Archive for mainstream

Emily St. John Mandel – Station Eleven

emilystjohnmandel-stationelevenDAY ONE
The Georgia Flu explodes over the surface of the earth like a neutron bomb.
News reports put the mortality rate at over 99%.

Civilization has crumbled.

A band of actors and musicians called the Travelling Symphony move through their territories performing concerts and Shakespeare to the settlements that have grown up there. Twenty years after the pandemic, life feels relatively safe.
But now a new danger looms, and he threatens the hopeful world every survivor has tried to rebuild.

Moving backwards and forwards in time, from the glittering years just before the collapse to the strange and altered world that exists twenty years after, Station Eleven charts the unexpected twists of fate that connect six people: famous actor Arthur Leander; Jeevan – warned about the flu just in time; Arthur’s first wife Miranda; Arthur’s oldest friend Clark; Kirsten, a young actress with the Travelling Symphony; and the mysterious and self-proclaimed ‘prophet’.

Station Eleven popped onto my radar when I was doing my anticipated books lists last June. The story sounded incredibly cool and quite interesting. Around the same time the book kept popping up in my twitter feed. People were raving about it and praising the story and the writing. Thus when it popped up as a read now title on Netgalley I pounced and got myself a copy. And for once the hype was all deserved. Emily St. John Mandel has created a fascinating world and gripping story in Station Eleven, which made it really hard to put the book down.   Continue reading »

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Fred Venturini – The Heart Does Not Grow Back [Blog Tour]

fredventurini-theheartdoesnotgrowbackDale Sampson is used to being a nonperson at his small-town Midwestern high school, picking up the scraps of his charismatic lothario of a best friend, Mack. He comforts himself with the certainty that his stellar academic record and brains will bring him the adulation that has evaded him in high school. But when an unthinkable catastrophe tears away the one girl he ever had a chance with, his life takes a bizarre turn as he discovers an inexplicable power: He can regenerate his organs and limbs.

When a chance encounter brings him face to face with a girl from his past, he decides that he must use his gift to save her from a violent husband and dismal future. His quest takes him to the glitz and greed of Hollywood, and into the crosshairs of shadowy forces bent on using and abusing his gift. Can Dale use his power to redeem himself and those he loves, or will the one thing that finally makes him special be his demise? The Heart Does Not Grow Back is a darkly comic, starkly original take on the superhero tale, introducing an exceptional new literary voice in Fred Venturini.

I rarely read from the literary fiction shelves of the book store, not because I absolutely dislike it – though having to analyse oodles of the stuff for classes at university did put me off somewhat – but because there’s only so much you can read and my heart lies elsewhere. Yet when I was approached about being part for the blog tour for Fred Venturini’s The Heart Does Not Grow Back, the synopsis and the superhero angle hooked me right and proper—I’d say that whoever wrote that flap text did a very good job. Yet while Dale’s superpower is the motor of the narrative, the stuff that powers said motor is human emotion. Venturini’s debut novel, which was previously published as The Samaritan by Blank Slate Press and was a Kitchies finalist, is a strong effort and an interesting contemplation of the human condition.   Continue reading »

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Anticipated Books (Summer-Fall) 2014: Fiction & Thrillers

2014Welcome to the fourth post in my Anticipated Books series for the summer and fall of 2014. Today it’s time for my mainstream fiction and thriller picks. For some of these I already have an (e)ARC or review copy, so they’ll definitely be read and reviewed. And for the rest, I’ll have to see whether I get the chance to get my hands on them!  Continue reading »

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Sue Monk Kidd – The Secret Life of Bees

suemonkkidd-thesecretlifeofbeesLily has grown up believing she accidentally killed her mother when she was just four years old. Now at fourteen, she yearns for forgiveness and a mother’s love. Living on a peach farm in South Carolina with her harsh and unyielding father, she has only one friend: Rosaleen, a black servant.

When racial tension explodes one summer afternoon, and Rosaleen is arrested and beaten, Lily is compelled to act. Fugitives from justice, the pair follow a trail left by the woman who died ten years before. Finding sanctuary in the home of three beekeeping sisters, Lily starts a journey as much about her understanding of the world, as about the mystery surrounding her mother.

