Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Book Review: A Brilliant Novel in the Works by Yuvi Zalkow

A Brilliant Novel in the Works
Written by: Yuvi Zalkow

Published: 2012

Synopsis: When Yuvi's wife finds him in his underwear, standing on top of his desk, she isn't particularly impressed with his writing habits. A self-proclaimed "neurotic Jew," he has a wife who wants things he can’t give her, an agent who wants a book he can’t deliver, and dead parents who, well, they don't really want anything, but that doesn't stop the memory of them from haunting Yuvi at every opportunity. His life begins to unravel as quickly as his unfinished novel, until the two finally begin to intertwine. Soon, his real-life friends and family begin to intermix with his characters. Yuvi travels from his suburban-Atlanta home to the North Carolina mountains of his father's childhood, to several hospital waiting rooms in a struggle to save himself, his marriage, his novel, and also the life of his brother-in-law and end war in the Middle East (if he has time).

I've been umming and ahhing about writing this review for two weeks now, and I've finally decided that I've just got to sit down, throw caution to the wind and hope that I manage to do my tangled thoughts, and this book, justice.

Why the hold up? Well part of it is the fact that the book's protagonist, Yuvi, bears some surface similarities to the author...Yuvi. How the heck do you review a book about a failing author who frequently cuts up his ass, prefers being spanked to having sex, stands on top of his desk in his underwear and generally fails at life, when the actual author shares the same name, and for all I know, a whole lot more? Second, the book and the protagonist's life is tangled up with writing in a very meta and complex way, which required more than just a typical review. Or at least that's how I felt. So here I am, two weeks later, struggling to work out how to express my reaction to this book sufficiently and hoping to all the gods in all the heavens that I didn't miss the key descriptor "autobiography" when I accepted this book for review.

So here it goes. Yuvi...he's pretty pathetic. I mean he's completely loveable, and I adored him in this book, but every few chapters I would inwardly sigh and thank my lucky stars that I wasn't his wife Julia. He's the antithesis of the romantic author image, he isn't holed away in some beautiful room overlooking a lake, a glass of scotch at his side while he battles through his demons as he bangs away on a dusty, yet reliable, typewriter. Rather, Yuvi can usually be found in his underwear, moaning about his inability to write his novel and complaining about his wife's love of BLTs. The writing happens infrequently and with a huge amount of pain. For someone who actively pursues the life of a writer, it seems to bring him a lot of grief - although that's something I sympathise with completely. He is, to be completly blunt and a maybe little inappropriate, thoroughly Jewish in all the ways American TV has conditioned me to stereotype. Although I suppose it isn't bigoted of me when the character himself is frequently pointing out how Jewish he is compared to his protestant wife and her family,and frequently uses it as a method to distinguish himself from the people around him. His Jewishness (if that's a word) is a crucial element of his character. The son of an Israeli Jewish mother and an American Jewish father, Yuvi clings to this as his only real sense of identity, even though his link to Judaism at this point in his life is tenuous at best, and it seems at times like he's almost replicating the Jewish characters of popular sitcoms perhaps to emphasise that he knows he's different, so that no one can use that as a point of attack against him. I guess what I'm trying to say is that Yuvi is so uncomfortable in his own skin, and so unsure (and unsupportive) of himself that he struggles to act accordingly with his true identity (writer) and overcompensates with something that should realistically just be a part of who he is, not the defining feature.

Yuvi is a big part of the book, so much so that everything else just sort of revolves around him. While there are sections created around Julia and her brother (Joel, AKA Shmendrick), or Shmen and his partner Ally, really it's about Yuvi's relationship with these people, and Yuvi's interpretation of their relationships through his eyes. Julia and Joel may be brother and sister, but what they really have in common is Yuvi, and Yuvi's relationships with these two people, the most important outside of his deceased parents, are very important to the development of Yuvi's character through the book. Julia, his wife, is compassionate, intelligent and determined. She works with rehabilitating addicts and spends so much time caring for other people that Yuvi constantly feels as though he's burdening her, that he's too goofy and child-like for such an incredible woman. Unlike Julia, Joel/Shmen isn't quite so together. In fact, he's pretty much the complete opposite of her.Where Julia is organised and professional, Shmen is erratic and creative and irresponsible. He'll call at 4am with anagrams, band names and useless facts, is always up for a martini and is incapable of holding down a job. He's also sick, which fits rather beautifully with his "live life to the fullest" mentality. These two balance out and provide Yuvi with an amazing scaffold of support - though it is one that he fails to recognise much of the time, or to truly appreciate - even though he loves them both to the ends of the Earth. There are other characters, his parents are often discussed during flash backs or self-contained short story chapters, Ally and her daughter, Yuvi's editor, and a few other people flit in and out of the book, but at the heart is Yuvi.

