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review 2015-06-30 16:53
“Murder of Crows – The Others #2″ by Anne Bishop – a deeper look at Meg’s world and her people
Murder of Crows - Anne Bishop

“A Murder of Crows” continues on directly from “Written In Red” which told the tale of Meg Corbyn a cassandra sangue, on the run from The Controller who had held her, and others of her kind, prisoner to exploit her ability to see the future when her skin is cut. Meg took refuge in The Courtyard, home to The Others, apex predator shape shifters, vampires and Elementals who rule the planet, restricting humans to specific territory.


At the start of “A Murder of Crows” Meg’s cassandra sangue status has won her acceptance as more than human at The Courtyard. She is valued but she is also seen as vulnerable and in need of protection.  Her need to cut herself to prophesy the future is understood as a harmful addiction that must be forbidden rather than as the price she pays for a rare gift. Meg sees this restriction as denying her the ability to be her true self and chafes against it. She wants the right to choose to answer when her gift calls.


While Meg is less central than she was in the first book, she still has an important role to play both in the plot and in helping us to see The Others for what they are and are not. I enjoyed the relationship between Meg and the Simon, the wolf shapeshifter who leads The Compound. Meg deals simply and effectively with the duality of Simon’s nature:naked wolf in Meg’s bed = good. Naked Simon in Meg’s bed = bad.


“A Murder of Crows” gives a deeper insight into the alien nature of The Others: helping us to understand their complex views on right and wrong and justice and revenge. We are introduced to “feral” Others, who rarely see humans and are intrigued by the rituals involved in using a restaurant.


The humans once again set out to attack The Others, using the drugs “Gone Over Wolf” and “Feel Good” as weapons. It’s as if humans are not psychologically equipped to accept that they are not at the top of the food chain. It reminded me of the attitude of politicians to the global warming debate. They can see the glaciers shrinking and the Alps turning green but they can’t take in that this is alterable by negotiation.


This book is a little slower and a little less personal that the first book but it is a lot grittier, provides a broader platform for continuing to build the world of The Others and to sustain a more complex plot.

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review 2015-06-05 13:55
“The Panopticon” by Jenni Fagan – disturbing, brutal, honest, intense novel about a Scottish teenage “delinquent” in “care” trying to live as free a life as she can
The Panopticon - Jenni Fagan

I'm embarrassed to admit it, but when I bought it, I thought "The Panopticon" was a  Young Adult, Urban Fantasy, Rites of Passage book: a comfortable read, an escape from reality, an opportunity to bask in a young person's accomplishments in the face of difficult odds.


So strongly did I have this impression that it took me a couple of chapters to shrug it off and see an entirely adult, brutal, depressing, painfully realistic novel about power and struggle, and the lives of the broken, abused, abandoned and feared young women, that we lock up and keep under scrutiny.


I was mislead because the book had a slightly arty, slightly edgy cover, the main character was a strong, independent fifteen year-old girl and the extract I heard made reference to the stone figures on the gate of the Panopticon moving as she approached.


It seems that my imagination is now so conditioned to the conventions of Urban Fantasy that I took a moving lion metaphor/day-dream literally because it seemed normal.


"The Panopticon" is about as far from my normal as you can get. It's about what officialdom would call "children in care" and who are shown here a young people, robbed of childhood, not yet given the privileges of adulthood, and "cared for" by being kept in a Panopticon prison where they can be observed and prevented from disturbing the rest of us.


The women in the Panopticon are not female Oliver Twists, waiting to be rescued from delinquency by being welcomed into a good middle-class home. They have nothing but the respect they earn from their peers through the notoriety that they gain.


If "The Panopticon" was a PS3 game, it would have Parental Advisory written all over it, because these are not the kind of young women that parents want their kids to spend time with. They swear, fuck, wank, drink, take drugs and smash the people and things around them.


The main character has named herself Anais after the erotica writer Anais Nin because the whore, who was the only woman who ever took her in an looked after her, liked her books. She describes herself as "a girl with a shark's heart". She is full of rage that she cannot always contain and which escapes through acts of destruction but she has not lost her compassion for her peers or given up hope for herself.


Very bad things happen to Anais in this book. Brutal, awful things that leave scars on the body and the mind. Things that will break your heart but which Anais does her best not to allow to break her.


Fagan's writing is powerful enough that you can settle into Anais' scarred skin and see the world through her eyes. Anais is not looking for pity or campaigning for political change. She accepts the world as it is and seeks to survive without losing too much of herself in the process.


"The Panopticon" is written in Scottish English, filled with terms like didnae and wisnae,  that I often hear but seldom see written down. Actually that's a good summary of much of this book, it is filled with things I often see but that are seldom written down. The title, Panopticon  literally means "seen by all". I think Jenni Fagan wants to make us look at how we treat our young and to feel ashamed.


I've seen reviews and comments on this book that focus on the "unacceptable" level of swearing and ask "couldn't this have been written in English?" This stuns me. How does a literate person get to the end of a book like this and have those as the main things they want to say?


I'd rather focus on the "unacceptable" truth in this book: that we do not know what to do with our broken young and that what we do do is more to protect us than them. I'm also filled with admiration for Jenni Fagan's ability to use fiction to make me see reality.

If you'd like to hear Jenni Fagan talking about her writing, click on the SoundCloud link below.




