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Search tags: march-2016
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review 2017-03-29 21:42
Stone Spring / Stephen Baxter
Stone Spring - Stephen Baxter

Ten thousand years ago, a vast and fertile plain exists linking the British Isles to Europe. Home to a tribe of simple hunter-gatherers, Northland teems with nature's bounty, but is also subject to its whims.

Fourteen-year-old Ana calls Northland home, but her world is changing. The air is warming, the ice is melting, and the seas are rising. Then Ana meets a traveler from a far-distant city called Jericho-a city that is protected by a wall. And she starts to imagine the impossible...

 

I read this book for the frivolous reason that it has “Spring” in the title and its springtime as I write this review. Plus, it had been on my TBR list for some time and I decided that it was time that I moved it.

It’s a solid story—set in Mesolithic Europe, as the climate and the land masses change with the melting of the ice sheets. Baxter has obviously done his research on the archaeology of the region, including the parts that are completely underwater now. And he has thrown in his own imaginative touches, creating believable cultures for these prehistoric tribes and inventing one that is entirely fictional, the “Leafy Boys.”

There is conflict—when you’ve got a hammer, every problem looks like a nail and when you’ve got a stone-tipped spear, well everything looks like it needs to be poked with that spear. The primary relationships are those of tribe, parent, child, etc. and not so much romantic. There is very, very little sex described, it is mostly implied or spoken about crudely by loud-mouthed men. In some ways, it is Jean Auel’s Earth’s Children series without the sex and much less emotional angst.

Obvious messages include: slavery is bad, global warming will raise water levels so deal with it, and that it’s difficult to deal with people who hold extremely different worldviews from yourself. I was somewhat unsure of how I felt about the character of Ana, who runs other tribe’s people’s lives ruthlessly and has a baby only to solidify her chosen power structure. I know people like this exist, but her choice of power over genuine emotion bothered me.

I guess what I didn’t entirely care for was the grafting of 21st century values and motivations onto Stone Age people. It didn’t always ring true for me, but it was still a pretty good book.

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text 2016-05-04 17:42
Reading progress update: I've read 15%.
Uncanny Magazine Issue 9: March/April 2016 - Jim C. Hines,Max Gladstone,Michael Damian Thomas,Mark Oshiro,Shveta Thakrar,Rachel Swirsky,Javier Grillo-Marxuach,Lynne M. Thomas,Daryl Gregory,Simon Guerrier

Currently reading: "The Shadow Collector" by Shveta Thakrar

 

The opening lines of this are just magical.

 

In the garden where girls grew from flowers, their days washed in the distant trills of the queen's wooden flute, a gardener toiled. His name was Rajesh, and in his spare time, he collected shadows. Shadows of nectar-loving hummingbirds, shadows of laughing fathers, shadows of hawks who preyed on squirrels.

 

You know what the best part of short fiction is? That you can devour it whenever you have a spare moment. Even at work ;).

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review 2016-04-23 05:54
You and Me, Always - Jill Mansell

You know where this book is going as soon as you've met the leading characters but on the way there's plenty of humour, an idyllic village in a beautiful setting. A happy go lucky type of story, where everyone gets what they deserve and the reader is left smiling! Take it on holiday as it's light, frothy and enjoyable.

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text 2016-04-04 15:54
Martin John / Anakana Schofiled
Martin John - Anakana Schofield

Martin John is not keen on P words. He isolates P words from the newspapers into long lists. For you, so you know he's kept busy, so you don't have to worry he might be beside you or following you or thinking about your body parts. So you don't have to worry about what else he has been thinking about.

From Anakana Schofield, the brilliant and unconventional author of Malarky, comes a dark, humorous and uncomfortable novel circuiting through the minds, motivations, and preoccupations of a character many women have experienced, but few up until now, have understood quite so well. The result confirms Schofield as one of the bravest and most innovative authors at work in English today.

 

Another entry on my “Horrible Humans” shelf. Martin John is certainly not someone you would want to be Facebook friends with. He is a creepy sexual offender of the nuisance variety, although as I read the author planted just enough doubt into my mind that, by book’s end, I was pretty certain that he would be destined for worse crimes if he remained uninterrupted.

