Book Review – Survivor Song by Paul Tremblay

Breathless and Shocking.

This book has been on my ‘to be read’ pile since Christmas. I wish I’d got to it sooner. I devoured it in two sittings.

The story follows two women over a period of just a few hours during an outbreak of a lethal, rapidly spreading rabies-type virus. Natalie, who is eight months pregnant, has been bitten and Ramola, her best friend who is a doctor, is trying to save the lives of Natalie and her unborn child.

Survivor Song is a high-speed roller coaster of trials and disasters, fear and tension, shocking violence, societal breakdown, love and loyalty, pain and loss, desperation and heart wrenching decisions. It’s not a ZA novel but in many ways, it feels and reads as one. It’s not deep or pretentious, just a damned good story.

What I liked.

The pace. The race to save Natalie and her baby never slowed or stopped and neither did I.

The characters. I laughed out loud at Natalie’s scathing sarcasm and dark humour in spite of the terrifying situation she found herself in. I adored Ramola for her unfailing loyalty to her friend that pushed her past terrible limits she could never have imagined.

I really liked the “Bill and Ted” duo they met on their journey with their creatively quirky hydrophobia test.

The book was a well-written easy read.

In certain scenes the style and structure of the book ‘broke with convention’ but this served to create a vivid picture of the extreme shock, fear and confusion the character was experience.

Something I might steal in my own writing!

The echoes of or own recent experience during the pandemic including PPE shortages, overwhelmed healthcare services and unprotected workers were very relatable.

What I didn’t like

… nothing …

I absolutely loved this book and would definitely recommend it if you are into dystopian survival horror – and even if you’re not! I have just bought Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts and can’t wait to get started.

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Book Review – The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones 

Broodingly terrifying.

I bought this book on the basis of reviews that described it as a “masterpiece”. I’m not sure I agree with that, but it was certainly a dark, disturbing read that I really enjoyed.  

The title is a tragically ironic reference to Theodore Roosevelt’s vile quote “the only good Indians are dead Indians”, and the book is heavy with the prejudice, discrimination, and disadvantage that people of American Indian heritage struggle with on a daily basis in the present-day United States.

The Only Good Indians tells the story of four young American Indian men who massacre a herd of elk. 10 years later they are being stalked by the spirit of one of the animals they killed. The book effectively combines classic horror and suspense with an astute social commentary.

What I liked.

The plot was gripping. It was laden with tension interspersed with abrupt and shocking episodes of bloody violence that you always knew was coming but could never quite predict where and when and to whom.

It was skilfully written – prolonged descriptions of the characters normal lives and backstories were so heavy with suspense that I couldn’t read quick enough for fear of what was going to happen next.

While the supernatural elements were unusual, some might say farfetched, I bought into them one hundred percent. For me, the spirit that hunted the men was merciless and bone chillingly terrifying. I know I will be haunted for some time by the disturbing visual image of the unnatural stalker that the author so vividly creates.

But, as frightened as I was by that spirit, because I understood its motives and its quest, I could not help but feel a strong sense of sorrow and compassion towards it. It was that that evoked a strong emotional response to the book overall. In a sense the “victims” were also the perpetrators, creating a lot of conflict for the reader.

What I didn’t like.

The Only Good Indians was not an easy read. The writing style and the language was hard to understand and required a high level of concentration. I often had to re-read paragraphs or sentences to work out what was going on. Many of the American colloquial references will be lost on an international audience.

I found the lengthy basketball scenes especially challenging and have to admit skimming through some of them.

Overall, a great read that I’d definitely recommend.

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Book Review – Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro 

Quietly Disturbing

I enjoyed this book, but it didn’t blow me away the way I was hoping and expecting it to. Isn’t it often the way that whenever you have high expectations of a book or a movie, you build it up in a way it can never possibly deliver, leading to an inevitable degree of disappointment?

The premise, of cloning humans for organ donation, is deep, disturbing, and depressing. The book is light, sad, and also extremely depressing.

What I liked.

It is a thoughtful, easy read.

It feels simple and superficial, but it isn’t at all. The plot, the characters, their conversations, and their actions all sit at the top of a bubbling mass of nightmarish complexity and confusion. I’m not at all sure that even the characters themselves understand what they are feeling and why most of the time. Possibly not any of the time.