 As he struggles to write his book, Yuvi reveals that his success as a writer has come from short stories and it is back to this format that he falls as a way of coping with life around him. As he worries about Shmen's health and his marriage to Julia (he thinks she might be cheating on him with a tall, handsome uncircumcised man - everything he isn't in other words) he turns to short stories to try and make sense of it all. These short stories, which could be about an incident as a child, his grandparent's love story, a story told from Julia's perspective, or about a man trying to save the future of Earth from Uranus, are emotional, descriptive and very earnest. I don't know if any of the scenes with book Yuvi's parents were modelled on real Yuvi's parents, but the interactions and reflections are so full of love that I almost couldn't bear to read some of them, it felt like peaking at someone's diary.

It soon becomes clear that these short stories, and the daily narrative that surrounds them are the basis for Yuvi's book, which is only the start of the meta characteristics. Though it is set up as a realistic diary of sorts, it soons become clear that writing and words are so entangled in Yuvi's life that fact and fiction begin to shimmer and merge into one huge beast that can't be separated. Or, to put it differently but no less confusingly, the book reflects Yuvi's life which reflects the book/narrative which reflects back on Yuvi's life. At some points processes of writing are used to describe Yuvi's life, such as "It's a typical situation for me: the plot gets too twisted too quickly and now I can't find my way out" (page 40) but are also representative of his struggles as a writer and present issues with his book. Or after being hounded by his editor for something to move the action along - a death or something, anything! - Yuvi tries to spark up a friendship with a Palestinian journalist to fill this void, to which Yusef says "I don't mean to be disrespectful...but you're trying to use me as some kind of outsider who comes in to teach the main character a lesson. It's a bit contrived...You'll have to find another way to save your book" (page 248). At other times, fictional elements are introduced to beautifully convey an emotionally turbulent scene that simply can't receive the proper justice using regular words and realistic situations. I can't go into it without spoiling the final scene, but let me just say that the final chapter absolutely tore my heart out. It was beautiful, melodic, poetic, fascinating and a completely perfect conclusion to an event that had been building for so, so long. I'm sitting here in tears just remembering it, and it's a scene that'll live in my mind for a long time yet. If for nothing else, read this book to read this final chapter. If it doesn't take your breath away and leave you crying on the bus like it did for me, then I'll buy you a new book.

Yuvi is a writer, everything he does is storytelling, he just fails to grasp that at the start of the book. The beauty of this story is the transformation Yuvi takes as he finally begins to realise this, and stops interfering with the process long enough to create a well-constructed, eloquent novel that is full of emotions and fears and realisations about life, love, family and himself. And in getting his writing mojo back and his novel on track, his life falls back into place as well. Like I said, Yuvi is a writer, without it his life is a mess. Truly, this book is an extraordinary read.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Monday Links

*An amazing art installation in Melbourne combined literature with traffic. The sheer size of it is amazing, plus books! (Via Luzinterruptus)

*Something light for a Monday morning...Writers discuss death and mortality. (Via Flavorwire)

*An interview with J.K Rowling because...well, because it's J.K Rowling (Via The Guardian and Laura @ Devouring Texts)

*Author Dr Anita Heiss (and one of my festival faves) ran down a few of her favourite BWF moments on her blog (Via Anita Heiss Blog)

*In 10 days I'm heading off for a short holiday to China to see my sister! I've decided I'm not taking a single physical book with me (packing space is tight, yo) so I need you all to recommend which audio and e-books I should download! aaaaaand GO!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Movie Trailer: The Hobbit

I am less than impressed with The Hobbit being split into three separate films (seriously, with WHAT material??) but I am still terribly excited to see Bilbo's adventure up on the big screen. Martin Freeman makes an ideal Bilbo (secretly I think perhaps he's actually a hobbit in real life) and any film that lets me watch Ian McKellan act as a wizard deserves my money. Plus, you know, Lord of the Rings was kinda amazing and if anyone could do the book justice it'd be Peter Jackson. So yay for the full trailer!