I was unsure of the time period of this book. The only pop culture references were to the Eurovision singing competition (which MJ is obsessed with) which I guess would put it into the last decade. He is a walking catalog of psychological problems—obsession, hoarding, ritualistic behaviour, among other things. It also becomes obvious to the reader that his family, such as it is, is a part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

The writing style was unique, sometimes with only a few words to a page. There was a chaotic aspect of it that seemed to mirror Martin John’s mental state at the given time. More orderly towards the beginning of the book as he is going to work and dealing with roommates, less so as he acquires a housemate that he comes to distrust and fear.

An interesting spelunking expedition into the dark cave of mental illness and human motivation.

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review 2016-04-04 15:52
Shylock is my Name / Howard Jacobson
Shylock Is My Name (Hogarth Shakespeare) - Howard Jacobson

‘Who is this guy, Dad? What is he doing here?’

With an absent wife and a daughter going off the rails, wealthy art collector and philanthropist Simon Strulovitch is in need of someone to talk to. So when he meets Shylock at a cemetery in Cheshire’s Golden Triangle, he invites him back to his house. It’s the beginning of a remarkable friendship.

Elsewhere in the Golden Triangle, the rich, manipulative Plurabelle (aka Anna Livia Plurabelle Cleopatra A Thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever Christine) is the face of her own TV series, existing in a bubble of plastic surgery and lavish parties. She shares prejudices and a barbed sense of humour with her loyal friend D’Anton, whose attempts to play Cupid involve Strulovitch’s daughter – and put a pound of flesh on the line.

Howard Jacobson’s version of The Merchant of Venice bends time to its own advantage as it asks what it means to be a father, a Jew and a merciful human being in the modern world.

 

Confession of ignorance first: I am completely unfamiliar with this author. Even his name is unknown to me, which is unusual for one who works in a library and frequently plays in them too. But the Hogarth Shakespeare has chosen well for their Merchant of Venice rewrite. Jacobson is a talented writer.

To my mind, the two plays of Shakespeare which are the most challenging for modern audiences are The Taming of the Shrew due to the role of women in it and The Merchant of Venice for what appears to be anti-Semitism. I know that there are plenty of arguments on either side for why these plays are or aren’t examples of prejudice and whether we should care or not. I don’t have the credentials to express any definitive opinions on these matters, although I can see where the debates spring from. I just know that I enjoy the works of Shakespeare and I don’t avoid these two plays, although they may make me uncomfortable.

Writing a modern version of the beloved works of Shakespeare can’t be an easy task, but Jacobson is up to it. The choice of a Jewish author for this volume was inevitable—who else to tackle the thorny problem of prejudice embedded in the plotline? And Jacobson explores it thoroughly and examines the nature of the prejudice from several angles. I found the introduction of the “actual” character of Shylock into the modern setting an interesting choice. At first, I was unsure that people besides the main character Strulovitch could see him, but it soon became obvious that he was an actual corporeal being. He is definitely more than just being Strulovitch’s outer conscience or cheering section. In fact, it is through his commentary that Jacobson analyzes the prejudice embedded in the play, and by extension in society.

During the first maybe 50 pages, I was strongly reminded of our Canadian writer Mordecai Richler, who wrote so colourfully of the Jewish experience in Montreal (thinking of St. Urbain’s Horseman). Perhaps it was just the suggestion that both men were Jewish and the impression melted away as I progressed. But it did make me think that I need to return to more of Richler’s works, which I haven’t read since I was in university many years ago.

I have to say that I didn’t enjoy this novel as much as Jeannette Winterson’s version of The Winter’s Tale, which is not to say that I didn’t find it worth my time. As usual, it is probably more to do with the fact that I have never seen The Merchant of Venice performed. I will also definitely keep Mr. Jacobson in my mind for future reading. I am very much looking forward to the next Hogarth Shakespeare volume—I have a library hold on Anne Tyler’s Vinegar Girl and have recently seen The Taming of the Shrew, so I expect to enjoy it a great deal.

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