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text 2017-05-16 06:59
"Beartown" has me holding my breath and I've barely started it - 3% complete
Beartown: A Novel - Fredrik Backman

"Beartown" is the latest book from Fredrik Backman ( "A Man Called Ove" and "My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She's Sorry"). It's about a remote, slowly dying, small town in the middle of the woods where the success of the Junior Hockey Team is the last hope for the town to grow rather than continue its slow decline.


I've barely started the book and its already holding my imagination hostage. The language is simple and undramatic yet it gets to the heart of the things that shapes lives.


Here's how it starts:

"Late one evening, towards the end of March, a teenager picked up a double-barrelled shotgun, walked in to the forest, put the gun to someone elses forehead and pulled the trigger. This is the story of how we got there".


I'd love to take today off to drink this book down but I'll have to sip at it as work permits. Still, it will make my day.

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review 2017-05-15 16:37
"Cold Reign - Jane Yellowrock #11" by Faith Hunter.
Cold Reign - Faith Hunter

"Cold Reign" was a fun read that brought the series back to form.

Finally, the evil European Vampires have arrived. We've been waiting for them for what feels like forever. Their arrival picks up the pace, challenges existing relationships, reveals long-planned treachery, and unleashes lots and lot of violence.

I enjoyed seeing Jane moving with more freedom now that she no longer has to hide her true nature. I was glad to see Beast playing a significant part in the action. I always enjoy seeing the world from her unique point of view.

The story made sense (at least in part - there's more to come) of the various additions to Jane's household, the alliances that she's made and the magical objects she's acquired. It's clear that she's going to have to draw on all of them to survive the arrival of the European Vampires.

Jane's powers continue to evolve in useful ways and she, perhaps more importantly, she continues to grow and to make better connections with the people around her and the "family" or clan she has built for herself.

"Cold Reign" casts-off two problems that I'd been having with earlier books: Jane was losing her humanity and she was spending her time protecting some not very nice vampires. In this book, Jane leaves her humanity behind and accepts that she has become something else. Something that she relishes and that those she cares about accept and value. Protecting the vampires is put in a more positive light now that the "take over the world and kill them all" European vampires  have arrived. They are a threat worth fighting against.

This book is about as good as it gets in the Jane Yellowrock universe: vivid battle action with blades, bullets, stakes, fangs, claws and lots and lots of blood, snarky humour, byzantine plot, new players and new magics and, at the heart of it all, a set of people worth protecting.

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review 2017-05-07 22:24
"Isabel's Bed" by Elinor Lipman
Isabel's Bed - Elinor Lipman

"Isabel's Bed" is a gentle, amusing, charter-driven read, filled with kindness and comedy that lifted my spirits. It deals honestly but sympathetically with story of Harriet Mahone, a wannabe writer running for cover from a recently failed twelve year relationship with a man she now sees has always been a jerk.

Although the story is told from Harriet's point of view, she is one of the most ordinary and most passive characters in a novel which is dominated by colourful, larger than life people. Yet Harriet does not fade into the background or become just a cypher for observing more interesting people. In a way, the whole book is about her building a more solid understanding of herself and acting upon it-

Harriet takes refuge with Isabel, a woman who's notoriety Harriet is unaware of when she agrees to ghost write her autobiography in exchange for living in Isabel's house for a year.

Isabel is funny and smart and totally overwhelming. The dialogue in the scenes she's in sparkles. I found her extraordinary and yet completely convincing. She is a woman who takes charge of her life and lives by her own rules. She is Harriet's opposite and so finds Harriet novel and intriguing. The friendship that builds between the two woman is drawn with a light touch that gives it credibility and emotional value.

Hattie has a a low simmer, never quite getting to the boil, relationship with Isabel's handy-man/driver which manages to avoid rom-com clichés and serves mostly to help Harriet understand what had been missing in her previous twelve-year-too-long relationship.

I enjoyed the sideways glance into writers and writing that the novel provides. Harriet writes to escape from her life. Being a writer is a transformational fantasy for her. We see that it is not the writing itself that motivates Harriet but the opportunity to been seen as a writer in her local writers' group which sustains her dream by listening with attention and providing encouraging feedback.