Has anyone not watched Extras? If you haven't you've missed a stellar episode with Ian McKellan where he discusses his acting process with Ricky Gervais. Watch it, and leave your thank yous in the comments section!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Movie Trailer: Silver Lining Playbook

I'm not sure whether I think this looks good or not but I'm posting it here because a/ Jennifer Lawrence and b/ they mention Hemingway (that makes it bookish right?!). It's pretty derivative of the wave of 'light comedy with a focus on people with mental illness and odd-ball personalities which totally go hand in hand' which were immensely popular here in Australia during the late 1980s/early 1990s, but Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro make me think (hope) we aren't going to have an All About Steve situation (coincidentally Bradley Cooper was the lead in both films). We'll see.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Mini-graphic novel reviews #9

Y: The Last Man (issue #1)
Written by: Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra, illustrated by: José Marzán Jr.

Published: 2003

My Thoughts: I've heard very good things about this series, and when I saw the first issue was free to download on Comixology I couldn't resist! I'm only one issue in, but I can already see that this series is going to take over my life! It's extremely well-written and constructed, the art is clean and exciting, and the story is interesting, enticing and different. A plague (or something) has eliminated all men world-wide except Yorrick, an unemployed escape artist. This issue looks at the 29 minutes leading up to the mass-extinction of males, it travels to Jordan, the Gaza Strip, Australia, New York, Washington and looks at politicians, backpackers, Government agents, doctors...all are connected, I assume, but it's hard to say how right now. Can't wait to read more!

The New Deadwardians (issue #1)
Written by: Dan Abnett, illustrated by: I.N.J Culbard

Published: 2012

My Thoughts: A new take on the zombie and vampire genres which looks promising. To protect themselves against the zombie (Restless) swarms, the upper class English folk are turned into vampires (The Young) - now unable to die. In this first issue the lone homicide detective, Inspector Suttle starts his day with a Restless attack in his home (his poor maid - "the restless 'ad 'er") and a call to the murder of a vampire-something which had been thought impossible. A more compatible and well-thought attempt at Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (or perhaps Downton Abbey and Zombies) than I've seen before, it definitely looks promising. The art is a little sloppy, but for the most part the style suits the style of story well and I'm excited to see where this goes.

Planetary (issues #1 & 2)
Written by: Warren Ellis, illustrated by: John Cassaday

Published: 2001

My thoughts: Warren Ellis isn't only one of my favourite comic authors, he's one of my favourite authors fullstop. So when I came across this series I was pretty excited (Transmetropolitan is the greatest series ever written EVER, and Freak Angels comes a close second) to get some new (to me) Ellis action. The series is about three "super powered mystery archeologists" who investigate some of the weird and crazy things going on across the world. Jakita is the badass leader, Snow is cool (get it, get it?!) and Drummer is a techno-wizz who may well be clinically insane. It's interesting, funny and I'm told the overarching series story is pretty fantastic - so I'm looking forward to getting into a few more issues. It's not my favourite Warren Ellis series (yet) but it's got my attention.

Monday Links

*10 authors who write fan-fiction  (via The Daily Dot and Belle's Bookcase)

*Philip Roth's open letter to Wikipedia after they published errors about The Human Stain (Via The New Yorker)

*Here are the first ads of some very famous or amazing books. Such an interesting post. [The Diary of a Rapist ad is my absolute fave] (Via Brain Pickings)

*A writer gets their revenge with this rejection letter to a rejection letter (Via The Morning News)

*You guys, these guys make special blends of teas for Fandoms!! Well only Serenity and Locke and Key so far, but they look delish! (Via Adagio)

*The top 20 books most often discarded at hotels...or travel lodges anyway (Via The Telegraph)

*An anatomy of the book review. Plus a bunch of interesting links. (Via The Millions)

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Brisbane Writers Festival

If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram you probably know that I was at the Brisbane Writers Festival last week which, early mornings excepted, was a whole pile of fun! This was my third year as a volunteer, but because I wasn't up in the green room as I often am, I had a lot more opportunities to see a the panels, talks and meet a wider range of volunteers. Rather than go into any kind of boring blow by blow account here, I'm going to post a few highlights (and controversies) and share some of the excitement around!