The book is heavy with sorrowful metaphors and symbolism, not least in Hailsham itself, which is, both literally and physically, the only family that Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth will ever have, and it too is revealed to be less solid than it first appears.

I liked Kathy and Tommy for their loyalty, naivety, and honesty but not nearly as much as I disliked Ruth for her controlling and manipulative exploitation of them.

I liked the way that because the characters lived such small, unnatural, and sheltered lives they were highly sensitive to little things. Tiny interactions were hugely important and meaningful to them. Small conversations and statements were huge and provoked much angst and analysis and yet they never seemed to address the enormous issues that were staring them in the face every minute of every day.

What I didn’t like.

I really didn’t like Ruth.

I was frustrated by the passive resignation of the characters to their fate. I found myself wondering why Kathy and Tommy didn’t just run away. But I think I also understood that they had been raised and conditioned not to expect anything else from life.

The interaction at the end of the book with Madame and Emily was weird. It was confusing and almost contrived in the way it tried to answer many of the questions that ran through the book. It felt awkward and clunky to me and left me with a lot of unanswered questions still remaining.

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Book Review – Lightning by Dean Koontz

Mind Boggling

I always find stories about time travel extremely confusing, and Lightning was no exception to this. Half the time I had no idea who was traveling to where and when, or why they were doing so. Nevertheless, my confusion did not spoil my enjoyment of what was essentially a good story. What helped a lot, was Laura’s nine-year-old son Chris’s, exposition about the “paradoxes” of time travel. Whenever I came to a part that was particularly perplexing for my poor old brain to grapple with, I’d just (like the characters) put it down to a time travel paradox and leave it at that.

What I liked.

Lightning is a light, fast-paced, easy read.

It contained some pleasing characters – I particularly liked Laura’s best friend from childhood, Thelma.

I loved the epic-ness of the story that follows Laura’s life from her birth well into adulthood and links in to some real historical events. It also contains some truly audacious plot twists and turns with Stefan meeting some very interesting historical characters and getting involved in some very well-known historical events, in the course of his time travels.

Mr Koontz skilfully created lots of questions and intrigue throughout the first half of the book that compelled me to read on to find out what it was all about.

When the truth was eventually revealed I was not disappointed. So often “big” sci-fi stories like this start well but lead to dissatisfying conclusions.

I liked the way the story shifted between interdependent events occurring in different time zones making some sections very tense and exciting.

What I didn’t like.

As a writer myself, with nowhere near the level of success as Mr Koontz, I was surprised by how “overwritten” the book was. I only mention this because I am constantly trying to avoid falling into this trap myself. I spend many hours poring over my work removing superfluous words and phrases and avoiding telling the reader things that they already know, or that would be perfectly obvious to anyone with a modicum of intelligence. Mr Koontz, on the other hand, frequently over-describes scenes and settings, uses extra words that add nothing to the text, and repeatedly explains things that I already knew. The difference between Mr Koontz and I, I suppose, is that as a writer of some repute, he can get away with it and I can’t.

Sometimes the plot was a tad cheesy and unbelievable. It was very handy and let’s face it, naff and highly unlikely, that two girls who grew up in the care system should both become famous and successful multi-millionaires. It was very convenient that Laura, as part of her research as an author, had learned how to gain access to military standard weaponry and knew how to obtain high quality fake identification documents.

I don’t want to create any spoilers here, and life didn’t work out so well for all the characters, but let’s just say, generally, there was a bit of a “happy-ever-after” feel to the book that left me a little dissatisfied.

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Book Review – Billy Summers by Stephen King

Brilliant and Heartbreaking

Billy Summers is a different type of Stephen King book. Not horror. Not supernatural. Not Sci Fi. Not even suspense (although it was certainly tense in parts). Nevertheless, I absolutely loved it and it will undoubtedly occupy my thoughts for weeks and months to come.

As the title suggests, the book is essentially a character study of Billy Summers, an assassin, and tells the story of his life, his motivations, and his last job. It is slow and patient at first (like Billy himself) but gathers momentum as the story progresses. It contains a number of satisfying twists and turns that take the story (and Billy) in new and unexpected directions. It is full of pathos with a thread of deep sorrow running through it. I never wanted it to end.

What I liked.