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review 2015-03-15 21:14
"Midnight Come Again - Kate Shugak #10" by Dana Stabenow - Kate, lost in grief, is found by Jim Chopin
Midnight Come Again - Dana Stabenow


"Midnight Come Again" opens like a Tom Clancy novel with a rogue Russian military unit killing people in an armed robbery in Moscow.


It was well written and intriguing but it left me with one big question: where is Kate Shugak?


I'm fairly sure this is the reaction that Dana Stabenow expected me to have as this is the question the whole novel sets out to answer.


The events in most of this novel are not seen from Kate's point of view but from Jim Chopin's. Jim has been asking around the Park to see if anyone knows where Kate is. No-one has any information for him but they all expect him to bring her back. Jim's search is cut short when he is sent undercover, working with the FBI to try and find a high-profile Russian crime boss who is thought to be in port. By chance, his assignment brings him face to face with Kate.


The Kate he meets is not the Kate Shugak I knew in the first nine books. She has literally vanished. Kate cannot or will not face that she is alive and Jack Morgan is dead. She has left her home, her friends and even her name behind. She is lost in guilt and grief and anger. Yet she does not curl up in a corner or dive into a bottle. She works, hard and long, mastering new tasks running an air-taxi/freight service. Kate shapes how the world she works in is organized because she doesn't know how NOT to do that. She works because work is better than having time to think and much, much better than having time to feel. Kate has a job but she doesn't really have a life. This seems to have been her goal: to be "the working dead".


Her meeting with Jim Chopin  begins events that will force her out of the Hide she has built for herself. She becomes embroiled in the case and she becomes angry at Jim. It seemed to me that she rages at him because he is full of life and he will not let her deny her own life.


The plot in "Midnight Come Again" is strong, relatively complex and darker than some of the other books. I was struck by the contrast between Kate's drinking session with Russian seamen in this book and her session with the Russian sailors in "Dead In The Water." In "Dead In The Water" the session was lightly flirtatious, Kate was in control and there was nothing more sinister in the room than an exuberant excess of testosterone. In "Midnight Come Again" the drinking session has an undercurrent of threat, Kate is damaged and vulnerable, and there is serious cause to worry about her.


Kate is dragged back to herself, not just by Jim Chopin but through contact with an old school friend and her family. Kate is given a context for how she is seen by others, learns new things about her grandmother and incurs a moral debt towards a young girl.


The emerging dynamic between Kate and Jim injects fresh emotional conflict while also dealing realistically with reactions to grief. Not just Kate's grief for Jack Morgan, but Jim's grief for seeming to lose the woman Kate used to be.


This book is a good stand-alone thriller. It is also a very skillful bridge between the Kate we knew before the events of "Hunter's Moon" and the Kate who is  finding her way after it. The emotional tone is perfect and made "Midnight Come Again" a very satisfying read.


The title sounded like a quote but I wasn't familiar with the source.  An Internet search suggested that it might be from Theodore Roethke's poem "A Dark Time."  The tone seems right. It's a good poem. Go HERE to read it for yourself






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review 2015-03-01 00:41
"Blind Faith" by Ben Elton - depressingly plausible dystopian future-Britain in which privacy is a crime
Blind Faith - Ben Elton

Ben Elton's has a talent for seeing past the surface of things to the reality lurking beneath. In "Dead Famous" he showed us how little reality there is in Reality TV. In "Chart Throb" he exposed how the outcomes of TV talent shows  are manipulated. In "Blind Faith" he shows us where we may get to if current trends in attitudes towards privacy, intellect, and the dominance of passionate opinion over factual analysis continue.


I've found previous Ben Elton books to be fun as well as insightful. He uses wit, humour and careful observation to make me smile at the gaps between the world as it is presented to us and the reality that he uncovers.


"Blind Faith" is not like that. "Blind Faith" is so in your face and so horribly plausible that it make "1984"  and "Fahrenheit 451" feel like light-hearted romps. Watching the plot unfold made me feel as if I were rubbernecking on a car wreck: the nice part of me wanted to look away but the reptile wrapped around my hindbrain was fascinated by the reality of the disaster.


"Blind Faith" is set in a post-flood near-future London, where the people are packed together so tightly there is only room to shuffle, not enough to walk. Social media are always on in your living room. Privacy is regarded as the kind of deviant behaviour only  pedo pervert would need. Cherry-popping videos are part of everyone's online bio, laws are set by mass vote, a populist, live it large church guides all decisions, reading is illegal and vaccinations are seen as a lack of faith in God.


In the midst of all this, an ordinary man, trying to do his best and being overwhelmed.


This is a memorable book but it is not a comfortable read. The text began to make me feel as hemmed in as the characters in the novel and as overwhelmed as our hero. Ben Elton offers no comfort and no solutions, just a brutal warning.

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text 2015-01-02 22:31
Master post for my 2014 Reading Challenges both Finished and not

Since I'm going to be clearing out my pages to make way for my 2015 goals and challenges, I wanted to make a master post I can go to and find all my challenges for 2014. This is mainly for my own housekeeping.


2014 Audiobook Challenge / Wrap Up Post


2014 Wimpy Challenge


Bookish Bingo - Oct, Nov, Dec / Wrap Up Post


Mary Russell Challenge


Narnia 2014 Challenge


Read It Again, Sam 2014 / Wrap Up Post


Sail To The Past - 2014 History Reading Challenge / Wrap Up Post

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