*Germaine Greer was at the festival and delivered the opening address. Just quickly, can I mention how freaking irrelevant this woman has become? A couple of weeks ago she appeared on a political/news panel show and criticised our PM based on her pant suits (seriously? What happened to feminism?) and during her opening address she criticised Queensland literacy levels (which would have been fine if the stats were actually correct), attacked the Word Play (kids section of BWF) because "kids should be taught to read at school" (even though that is completely contradictory to what she moaned about re: literacy) and attacked the festival in terms of content, style and the people who attend. Ugh, seriously. What a freaking dampener.

*The Word Play event was phenomenal, so sad that I didn't live in Brisbane as a kid!! Andy Griffiths, John Boyne (who was LOVELY!), Nick Earls, and so many more! All the kids were extremely polite, and most of them drew little pictures and fan letters to give to the authors when they lined up at the signing table! Super cute!

*John De Graff is an amazing, intelligent and lovely man. He was one of the few adult events during the week (it's usually mostly the wordplay events) and happily signed dozens of exercise books for kids who had no idea who he was and possibly never will.

*The Pineapple lounge was a huge success! Cocktails, live music, authors delivering stories about life and love and what not. I know people often joke about authors drinking a lot but seriously, they drink a lot. So do readers apparently.

*Anita Heiss, Witi Ihimaera, Tiga Bayles and Dylan Coleman were fantastic in 'The All Blacks' panel. Probably my favourite of the week.


*That'll mean nothing to you unless you're from Australia most likely. But rest assured he's amazing.

*This was my first time with a camera phone so I made the most of taking photos at every opportunity, although I felt a little dodgy taking them during talks and panels so most ended up blurry and crappy and not worth sharing. But a couple were OK, and popped up on my twitter, facebook and tumblr pages.

*Photos: 1. John Boyne (author of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas during a Word Play event), 2. The BWF book heart sculpture, so many photos were taken with it! 3. Looking up at the State Library late one night, 4. The front facade of the State Library one night, 5. People enjoying the Pinapple Lounge, 6. Katherine Battersby (author of Squish Rabbit) having a cosy chat with fans and amateur authors.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Trying to make sense of the current state of the Book Blogger ' verse

Blogging is, for want of a better term, my hobby, and while I might one day contribute as a writer to a professional site or magazine, it's unlikely to progress further than that. It's a way to catalogue my reading, discuss books, get experience writing and meet new people.And while it's fantastic that authors find this blog and offer me their books (and seriously, any authors reading this, you have no idea how much I appreciate this) it's not why I do this. I've discovered books and series that I never would have come across on my own, and some of the self published, or teeny indie publisher, books I've read are phenomenal reads that I've shouted about from the roof tops. I've met some amazing people who share the same love for my favourite authors and books, and I'm slowly getting over my shyness and am beginning to start some wonderful email and twitter relationships with authors who, frankly, I can't believe would bother wasting their precious time on me.

As much as I love blogging and the world it encompasses, I've never fully immersed myself in it. I'm only slightly involved with Amazon, Goodreads and other community sites, I don't participate in many memes, and it took me a long time to get the balls to finally accept a book from an author for review. This means I've missed out on some of the opportunities available to the bloggers who really get involved in this world, and at times I've felt a little sad about that - but then I see all the blogger/author dramas and I think "thank Christ I'm not being sucked into that world of pain". Today I read the blog post "How I Pissed Off A Legion of Emily Giffin Fans" on Corey Ann's blog and I decided that after a few months of absolute craziness I wanted to add my 2 cents - for whatever that's worth.

I'm sure there are a few bloggers who are here for the followers, free books and (potential) money but most that I've come across are doing this because they love reading, writing and lack any real reading community in their IRL lives. Like me, they accept books from authors because it's an amazing opportunity  and they are eager to promote their favourite authors. Perhaps it's because of this eagerness, or the fact that for most/all of us this is a hobby/passion not a career, that authors seem to think that they don't need to act with the same professional accord that was once standard. In some ways this is fantastic, when an author responds casually to a tweet or comments on a review (as happened on my horror blog - Tom and I are still fan boy/girl-ing out about that!) it's 10X better than exchanging a couple of awkward words at a book signing. But the lack of professional barriers also seem to encourage authors to argue with reviewers who review unfavourably, or to encourage their fans to "set the reviewer straight".