I loved the characters. Billy is a complex and troubled man but is fundamentally decent and extremely likeable. He had a difficult childhood and is haunted by the traumatic memories of his experiences as a war veteran in Iraq. Alice, who we meet halfway through the book, is adorable and the relationship that develops between them feels exactly right. I also loved Bucky, Billy’s wise old friend and assistant.

I liked the first third of the book when Billy lives undercover in a small American town as he prepares for the “hit” but can’t help getting close to his workmates, and his neighbours and their children. This toe-dip into the normal world is tinged with regret as he knows they will be hurt and disappointed when they inevitably find out who he really is.

I loved the introduction of Alice and the relationship that developed between them in the second third of the story. I wasn’t expecting it and was worried about what it would mean for Billy and his plans, but enjoyed the way things worked out between them.

I liked the final, action packed third of the book, which felt both authentic and believable. If we hadn’t already learned what a calm and capable professional Billy was, his achievements in terms of facing up to different groups of rapists, armed killers, and all-round baddies, might have seemed implausible.

I liked the way Billy started writing as his cover story for the job but how it came to mean much more to him than that, and was ultimately the main way that the reader learned the tragic story of his childhood and the horrors of his time in Iraq.

I liked “dumb” Billy, the persona he adopted to, conversely, maintain the intellectual upper hand with the criminals he worked for.

I loved the veiled reference to The Overlook Hotel, the site of which could be seen from Bucky’s cabin, and the spooky picture in the shack where he writes some of his book.

The book was littered with truisms and subtle current political and ideological references. I loved the little references to the, as yet unknown, pandemic that was about to hit the world.

The quote “Substance abuse goes with talent, you know” really resonated with me.

What I didn’t like.

I didn’t like the way Mr. King almost broke my heart by presenting us with two different endings to the story. One written by Alice on Billy’s behalf, and then the real one that she tells Bucky after Billy’s book is finished.

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Book Review – Adrian’s Undead Diary Omnibus: Volumes 1 and 2 by Chris Philbrook.

Epic!

I have finally got my life back and made a start on tackling some of the other books on my “to be read” list, after finishing the first eight books in the epic zombie apocalypse series Adrian’s Undead Diary.

I came across the author, Chris Philbrook, through the various zombie apocalypse social media groups I am a member of, and decided to give the books a go after being impressed by him when he was the guest speaker on a live Facebook writer’s event I took part in.

The books are largely written in a journalistic style and, as you might expect, tell the story of how a man called Adrian survives and thrives after a global zombie apocalypse. At first glance, Adrian appears to be an outwardly calm and capable, but otherwise remarkably ordinary, ex-military bloke who works nights as a sort of caretaker in a private residential school and lives with his long-term girlfriend, Cassie.

It turns out that our hero is not as “ordinary” as he seems. Not only is he extraordinarily resourceful and resilient, with a remarkable knowledge of guns and ammunition and a, bordering on unhealthy, obsession with recording every minute detail of his daily life during the apocalypse, but he turns out to be a central figure in the battle between good and evil and the survival of what is left of the entire (living) human race itself.

What I liked:

The addictive nature of the story. I literally could not put this down, reading for hours in the early mornings on my kindle in the dark before my husband was awake, and again at night while he was asleep. It disrupted my sleep patterns, my work patterns, my reading patterns, and my life in general. Thank goodness I started reading it in late November on a short holiday to celebrate my birthday, and that the couple of months it took me to get through all eight books included a couple of weeks over the Christmas holidays and a 10-day period of isolation due to Covid.

The journalistic style. The journalistic style was a big part of what made the book so compelling. When Adrian and his people were building up to a big event it was more than I could bear to read the start of each diary entry to find out how it went. Equally, the opening few words of each entry were the first indication of whether anything awful had occurred or not, and I always felt the need to read “just one more” to see how the group were progressing.

Adrian. I really liked (or should I say “like” as his story continues) Adrian. He was (is) a complex but likeable character. He does what has to be done to ensure his own survival, but also tries to help others when he can. He is strong and brave but not without fear. He constantly doubts himself and his decisions and beats himself up over his perceived mistakes. He is funny and irreverent and doesn’t take himself too seriously. He is not ashamed or embarrassed to talk about his sexual needs and desires and even about his bowel habits, however disgusting.

