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review 2017-02-15 22:02
Everything is possible with a little help from your friends
Life in a Fishbowl - Len Vlahos

Thanks to Net Galley and to Bloomsbury Childrens for offering me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

This novel, that although classified in the category of teen and young adult literature can be read by anyone, is the story of the Stone family whom we meet when they are at a moment of crisis. When the father, Jared, is diagnosed with a brain tumour, aware that he’ll lose his faculties and his family are going to be left without his support, he decides drastic measures are necessary. What follows is the story of how his decisions affect all around him and how we can achieve incredible things if we never give up and have the support of our friends.

The novel is told, in the third person, from a variety of characters’ point of view, including Jared (although he becomes progressively confused), Jackie, his oldest daughter, and the central point of the story, Deirdre, the mother, Megan, the younger sister, and a number of characters extraneous to the family, including a young girl whose main contact with the outside world is Warcraft, a millionaire who’d do anything to keep himself entertained, a ruthless TV executive, a hard and unforgiving nun, and even Glio, the tumour that takes over Jared’s brain.

When Jared’s plan of offering himself for sale in e-Bay doesn’t work out and he ends up signing a contract to become the star of a reality TV following the last days of his life on the screen, everybody’s lives end up in turmoil. Shy Jackie, whose only refuge is social media and her friendship with a Russian schoolboy (fantastic Max), can’t think of anything worse than having cameras at home. The way the television crew manipulates the images and creates a distorted version of her family and her reality makes her want to resist, and by the end of the novel she’s discovered that she’s strong and resourceful and she’s strengthened the link with her sister (who is seen as cruel and superficial at the start).

Most of the adults in the novel (other than one of the teachers and the members of the Stone family) are depicted as egotistical and self-serving, and they don’t truly care about others. Although some of the reviews comment that the description is not accurate as it states that the novel is Jackie’s story whilst the action is split between many characters, for me, Jackie is the heroine, the main protagonist of the book and the heart of the story. Some of the characters that occupy quite a few pages at the beginning disappear when they’ve served their purpose and others are there to either aid or mostly hinder Jackie’s attempts at helping her father end up his life with dignity.

There is a strong element of criticism of the invasion of privacy by media, in this case, a reality TV programme that, like the cancer, feeds on what it likes and leaves destruction around it. Their commercialism, manipulation and money grabbing tactics are resisted by Jackie and her friends, in a David versus Goliath situation. On the other hand, the novel also shows that social media and platforms like YouTube aren’t good or bad in themselves and they can be used to great effect to subvert the established order.

For me, the younger characters are rendered more realistically and are easier to empathise with (as is to be expected from the genre and its intended audience). The novel is particularly focused on less popular and more introverted characters, who aren’t happy in standard social situations and suffer the unwanted attention of their peers when they are not openly bullied. They get to shine through and are shown as talented, imaginative and loyal friends, in contrast with both the adults and the popular but superficial kid.

I am intrigued by the use of the tumour as one of the narrators. It allows us to share in some of Jared’s memories (and due to his rapidly progressive illness that’s one of the only ways we have of getting some sense of who this man was before his diagnosis) but most importantly perhaps, the destruction it creates (and the way it takes over his host) parallels what the TV programme do, progressively limiting the freedom of the occupants, eventually leaving them nothing. At least the tumour is not aware of it and has no will of its own. The amount of anatomical and functional detail is impressive without slowing the action or interfering with the development of the story.

An inspiring novel that deals with a difficult subject (several difficult subjects) and ultimately emphasises the importance of friends, family and of standing up for what we think is right.

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review 2017-02-03 17:52
Life in a Fishbowl
Life in a Fishbowl - Len Vlahos

I really don’t know what to think about this novel. I guess I was anticipating a more emotional read than what I received, it was a letdown by the time I finished reading it. I thought, here was this father who had died and I really didn’t think anyone grieved for him. When he was diagnosed with cancer, he immediately thought of his family. He was concerned for their well-being, would they be financially set after his death? He wanted to guarantee their welfare so he took matters into his own hands. In the end, his family was rewarded but the weeks with them, leading up to his death were chaos. Was that really worth it? Was the chaos worth the money? There were a few times when I thought things might turn around and times were some emotions were revealed but I felt they never presented themselves fully. I was looking for fond and warm moments where the family could remember those last weeks with their father, not the drama that went on when the cameras were rolling. This novel didn’t have heart that I was looking for.

This novel did have all the drama of a reality show, it had all the characters, it had the controversy and the disputes that occur off camera and on camera. It had excitement and deception, friendships and hostility. The novel had a cancer which went by the name Gilo. Gilo searched out memories inside Jared and it shared them with me, the reader, as I read. These personal stories of Jared’s were then destroyed never to be seen again, for Gilo was on a mission to destroy Jared for he was incurable. I am glad that I read this novel for it was one of those novels that I have been craving to read for a while. The cover was amazing and the synopsis sounded like a book that I would have loved, sometimes though you never know what is inside.