Reviewing is completely subjective. It's an opinion and it's completely shaped by personal experience, lifestyle, education, social standing etc etc. There are plenty of books from the USA that just don't do it for me because I'm not privy to the minute details pertaining to the complex social, political and economic situation unique to the US. Similarly, I'm sure there are countless of you who would not understand my adoration of Australian horror and thrillers because you don't know or understand the history that surrounds much of it. It's for this reason that it's absurd that authors should get upset when their book receives ratings spanning from 1 to 5. I mean, I know it isn't that easy, I get it. Seeing a one star review would be pretty heartbreaking, I can't even imagine what my own response would be (probably lock myself in a room and cry for days on end to be honest) but attacking a reviewer is never the answer. Just because there is a comment function directly underneath doesn't mean you should instantly send an angry (and usually terribly written) comment about how the reader doesn't understand your character, and how they missed the point. Perhaps they missed the point because of the reasons I discussed above, or maybe, MAYBE they missed it because you didn't articulate it as well as you think you did.

Take the Save The Pearls incident for example. I honestly believe the author, Victoria Foyt, didn't mean to be racist - but the fact remains that the execution of the book is incredibly racist. The basic premise which attempted to turn the tables on our dichotomy focused society could (and has been in the hands of different authors) a thought provoking story that revealed a lot about our modern society. But because of a lack of research into the subject she slipped up terribly. I'm not going to get into a discussion on the many flaws to this idea (plenty of people already have) but what I wanted to point out is that while she might not have meant to write a racist book, she can't fault people for finding it racist. Readers only have what they see on the page in front of them, just because it wasn't racist in your head doesn't excuse the fact that what you put on the page came across that way. And when the majority of readers see these huge red flags, it's not THEIR problem, it's YOUR problem, and a concern that the author should have identified in the editing stage.

But all of this is expounded by the internet. Everything has a comment function nowadays, and it is so easy to type out something and hit the send button before you have a chance to think and diffuse your anger that I can't say the latest situations are particularly surprising. In the past, if you wanted to complain to a reviewer you either had to call them (if you could find their number) or write to them. Both situations that give you, at least, a few minutes to stop and contemplate what it is that's fired you up so much. In many of the online craziness I wonder if any of the badly behaving authors (and this isn't to excuse the bloggers - there has been some dodgy blogger behaviour too) have realised the error of their ways halfway through the commotion but feel like they've dug themselves in too deep to simply turn around and apologise. After my years of casual retail work I can attest to the countless times I've seen the switch flicked behind the complaining customer's eyes and their realisation that they're in the wrong wrestle with their inability to accept the blame. Also, there have been so many screenshots of authors calling their fans to war in facebook posts over someone who dares post a one star review or call an author out for bad behaviour, that I can't help but wonder if many of our problems would disappear if authors/filmmakers/creatives just stayed away from social media. Perhaps the fact that they can see their fans (through twitter and facebook followers and likes) in addition to the ease you can share a link gives the author a bump in their confidence that they simply wouldn't have experience 20 years ago. Heck, 5 years ago!

I don't feel like this post has made much sense at all, so I apologise for that, but all of these things have been swirling around my head and have been making me feel so uneasy about adventuring further into the blogging world (what if STGRB finds my details and sends them out across the internet because I dislike someone's book? Why should I risk reviewing a book when I know the author will read it?) that I really had to try and put some of them down on (virtual) paper. Negativity and criticism (even if it's constructive) is never easy to accept, but it's a skill that you need to develop if you're going to be a blogger or author or filmmaker or designer or tattooist or whatever. It's a fact of life, not everyone will like what you create and not everyone will agree with your opinion, but bullying someone by sending hundreds of fans after ANOTHER FAN is not the answer, nor is writing Huffington Post blogs* where you cry about how everyone in the world is too stupid to understand what you wrote. On the internet your bad bahaviour is never going to be forgiven nor will it ever disappear. Everyone screencaps today, and everything is cached somewhere, so your outbursts will be recorded, even if you feel absolutely awful about it 10 minutes later. You have to take responsibility for your actions. You have to put yourselves in the other person's shoes. Perhaps most importantly though, there are dangerous and unstable people online and even though you just wanted to make that reviewer feel bad and delete their review, if you post details about where they live, who they are, how to contact them, if anything then happens to them IT IS YOUR FAULT. So again, you must take responsibility for your actions and think, think, THINK before you hit that send button.