The other characters. For a very long time Adrian was the only person in his world. However, other characters are gradually introduced, and we slowly get to know and love them as we see them through Adrian’s eyes. I loved the way they develop and change as they get to grips with their new reality. I particularly liked Abby and Gilbert. I love the patient way that the number of survivors in Bastion and the extended community slowly builds at first from one, to two, and then a small handful, Then, in the last few books, how it increases exponentially to around one hundred people by the end.

The surprises. I liked some of the unexpected plot twists and turns. I actually don’t want to mention them specifically here because, if you do go on to read the books after reading this review, they would be spoilers of monumental proportions. Suffice to say, there were some things that happened and some things that were revealed that I would never have expected in a million years.

The non-journal chapters. The books are peppered with chapters that are not part of Adrian’s diary. While the first one took me by surprise, I came to enjoy them immensely as they provided insight into some of the other characters and their back stories and the plot in general, sometimes giving the reader forewarning of things to come. This contributed to the addictive nature of the read. Once you have read a chapter where something occurs that Adrian does not yet know about, you find yourself rushing through the next few journal entries until the unsuspecting hero catches up. The fact that throughout the books there are things that the reader knows that Adrian does not, is a very effective page-turning and tension building technique.

The level of detail. I was undecided at first whether I liked the excessive amount of tedious and monotonous detail in the books or not. I have come down on the side of “liked” as this is a key component of Adrian’s character and his role in the “Trinity” and the books would not be the same without it. It plays a key part in the complex world building process which enhances reader engagement and immersion and makes the books come alive. Nevertheless, I’m not going to lie and pretend that I didn’t skim over some of the endless accounts of everything they scavenged from all the buildings they raided, and the pages and pages of stocktaking of food and fuel, and don’t even get me started on the guns. Pages and pages and pages devoted to descriptions and pros and cons of different guns and their ammunition, all of which meant absolutely nothing to me.

The big spiritual good versus evil plot element. Somewhere along the road the book gets very spiritual, verging close to religious. At first, I wasn’t sure I liked this, as it is an usual and controversial explanation for the zombie apocalypse. However, it was managed well in my opinion. It didn’t go too far beyond the realms of plausibility – after all, how plausible is a zombie apocalypse in the first place? It was different, interesting, and original and gave the book a very Stephen Kingesque feel at times, almost reminiscent of The Stand.

What I didn’t like.

Repetition. There is not very much that I didn’t like about these books but sometimes the amount of repetition irritated me a little. When something happened in a non-journal chapter, it was often repeated by Adrian in his corresponding journal entry. When I was desperate to find out what happened next in the story, I found myself skimming these sections in frustration. This was linked to the fact that the books are very long. Well, the individual books are probably not very long, but reading all of them in two omnibuses took a long time and there were a lot of pages which involved the detailed accounts of stocktaking and scavenging mentioned above, as well as a fair bit of repetition.

Typos. There were few typos and missing or incorrect words which was a minor irritation and distraction.

The end! I loved the end but was a little dismayed when I realised that Adrian’s story is still not over and that Chris Philbrook is still writing books about what happens to him next. Much as I’d like to, I am reluctant to read any more of them at the moment as there are other things I need to do and other books I want to read!

Adrian’s Undead Diary is at the top of the pile in the independently published zombie apocalypse category, and I would definitely recommend.

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Book Review – World Departed by Sarah Lyons Fleming

Can’t wait for the sequel!

I’m always on the look out for a good zombie apocalypse book as, all too often, they are badly written, cliched and overflowing with gratuitous blood, gore, violence and testosterone-fuelled machismo. As an ‘older’ woman, who also happens to be a zombie fan, I can never identify with the characters in these books and always find myself left with the same question – “What would an ordinary woman like me do when the zombie apocalypse comes to my town?”

Over the years I have discovered some satisfying reads. The Girl with All the Gifts and The Boy on the Bridge by M. R. Carey, World War Z by Max Brooks, and Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion are all up there among the best for me. All of them contain imaginative and interesting plots and authentic and sympathetic characters who react in believable ways to the end of the world as they know it and the threat of being eaten by dead people. I have also played some great games that have given me some sense of how I might fare in the apocalypse, the best by far of those being The Last of Us and The Last of Us II.