When The Secret Life of Bees was first published in 2002, the book grabbed my attention but I was still a penurious student, so I didn’t buy the book and I rather lost sight of it. So when I received a package with both The Secret Life of Bees and Sue Monk Kidd’s newest novel The Invention of Wings I was really stoked to get the chance to finally read it. This week I finally sat down with The Secret Life of Bees and it was an interesting read.  Continue reading »

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Anticipated Books (Winter-Spring) 2014: Fiction & Thrillers

2014Welcome to the fourth post in my Anticipated Books series for the winter and spring of 2014. Today it’s time for my mainstream fiction and thriller picks. For some of these I already have an (e)ARC or review copy, so they’ll definitely be read and reviewed. And for the rest, I’ll have to see whether I get the chance to get my hands on them! Continue reading »

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Anticipated Reads (Summer-Fall) 2013

2013After my Anticipated Books for Summer/Fall 2013 posts of the past few weeks, today I bring you the fifteen books I anticipate reading the most in the coming six months. As usual it’s a list of fifteen, as there are just too many good books to choose from and I always have a hard time getting the list down to the more usual ten books. There are a lot of books I’m really anticipating reading that I excluded right off the bat, such as all the next books in series I’ve been reading. If I loved a book last year, you can bet that I’ll want to read the next instalment. Examples of these are Lou Morgan’s Blood and Feathers: Rebellion, Mark Lawrence’s Emperor of Thorns, Elspeth Cooper’s The Raven’s Shadow, Emma Newman’s All is Fair, and Chris F. Holm’s The Big Reap. I’ve also left off any duh-factors, such as Scott Lynch’s The Republic of Thieves, because honestly, who isn’t looking forward to that one? So below in alphabetical order by author is my list, with a little explanation of why I really can’t wait to read these books. Do you agree or would you have chosen differently from the lists I posted recently?   Continue reading »

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Anticipated Books (Summer-Fall) 2013: Fiction

2013Welcome to the fourth post in my Anticipated Books series for the second half of 2013. Today it’s time for my mainstream fiction picks. For some of these I already have an (e)ARC or review copy, so they’ll definitely be read and reviewed. And for the rest, I’ll have to see whether I get the chance to get my hands on them!

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Jack Wolf – The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones [Blog Tour]

jackwolf-rawheadbloodybonesThe year is 1750.

Tristan Hart, precociously talented student of medicine practising under the legendary Dr William Hunter. His obsession is the nature of pain and preventing it; the relationship between mind and matter and the existence of God. A product of the Age of Enlightenment, he is a rational man on a quest to cut through darkness and superstition with the brilliant blade of science.

Tristan Hart, madman and deviant. His obsession is the nature of pain, and causing it. A product of an age of faeries and goblins, gnomes and shape-shifting gypsies, he is on a quest to arouse the perfect scream and slay the daemon Raw Head who torments his dark days and long nights.

Troubled visionary, twisted genius, loving sadist. What is real and what imagined in Tristan Hart’s brutal, beautiful, complex world?

The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones is definitely something different. It’s a dark and twisted tale that leaves the reader both uncomfortable and fascinated. Wolf makes some interesting stylistic choices that might be hard for people to overlook, as they can be quite alienating if one isn’t prepared for them. However, I hope that people do look past these challenges, because beyond the presentation there is a tale worth reading and some interesting questions to ponder.

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Sam Thompson – Communion Town

samthompson-communiontownA city in ten chapters.

Every city is made of stories: stories that intersect and diverge, stories of the commonplace and the strange, of love and crime, of ghosts and monsters.

In this city an asylum seeker struggles to begin a new life, while a folk musician pays with a broken heart for a song and a butcher learns the secrets of the slaughterhouse. A tourist strays into a baffling ritual and a child commits an incalculable crime; private detectives search the streets for their archenemies and soulmates and, somewhere in the shadows, a figure which might once have been human waits to tell its tale.

Communion Town is a city in ten chapters: a place imagined differently by each citizen, mixing the everyday with the gothic and the uncanny; a place of voices half-heard, sights half-glimpsed and desires half-acknowledged.