Here are a few articles I think do a much better job discussing parts of what I've attempted to bring up in my mess of a post...

Foz Meadows' Racism, Revealing Eden and STGRB, Intentionality VS Interpreation and Stop the GoodReads Bullies - A ResponseActually just go read anything Foz has written, it's brilliant. 

N.K Jeminson's This is how you destroy something beautiful 

Rex Jameson's The Legend of Carroll Bryant

Belle @ Belle's Bookshelf's Reviewing Books VS Authors 

John Scalzi's Bad Reviews: I can handle them and so should you

Janet @ Dear Author's Something is very wrong with us, and it’s not bad reviews

Veronica Roth's A Really Long Post About the Author/Reviewer Relationship

Stacia Kane's I don't need you to avenge me, thanks

And to relieve some of the pressure, here's a gif of Tom Hiddleston that makes my heart actually stop.

*As a point of interest, here's an open letter from Philip Roth because Wikipedia states that The Human Stain was "allegedly inspired by the life of the writer Anatole Broyard" which he deems insulting because it isn't who he drew inspiration from. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Book Review: The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

The Uncommon Reader 
Written by: Alan Bennett

Published: 2007

Synopsis: When the Queen in pursuit of her wandering corgis stumbles upon a mobile library she feels duty bound to borrow a book. Aided by Norman, a young man from the palace kitchen who frequents the library, Bennett describes the Queen's transformation as she discovers the liberating pleasures of the written word. With the poignant and mischievous wit of The History Boys, England's best loved author revels in the power of literature to change even the most uncommon reader's life.


I'm going to try really hard not to adopt the book's regal tone in this review but it's going to be really difficult because the one word I really want to use to describe it is quaint, and that just sends me down all kinds of dangerous pretentious, semi-vague, mock-English pathways. Also, I'll be wary not to use charming, sweet or cute, although all three words are screaming out at me demanding to be used.

Tom's lovely nana demanded recommended I read this short novella, herself using many of my forbidden words to sell it to me. Not that I've ever really needed to be sold on a book, but she made it sound so damn delicious and so teeny tiny (a piddly 120 pages) that I decided it needed to be read sooner rather than later. Actually, if I had simply been told the plot I might have needed a little selling. The royal family, at least, this incarnation (the blood-thirty royals of old were awesome) bore me senseless. They might be nice people but...YAWN! So the idea of a book, regardless of how short and sweet, focusing on the oldest and perhaps dullest of the bunch...well, I probably wouldn't have rushed to pick it up on my own. Nevertheless, I'm a sucker for a recommendation and with my busy schedule tiny books are all the more appealling and I felt like reading something completely different from my recent picks so TADA! Here I am.

In this novella the Queen finds herself coming across a mobile library on the grounds during one of her regular walks, and what begins as the acceptance of a book because it's the polite and proper thing to do becomes an obsession. After years of obedience, duty and very little time spent lost in a book the Queen falls hopelessly under the spell of books (something I imagine you can all relate to here!). With the help of her personal book selector, Norman, to find all the books she could desire, the Queen's voracious appetite for books begin to get in the way of her duty and responsibilities. Her attention to her outfits falter, she begins to arrive late to events and perhaps worst of all, she makes people uncomfortable by daring to try and discuss books with award-recipients, dignitaries and palace workers!