I even took part in a reality TV show called I Survived a Zombie Apocalypse that aired on BBC3 in 2015. A cross between Big Brother and The Crystal Maze, this involved a dozen or so members of the public being locked up in an abandoned shopping centre with a troop of zombies – courtesy of Scare Scotland – and having to undergo a series of survival type challenges. The basic premise was that if you got caught you got eaten and were out of the show. My strategy, which involved literally zero machismo behaviour, was to try and make myself indispensable to the other survivors by cooking and cleaning in the vain hope that this might dissuade them from sending me out on missions. I made it to day 6 of 7 before being killed in a freezer by a super-zombie called the Abomination.

In 2021 I attempted to answer the question by writing my own book, Wait for Me, set at the start of the zombie apocalypse in the UK. The main character, Lisa, an introverted and overly analytical forty plus woman, is on a train on the way home from London to Solihull when a devastating, bio-terrorist attack occurs. In the immediate aftermath of the attack, which turns 90% of the population into zombies, she decides to try and get home to her husband and sets out on the most difficult 20-mile journey of her life.

World Departed is the first book I have read in a long time that looks at how ‘ordinary’ people would react in the zombie apocalypse. It is also the best ‘quality’ zombie book I have read in a long time in terms of the writing. I came across the book in the 2020 Goodreads Choice Awards where it was 19th in the horror category. I finished it yesterday and I loved it! So much so that I have looked up and downloaded the first of all her other books (Until the End of the World) which I am now about to binge on in chronological order. Hopefully, by the time I have finished, the sequel to World Departed, World Between, will have been released.

What I liked:

For me, it was all about the characters. All of them were, authentic, flawed, complicated, and very, very ordinary. Most were likable to the point of being adorable and even the unlikable ones were described and explained in a way that made their behaviours and motivations at least understandable. They way that they developed and grew throughout the course of the book was well-handled and convincing.

The quality of the writing was excellent. An light and easy read, it was heavily dialogue-based but with enough description and action to give the story atmosphere and pace.

Despite the seriousness of the situation the book was sprinkled with humour. The banter between the characters was sharp and witty and at times that I laughed aloud while reading.

I loved the location. What a perfect place to survive the apocalypse. I have just finished playing the zombie game, Days Gone which was set in the wilderness of Oregon and at times I wondered if the game had been inspired by Sarah Lyons Fleming’s writing, or even if she had contributed to the script for the game. There were also some scenes in the book that were reminiscent of some in The Last of Us. E.g., trying on hats in the museum.

There was a fair bit of romance going on between several of the characters. In fact, most of the key characters had some sort of developing love interest. Looking at the blurbs and some of the reviews for her other books, it seems that this is a key feature of the authors’s writing. You could even go so far as to say that she writes romance novels set in the zombie apocalypse. I wouldn’t normally go for a romance read myself, but it did not detract from my enjoyment of the story.

Didn’t like:

There was truly little that I didn’t like about this book.

Of course, I didn’t like Ethan and his ‘friend’ Eva, but I don’t think I was meant to.

I was a little disappointed with the ending. It wasn’t really an ending for me. It made sure that I would buy the sequel to find out what happens next, but I prefer my books to have a beginning, a middle and an end in their own right. I felt a little bit as if I were left ‘hanging’.

For me, some of the characters settled in a tad too quickly to their new way of life to make it completely believable. I’m not sure that ‘real’ people would be laughing and joking just a few days into the zombie apocalypse. I think they might have been a bit more shocked and distressed than they appeared and that it would have taken longer than it did for them to adapt and recover. Nor would they be thinking about getting romantically involved with someone else quite so soon after their wife and son had been killed in the most horrific away imaginable.

Finally, it was a tiny bit predictable in the sense that, after the first couple of chapters, nothing bad happened to any of the key characters. When I finally realised that none of them were going get killed or seriously injured it took a little of the suspense out of some of the action scenes.

Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed World Departed and can’t wait to read the next book in the series.

World Departed on Amazon

Book Review – A Girl Called Ari by P. J. Sky

An easy and enjoyable read.

As a self-published author myself, I try to read books by other “indie” writers from time to time. Sadly, it is sometimes a disappointing experience. However, every now and then you come across a little gem. Happily, this was the case with A Girl Called Ari.

