn’t belong at Grange Hall after all.

The Declaration is primarily a story of self-discovery but it is also a love story and it is the relationship between the two protagonists that made the book so enjoyable. There is something sweetly innocent about Anna and Peter’s relationship in a society where love and friendship have been replaced with rules and beatings.

The book is a little long for younger readers and some of the material is quite mature. Older teens would love the complexity of the story and I think some younger teens would enjoy it too, though perhaps on a different level.

There’s a lot to get out of reading The Declaration and I had to read it twice to fully understand everything, as there is a lot going on. The story is full of plot twists, the greatest being Mrs Pincent’s back story, which is brilliantly told and changed everything I thought I knew about Grange Hall’s sinister leader.

The Declaration is a fast paced, well written read and I would highly recommend it for teen readers. The story is extremely original and I completely agree with Publishing News’ review on the back cover that sums up the book much better than I ever could:

‘Sharing the visionary quality of books such as The Handmaid’s Tale and How I Love Now, this intensely moving debut is one of those rare books that changes the way you see the world.’

3.5/5