The book is ultimately a mix of the Queen's reflections on the wonder of reading and literature, a collection of quotes, names and story recaps and interactions with countless people who just do not understand this little late in life hobby. While I enjoyed the quips at the expense of her primary advisor, Simon (a New Zealander - therefore the natural enemy of this Australian reader!) the real beauty of this book is her reflections espousing the wonderment that reading provides anyone lucky enough to fall under its spell. Some of my favourite quotes were;
"Briefing is not reading. In fact, briefing is the opposite of reading. Briefing is terse, factual, and to the point. Reading is untidy, discursive and perpetually inviting. Briefing closes down a subject, reading opens it up." (page 22)
 "Books are not about passing time. They're about other lives. Other worlds. Far from wanting time to pass...one wishes one had more of it." (page 29)
 "It was anonymous; it was shared; it was common. And she who had lead a life apart now found that she craved it. Here in these pages and between these covers she could go uncovered." (Page 31)
"A book is a device to ignite the immagination." (Page 34)
I adored the idea that someone who had had a life where every minute was ruled by appointments, commitments and public events, could finally find solace and escape in the pages of books. Not only that, but as her reading continued she realised exactly how stifling her previous life was the way she was living, and how amazing an experience it could be. Once she began reading she tried to actually connect with the people she met at events (although in most instances they weren't particularly pleased with this!), and she began to notice smaller details and changes in the emotions and attitudes of people around her - something she'd closed herself off to a long time ago. I also couldn't help but relate with her obsession and desire to constantly read all the time and read anything she could get her hands on. God only knows how often I've sat reading a book when I desperately needed to get work done, get some sleep or get ready to catch a bus.

In contrast with the happiness reading brings the Queen, everyone else seems to look at it as either a novelty or some horrific addiction akin to heroin. For some, like the Prime Minister and her advisor, they're annoyed that they don't have her full attention any more, while others seem honestly worried that reading, which is a luxury for many of the time poor, would further alienate an already alienated rich old lady. I might not be queen, but I've certainly faced people who are either incredulous that I have time to read or who see it as a waste of time, money and effort.

It's far from a perfect novel, there's this weird fascination with her reading "advisor" Norman being gay and always selecting homosexual writers for the Queen to read. Seriously, just about every section that he features has some mention of his "preference" - as it's sometimes referred to. Also, in trying to capture the voice of the Queen there is a lot of high-faluting language where one discusses what one's schedule has one doing for every minute of one's day.After a while, We are not amused. But they're pretty small annoyances, and since the book is so short they don't really have enough time to build into anything too frustrating.

So I've gotten this far without breaking any of the rules I set in the first paragraph, but I'm not sure how much longer I can hold back so I'll wrap up here. If you're a reader (which I know you all are) then this is a sweet little ode to reading and the fantastic contribution it makes to all of our lives. To set it apart from the many declarations of love we make on a daily basis though, it's wrapped up with an interesting little tale of a hobby discovered at the most unexpected time of life in a particularly uncommon reader. A pleasant, quick and sweet little read.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Monday Links

*BWF is over for another year (sad!!) but here's an interview with the departing festival director to keep in alive a little longer! (Via Bookseller and publisher)

*Morbid Monday tidbit, here are 9 gravestones belonging to famous authors (via Book Riot)

*An interesting piece about the 50 Shades series, subtitled "How E.L. James created an unlikely cottage industry in sanitised S/M" (Via book forum)

*A court case ruling regarding e-book pricing. (Via Media Decoder - NYT)

*Edinburgh International Writers Festival in pictures (Via The Guardian)

*A 50 Shades infograph - yikes, 2 mentions in one post! In any case, it's pretty interesting! (Via Media Bistro)

Monday, September 3, 2012

Review: A Deeper Darkness by J.T. Ellison

A Deeper Darkness
Written by J.T. Ellison

Published: 2012

Synopsis:As a medical examiner, Samantha Owens knows her job is to make a certain sense of death with crisp methodology and precision instruments.But the day the Tennessee floods took her husband and children, the light vanished from Sam's life. She has been pulled into a suffocating grief no amount of workaholic ardor can penetrate—until she receives a peculiar call from Washington, D.C. On the other end of the line is an old boyfriend's mother, asking Sam to do a second autopsy on her son. Eddie Donovan is officially the victim of a vicious car jacking, but under Sam's sharp eye the forensics tell a darker story. The ex-Ranger was murdered, though not for his car.


In some ways A Deeper Darkness is several books in one. The first book is a heart-wrenching look at a wife and mother who survived her family's death in a sudden and unexpected flood. The career she'd always loved is suddenly hollow, and to cope with her loss she's hardened herself almost to the point of no-return and developed OCD tendencies that she struggles to hide from the people around her. The second book is an honest examination of life as the spouse or family member of a war veteran, and the complexities that are added to the relationship when they return home from Afghanistan, Iraq, etc. The third story is a crime mystery looking into the death of an ex-ranger, and slowly piecing together a much larger and more insidious case. Separately they'd be interesting stories but something that's been done before, entwined together however, the result is a multi-faceted book that interested me from different fronts and was easy to consume from start to finish.