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review 2016-02-27 23:48
Light pleasant tale told through the eyes of a goldfish.
Fishbowl: A Novel - Bradley Somer

It's not exactly 'War and Peace' but it was a nice change of pace book that was mostly skimmable. As Ian the goldfish plunges to his almost certain death (really, a goldfish is going to survive a multi-floor fall?), we see the lives of some of the residents in the apartment building Ian passes as he falls.

 

There's the graduate student who realizes he loves his girlfriend but is cheating on her with two other women. The big burly construction worker who has been trying to admit something to himself. The building's super, who feels unappreciated and is stuck trying to fix the elevator. The pregnant woman who is due any day now and really wants some ice cream sandwiches. An agoraphobic woman who is forced out of her shell to help two people after she loses her phone sex call job. A home-schooled boy who frequently loses consciousness and thinks he travels through time.

 

While I normally can't stand multi-view books, the author made it work here because it was clear early on that Ian was our narrator (in a way) and that it was just a glimpse of these lives. Sure, these people may possibly know each other by sight, maybe a few by name. But it's a story is really a few threads and no artificial ties between them.

 

Overall it was an enjoyable read. It seemed like it could have been a lot shorter, especially as the author tends to talk about the pasts of these characters and what is happening in the present moment at the end of the chapter. Some of these backstories were more interesting: Garth the construction worker, Herman the home-schooled boy who lives with his grandpa, agoraphobic Claire, etc. Others, like grad student Connor and his mistress Faye were not so interesting. Personally I didn't think Faye needed to be characterized as a villain but that's a minor aside.

 

The book also wraps up predictably with a "happy" ending (not totally I'd say) for most (although it could arguably be seen as open-ended as well) that was a bit odd in places. I thought the author tried a little *too* hard to make it so for certain characters just so to keep everyone in the same building.

 

I'd argue the book was really a 2.5 star book in terms of the story's execution, but the story itself was charming. I couldn't help but think of Penelope Lively's 'How It All Began' as a matter of trying a bunch of people together in a sort of "butterfly effect." Lively's book did it better (I thought) but this was still a pleasant read overall.

 

Waited for my library to get it but I found it as a bargain book. That sounds about right but I'd recommend the library if you can.

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review 2016-01-08 18:25
Fishbowl
Fishbowl: A Novel - Bradley Somer

As Ian, the goldfish plummets to the ground, I wanted a swimming pool, an ACME brand swimming pool to be precise to miraculous appears on the sidewalk below him and save him from a disastrous outcome.   I wanted a “that’s not all folks” at the end of this novel, as his journey has been incredible. I wanted to know more about the individuals whose lives he shared with me and I wanted more of Ian, for his insight was deeper than some individuals I know, who are not amphibians.  The story centers on a tall apartment complex, with individuals who reside inside it and a goldfish who longs for adventure. The stories of the individuals who reside inside their apartments are all unique, each of their lives are hidden behind their own doors, yet there something that ties them together in this structure on Roxy. Living on the balcony, Ian gets out of his bowl and starts his freefall decent outside the building. As Ian falls, he glimpse inside his neighbor’s apartments as he descents downward giving up readers short narrative accounts conveying what he perceives from their glass panes. I enjoyed his insight, his language and his view of life made me stop and contemplate, and it was funny to think that this was coming from a goldfish. As the stories of his neighbors are revealed, the diversity and the similarities of their lives made this book one that I truly enjoyed. I had a hard putting it down once I got involved in the activity of the building and the individuals who resided within. I found that when I first started this novel, it took a while for me to get into the groove of the writing style and the language but when I finally did, I loved it and I couldn’t put it down  The diversity of the characters and the way the book was put together was fantastic. I was really impressed with this novel.

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review 2015-08-04 00:46
Review: Fishbowl by Bradley Somer
Fishbowl - Bradley Somer

Published by: Ebury Press (6th August 2015)

 

ISBN: 978-0091956929

 

Source:  Review copy via publisher

 

Rating: 4.5*

 

Synopsis:

Even a goldfish can dream of adventure…

 

From his enviable view from a balcony on the 27th floor of an apartment block, Ian the Goldfish has frequent – if fleeting – desires for a more exciting life. Until one day, a series of unfortunate events gives him an opportunity to escape…

 

Our story begins, however, with the human inhabitants of Ian’s building. There is the handsome student, his girlfriend, and his mistress; an agoraphobic sex worker, the invisible caretaker; the pregnant woman on bed rest; and the home-schooled boy, Herman, who thinks he can travel through time.

 

And as Ian tumbles perilously downwards, he will witness all their lives, loves, triumphs and disasters…

 

My review:

Fishbowl is truly an original novel and it had me hooked (pardon the fishy pun!) from the start. Ian the goldfish has a unique perspective on the inhabitants of the apartment block where his owner lives and this is told in an insightful and intriguing manner.

It's really difficult to discuss the finer points without giving too much away. This book seems to have very mixed reviews so far, but I'm a fan. 

 

I especially liked the flip book Ian on the pages and the bright orange hardback cover with the image of Ian, revealed by removing the dustjacket.

 

Thanks to Elaine at Ebury for sending me a review copy.

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