Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Books – Sex and Stravinsky, by Barbara Trapido

Barbara Trapido’s Sex and Stravinsky (2010) is, let’s start of by saying, not what it sounds like. There’s not much sex in this book and not even that much Stravinsky. It tells the interweaving stories of several individuals somehow connected to each other. We have Josh and Caroline, who meet and get married as PhD students in England. Years on we have Zoe, their teenager daughter. Across the world, in South Africa, we have Hattie, Josh’s old ballet teacher and first love; we have her husband Herman and their daughter Cat. And then we meet Jack, Josh’s foster brother, who slips in and out of other people’s identities.

I love novels that have interweaving plots. For the first half of the book it feels pleasantly like connected short stories, until the strands start to come together. I like how each chapter tends to be from a different character’s point-of-view, and how we often get the same events, the same moments, told from multiple perspectives. The narrative structure is well done, as is the weaving in and out of past and present events. I thought the time jumps and narrative distance were handled very well, especially as several chapters end up covering some ten years of a character’s life.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Books – Dare to Dream, by Carys Jones

Carys Jones’s Dare to Dream is a young adult novel released earlier this year. Maggie Trafford, an ordinary British schoolgirl, starts having nightmares. She dreams of Armageddon, of the end of the world, and as Stone Henge begins to fall Maggie becomes convinced that her dreams are premonitions. No one but her best friend Dawn believes her – and so, when her nightmares come true, Maggie, Dawn and their classmate Andy are left seemingly alone in the face of the apocalypse.

The premise of the book is strong. This is the first in a series and it sets up an intriguing world and situation. Maggie’s dreams and the role of Stone Henge add new dimensions to a standard apocalyptic story. The narrative viewpoint is well used; Maggie is without a doubt the central character, but we do see through the eyes of others quite a lot, which I enjoyed. In Part II it was interesting to get not just Maggie’s, but also Dawn and Andy’s thoughts on their situation.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Books with Friends – The Chrysalids, by John Wyndham – reviewed by Chris King

Today let’s step back into classic science fiction, with a guest review by the lovely Chris King. To read his last review, of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, click here.

The Chrysalids shows a different aspect of the same ideal presented in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. Nineteen Eighty-Four shows an obsession with ensuring that all people think the same in order to ensure the continuation of the same system, while The Chrysalids depicts an obsession with physical purity for much the same end.

The world of The Chrysalids is a post-apocalyptic one; the only two books to have survived are Nicholson’s Repentance and the Bible. The land before this time, as near as anyone could tell, was called Labrador. The setting of the story is probably best described as frontier America. The majority of people live in small communities with pre-industrial technology and raid and are raided by the fringes people – but think of these fringe dwellers as native American tribes people would be inaccurate; these are mutants, they have long arms or thick long facial hair or something else considered Blasphemy, and rely on cunning for military success.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Books – The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins

So in exciting news, today is Books and Things’s first birthday. I started this blog exactly a year ago today. 41 book reviews later, here we are. This is weird. Anyway, onwards:

Released earlier this year, The Girl on the Train is one of those books everyone is talking about. It’s sold over 1.5 million copies and the film rights have already been bought. Apparently it’s the next Gone Girl. The basic premise is as follows: Rachel, a divorcee turned alcoholic in her early-thirties, takes the same commuter train into London every day. From the train she can see the back gardens of her old street; sometimes she sees her ex-husband and his new wife, but mostly she watches their neighbours down the street, a seemingly perfect couple she nicknames Jess and Jason. Then, when ‘Jess’ (whose real name is Megan) goes missing, Rachel finds herself caught up in a mystery she doesn’t understand.

As it happens, I really wasn’t expecting to like this novel. Sometimes when books get as thoroughly hyped as The Girl on the Train has been, I start assuming they’re probably over-rated, or I lower my expectations just so I’m not disappointed if the book’s been built up too much. Besides that, I’m often tentative about picking up crime fiction or thrillers; I somehow got it into my head a few years ago that I don’t like thrillers, although whenever I do read them I’m reminded that it isn’t actually the case. I think a read a couple of bad thrillers a few years ago, which possibly prejudiced me a bit; or I confuse my dislike of horror with a dislike of thrillers too.

But I actually really liked The Girl on the Train.