When we first meet Samantha Owens she's calm, in control and thinking fondly of the ordered, organised events that are to unfold during the day in her autopsy lab. Just as an impression of who this woman is begins to form everything begins to come apart at the seams when it's revealed that one of the bodies about to be delivered drowned. With that brief little sentence you quickly come to realise how damaged Samantha is. All of that structure at the initial introduction was simply a well fortified wall that's only job is to keep her upright until she can make it back to the privacy of her home where she is free to fall apart in whatever way she chooses. However it's clear that structures and walls and order have long been a mainstay in her life. She's scientific, pragmatic, sensible and logical, things which are emphasised in flashbacks, internal narration and her reactions to unexpected questions or advances. When it comes to people Samantha loves though, her rationality flies right out the window.Time and time again Samantha seethes with anger and disappointment when people throw up roadblocks and halt her determined effort to get to the bottom of Eddie's death. Not that they're wrong to do so, she is simply a medical examiner - she's not qualified to take part in a criminal investigation and she probably shouldn't even be told much of the information about the case - but there's a passion and fire that motivates her and clashes dramatically with the cold scientific rigor she regularly embodies. The stress and heartache that comes from investigating your first love's murder so soon after the death of your family is an important component in Samantha's character - it leaves her vulnerable and likeable, and makes her focused attempts to persevere through the pain all the more inspiring. All this being said, I wasn't the biggest fan of Samantha. At times I found her cold, obnoxious, condescending and self-involved and I highly doubt that if I met her i'd have anything to say to her that didn't revolve around the weather. But this just cemented the reality of her character - no one's perfect after all.

I won't dedicate as much time to the other characters in the book, but while most of them were well fleshed out, none had the same life as Samantha. Some were, understandably, a little cardboard-y, serving mostly as markers to move the mystery and the plot along, but even the characters like Detective Darren Fletcher (equal parts cynical, protective and kind) and his better natured partner Detective Lonny Hart who I adored felt a little...lacking compared to the focus that had been put into Samantha. This unbalance was, I think, the main reason I really detested the character of Eddie’s wife, Susan. Though I’m sure we were supposed to believe that her catty remarks and overly snobby attitude was a reaction to the sudden death of her husband, I just found it hard to believe that she and Eddie were soul-mates, and she always seemed out of sync with the rest of the characters. Compared to Samantha, Susan just felt two-dimensional, as though we were supposed to be shocked and a little annoyed that Eddie would marry her and not run off searching for Samantha. Be that as it may, this really was a book about Samantha and while I wish the other characters had been a little more equally weighted, they each had an important function within the story and they fulfilled those roles well.

The book cycles through Samantha, Fletcher and Susan (mostly) as narrators, though Samantha takes up the lion's share of these. It helped spread the story out, divulging certain details of the mystery to one character (and yourself) while keeping that little nugget in the dark from the rest of the main cast of players. It results in an interesting array of red herrings and wasted hunts - but ever so slowly, among the potential threads of Government conspiracies, the psychological impact of war, relationships, secrets and assaults, Fletcher, Hart and Samantha build up a case that is much bigger than the original belief of Eddie's mother that he wasn't the victim of a simple carjacking. Because of the focus on Samatha and her personal history with Eddie, and recent losses, the mystery wasn't the most difficult to work out - but it didn't need to be. The meat of the story is Samantha (and to a lesser extent Susan and Fletcher) coming to terms with her situation, letting go of the past  and moving forward.

This book was a spin-off from J.T. Ellison's Taylor Jackson, and already has a second book due for publication at the end of the year. I'm intrigued to see where it heads, because it was pretty neatly wrapped up in the closing chapters of this book - but I imagine it probably follows Samantha back in her proper position as medical examiner. Hopefully now that Samantha's character is well formed and has had a book dedicated to the good, bad and ugly sides of her self, the next book will be able to focus on some new characters who work side by side with Samantha, although I would also love to see some of the crew from this book pop up in the next story too! A Deeper Darkness is an engaging story with a mystery that packs a punch and a protagonist with a lot of heart. A great read!


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