I first noticed this book on Twitter where the author noticeably works harder than most (not always an indicator of quality) to promote her work. Then when a friend, who also came across it on social media, recommended it as something I might enjoy, I decided to give it ago. I am after all, a sucker for a good dystopian tale!

The book tells the story of Starla, the daughter of the mayor of Alice, a fortress, futuristic city in the midst of a barren and dangerous post-apocalyptic wasteland. Starla is kidnapped (I’m still not entirely sure why and by whom) but escapes and is trying to make her way home. She comes across Ari, a girl of similar age but very different circumstance. Ari lives in a cave and, in contrast to the life of luxury and excess that Starla has enjoyed, has barely any possessions other than the clothes she is standing in. Ari is gritty and strong and knows better than most how to survive in the wastelands. However, we learn that this was not always the case as she too lived in the city at one point in her past.

And so, Ari gives up her cave, her horrible but sustaining job in the salt mines and her meagre possessions to help Starla get home, in the (vain?) hope that she will somehow enable Ari to re-enter the city.

What I liked:

I loved the imaginative but believable world-building and the contrast between the glittering riches of the city and the bleak barren wastelands which is mirrored by the starkly contrasting lives of the two girls. I assumed the book is set in Australia, due to the references to Alice and a location that sounds like Uluru (Ayers Rock). The rough dialect of the people of the wastelands could, to me, have been broad Australian and some of the characters the girls came across felt aboriginal to me. However, I could be wrong as the author is British. It might just have been my imagination that carried me down that route as the location is never made explicit.

I liked the main characters. Starla is irritating at first but, as the spoiled daughter of the mayor she knows no better and she does soften and become more likeable towards the end. Ari is great! I loved her and I can imagine her being an icon for young adult readers along the lines of Katniss from The Hunger Games or Beatrice from Divergent. I’d love to read more about her adventures and will make time to read the sequel, Ari Goes to War.

The development of the relationships between the two main characters is captivating. Its begins as one based purely on mutual need and both girls are participating in the arrangements because they have something to gain from it. However, it develops into a stronger relationship that verges on friendship throughout the various twists and turns of their journey.

Some of the descriptions of the environment are vivid and beautiful and at times I was totally immersed in Ari’s world.

Even better if:

The plot was predictable. It does have some surprises but, on the whole, I kind of expected everything that happened. (Starla getting bitten by a crocodile was a bit of a shocker though!) However, the book is aimed at a young adult audience and as such is arguably necessarily formulaic and slightly cliched at times.

Some of the big moments of the story and some of the action sequences were muted. They lacked that element of drama and impact that they could have brought to the reading experience. For example, “Then a huge gaped mouth, lined with a serration of jagged white teeth, emerged from the water and clamped down on Starla’s leg.” and “What is happening, thought Starla? It feels like an earthquake.”

There were sections of the book that dragged on and didn’t add value to the story either in terms of plot, word-building or character development. Some sections left me downright bemused and confused. For example, the message from the “dish”. This hinted at providing some background and some answers but fell just a little short of the mark for me in this respect.

I wanted some satisfying answers or explanations to various threads that were contained within the text. I accept that some of these may be addressed in later books in the series, but I was left with a lot of unanswered questions. For example, why was Starla kidnapped in the first place and was it an inside job? Could Ari be Starla’s half-sister? What was the significance of the broken piece of pottery with the blue bird on it? What sort of event caused the apocalypse – there is mention of both disease and a meteor and the strange star, Vella Stella?

All things considered, a fast-paced, easy and enjoyable read and a super first book from a talented (young?) writer. I look forward to seeing the development of her writing and so I’ll definitely be giving Ari Goes to War a go!

Book Review – A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

A struggle!

A Little Life purports to be about a diverse group of four young men, all recent graduates living in New York, who are about to begin their adult lives. The book follows their development into a group of, sometimes troubled, but ultimately immensely talented and successful men. However, what the book is really about is the life of Jude, a mentally and physically damaged and severely traumatised individual.

I found it a deeply disturbing and depressing read.

The book was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2015 and has won countless awards and received multiple rave reviews from a variety of sources. Yanagihara has been compared to Donna Tart, one of my favourite writers. I feel as if I ought to have enjoyed it, or at least appreciated it, and expected to. But, honestly, I struggled to finish it, let alone enjoy it. It was a relief when it was finally over.