Harriet is competent rather than talented at writing. Her first draft of the autobiography is so bland and dull and so NOT Isabel, the Isabel has a go at re-writing the piece "to make it sound more like me". Isabel is a natural raconteur and produces an opening to the the autobiography that is witty, energetic and gives a strong sense of her personality. The contrast between the two pieces is the start of Harriet coming to understand that writing might not be her route to personal fulfillment

The ending of the novel made me smile. It was unexpected yet realistic. One of those things that makes everything click into place so that you say, "that's so true and obvious. How did I not see that coming?"

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review 2017-05-06 08:48
"The Many Selves Of Katherine North" by Emma Geen
The Many Selves of Katherine North - Emma Geen

The premise of this book, teenage children working as "phenomenauts", researching the reality of being a fox or a whale, or an eagle, by projecting their consciousness into constructed versions of the creatures and experiencing their lives in the wild, is so original, that it took me a long time to see that the book is really about a strong but damaged teenager who is, literally, trying to find herself.

At nineteen, with seven years of working for ShenCorp, jumping into the minds and senses of other creatures behind her, Kit North is the world's most experienced phenomenaut.  She loves what she does. She needs to do it. It is fundamental to her sense of who she is.

Kit does not love ShenCorp and what they want to do with her abilities, The book opens with Kit hiding from ShenCorp in the streets and parks of Bristol, hungry, cold and alone. Most of the rest of the novel is spent flipping between that timeline and the events that led up to it.  This structure mislead me into thinking that the book is a thriller, but it isn't really, it's a personal journey into memory and identity being made by a vulnerable girl at the edge of her ability to hold herself together.

There was a lot to like about this book. The plot is original and well thought through. The descriptions of Kit's experience of being different animals, perceiving the world through their senses, being driven by their urges, having the joy of their ability to fly or swim or sing or hunt, are beautifully done.

The description of the difficulty of "coming home",  of being just human with all those memories of being yourself in other bodies, is subtle and effective.

The novel captures the corrosive anxiety of not knowing if you can depend on your own perceptions, of being unable to be certain of whether you're paranoid or whether you're being hunted, of whether your sense of self is fractured or simply expanded beyond most people's experience.

There are things in the novel that didn't work well for me. The ShenCorp bad guys are thinly drawn and unremittingly bad without any real explanation of why they behave that way.  The pace could have been tighter, especially if I read this with the expectation of it being a thriller. Sometimes the same facility for complex description that made the animal experiences vivid, clogged up the scenes that were there just to move the plot along.

The ending was well done if this is a book about a personal journey but a little anti-climatic if it's meant as a thriller.

This was an enjoyable read with an original premise but it got a little caught between thriller and personal journey, or, at least, my reading got stuck on that.

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review 2017-05-02 16:06
"Sleeping Giants" by Slyvain Neuvel
Sleeping Giants - Sylvain Neuvel

"Sleeping Giants" got a lot of press when it came out. It was proclaimed as original and engaging Science Fiction and so I immediately downloaded a copy of the audiobook. It then sat in my TBR pile until I realised the sequel has been published and I still hadn't read the first book.

I bumped it to the top of the pile when my next long drive came up and was astonished by how good it was.

The story is told in the form of direct speech or reports/correspondence by the main characters. In the audiobook version, each characters lines are given by a different narrator. When two of the main characters are talking to each other, it felt like listening to a clever radio play.

The plot is original and the way it is revealed is intriguing. The female characters in particular have strong voices that make you either admire or despise them. There's lots of wit and sume surprising twists and turns. These given maximum effect by the practice of jumping over major events unexpectedly and then disclosing them through interrogation. The actors did a great job, including the inherently unlikable "nameless man".

I listened to the first four hours or so, completely taken up by the story and this narrative form. By the time I was on the sixth hour of this eight hour book,  I'd been reminded of why the novel superseded the play. My imagination began to rebel against and all-dialogue diet and I found myself longing for descriptions and an authorial voice to give this tale more texture.

I enjoyed the book and I've bought the sequel. It will make a great movie, partly because it is already almost a movie script. As a novel it isn't as satisfactory as I'd like it to be. As a play, it evokes some powerful images of places and events and features some very believable dialog but it is a little too long

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