Maybe it’s me? Maybe I’m just not worthy or intellectual enough to “get” a book like this. I feel slightly nervous about sharing my opinions, which are in such stark contrast with those of so many literary experts, but that is what they are. Just my honest opinions. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t like it. However, for what it’s worth, it did leave me weeping.

What I liked:

I loved some of the descriptive prose and beautiful scene setting.

I loved the loyalty and kindness of Jude’s friends and family.

What I didn’t like:

The length – it was way too long in my opinion. I don’t mind a long read. In fact, if I’m really enjoying a book, I often don’t want it to end. But A Little Life was long in a rambling, repetitive way. It almost felt self-indulgent at times.

The chronology – The book twisted and turned in time and space, leaving me lost and confused on multiple occasions, as to who was talking and where and when they were. Sometimes I would be drawn into a scene that was interesting and intriguing, then it would drift into the past or the future for so long that I couldn’t remember whether the scene I had been enjoying had been concluded or what its meaning or relevance was.

The style – the book was very much all tell and no show. It broke all the supposed “rules of writing” about showing through dialogue and action, and being concise. When it did show, it did so largely through thought and memory. We always seemed to always be inside the head of one of the characters and never present in the moment itself.

The message – it was just so damned bleak, miserable and depressing. I can’t wait to read something more fun and uplifting.

I know I must seem shallow, irreverent and controversial, and maybe I am, but A Little Life just wasn’t for me.

Book Review – Absolutely Barbados by Julian Armfield

Absolutely wonderful!

I first picked up this book from the pile under the TV in Tamarack, the beautiful apartment we have rented for our last three months in Barbados during The Time of Covid. It looked interesting and I made a mental note to read it when I had finished the three books I had on the go at the time (Alias Grace by Margaret Attwood, Cell by Stephen King, and Life after Life by Kate Atkinson).

I picked it up again and put the other three to one side for a few days, when I found out that it was written by the husband of the sister of our lovely landlady, Jane, who lives in the apartment downstairs with her equally lovely husband, Elton.

I absolutely devoured this book. What a wonderful read! Entertaining, informative and utterly engaging, it tells the story of – I quote – ‘one man’s mission to discover the heart and soul of [the] Caribbean Paradise’ that is Barbados. Believe me, he does!

Written in an upbeat and humorous anecdotal style, it provides the reader with an insight into the history, customs and culture of Barbados and it’s people, from the perspective of a middle-aged (sorry Julian) Englishman who made the island his home a few decades ago, when he met and married Jane’s sister, Sue.

I loved reading his colourful perspective and thoughtful insights on places and experiences that we were already familiar with, just as much as finding out about other things to do and places to go that were new to us. I learned things I didn’t know, I nodded in agreement with things I did, and laughed out loud, at least once every couple of pages, at the laser sharp accuracy of his observations, constantly interrupting M from his own reading to read him a paragraph or two that had us both in stitches.

As well as a hilarious succession of amusingly instructive anecdotes, the book provides facts and figures about the history of Barbados, the do’s and don’ts of living (or visiting) the island, some tips on how to ‘talk like a Bajan’, and the author’s ‘Magnificent 7’ beaches, wonders, views, attractions and recipes.

In addition to being crammed with funny stories and observations from Julian’s experiences in Barbados, the book is also peppered with ‘flashbacks’ and anecdotes from Julian’s travels around the world during his lengthy career as a BBC racing correspondent for the World Service, and his fond memories of his former life in a sleepy Berkshire village.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who is planning to come to Barbados, has been before, or is already here. It literally has something for everyone!

The Kindle Edition of Absolutely Barbados is available on Amazon for £4.57.

I was only halfway through Absolutely Barbados, when, just last week we were honoured to be invited to join in the author’s birthday celebrations at Chicken Rita’s, with Sue and Jane and a few of their friends. It was strange to meet the author of a book I was reading, especially as it was a biography! Even though we had never met, I felt as if I already knew him. It was such a relief to discover that he was as funny, sweet and charming in real life as he was on the written page! It was also lovely to see how, even after all his years here, he is still completely infatuated with his Caribbean Paradise.