It’s been a while time since I’ve read a contemporary, mainstream work, that could be categorised as ‘literary fiction’, the last one was in August last year, and that one had a strong genre slant, as it was a post-apocalyptic tale. And while Communion Town certainly has genre elements, for me it falls squarely in the literary fiction section—and yes, I agree, literary fiction is as much a genre as speculative fiction, but that’s a wholly different discussion and an entirely different post. This collection of ten stories is difficult to describe in one adjective. Interesting doesn’t do it justice, because it’s more than that, it was a thought-provoking read. At the same time, I found reading it really hard work, having to reread passages quite often and generally reading at a slower pace than I usually do. But while at times a bit of a slog, it was never boring. So I find myself at a bit of a loss as to how to judge this book. Taken separately, I’d say many of these stories are quite good, while those that don’t stand as well alone are enhanced by the whole. However, I don’t know whether I’d say that the collection as such worked for me, mostly because despite all being set in the same city, I kept looking for a further cohesion between the tales, a theme if you will, which they all shared. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find it, but I’m not sure whether that’s a failing of the text or me failing as a reader.

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Rosie Garland – The Palace of Curiosities

rosiegarland-thepalaceofcuriousitiesBefore Eve is born, her mother goes to the circus. The star attraction is a raging lion, straight from the heart of Africa. Mama swears she hears the lion sigh, just before it leaps… and when Eve is porn, the story goes, she doesn’t cry – she meows and licks her paws.

When Abel is pulled from the stinking Thames, the mudlarks are sure he is long dead. But as they search his pockets, his eyes crack open. A lucky escape or an act of black magic?

Cast out of Victorian society, Eve and Abel become The Lion Faced Girl and The Flayed Man, star performers in the Palace of Curiosities. And there begins a journey that will entwine their fates forever…

Hot on the heels of another book with a Victorian circus-esque flavour, I got to read an early ARC for The Palace of Curiosities by Rosie Garland. While it is a debut novel, Garland is an award-winning author in other disciplines and it definitely shows in her first long-form offering. It’s a stunning piece of work, with strong themes of identity, acceptance of the Other, and a touchingly unique love story between two fabulous main characters. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the benchmark against which the rest of this year’s debuts will have to measure itself and it’s only the first Monday of the year. 2013 is certainly off to an amazing start.

Told in alternating chapters from the viewpoints of Eve and Abel, The Palace of Curiosities goes a step further to differentiate between the two narrative strands: both are told in first person, but Eve’s chapters are in the past tense, while Abel’s are in the present. This is not just a way to differentiate between the two; it also reflects Abel’s condition. While Abel’s otherness is left largely unexplained, one of its features is that he wakes up every day as a blank slate; he’s literally forgotten who he is, where he is, and what he is supposed to do. Only holding on to a strict routine and the fact that his best friend Alfred looks after him and tells him what he needs to know when he wakes, allows him to move through his days and slowly regain his memories, as if jogging them awake, only to lose them again when he goes to sleep. As a result, Abel lives in a continuous now, with no past and mostly no thoughts of the future, as such, his story can only be told in the present tense.

Due to his strange memory state, his continual present, Abel remains a mystery for much of the book. He’s a kind man, with sometimes surprising skills, since his body remembers what he can do – even if he can’t – but is also rather childlike in his innocence and helplessness. This makes him appealing, as he’s a sweet, vulnerable character in the harsh lower class world of Victorian London. The only times the reader is given glimpses of Abel’s past is through his dreams, which of course are more than just dreams. Through these we see his quest to discover the reason behind his endless resurrections and his numerous attempts to end his existence. They lend this strange, fathomless man some darker edges and only deepen his mystery. Abel’s continual struggle to regain – and keep – his memories is very much connected to a search for identity, to understand who he is, where he came from, and what his raison d’être is. If one doesn’t know their past, how can they know who they are? When Abel finds a way to anchor his memories, through writing them down or through Eve or Alfred, he becomes more distinct and stronger in his sense of self.

Eve on the other hand starts off strong and confident in her otherness. She refuses to shave her pelt and to conform; she regards herself as beautiful as she is, thanks to her imaginary companion Donkey-Skin. But during the novel, Eve slowly seems to lose herself, seems to be whittled down and robbed of her confidence by her husband, Mr Arroner. She loses Eve in being Mrs Arroner and in her desire to be loved and its only once she meets Abel that she starts to find Eve again. Once she starts to assert herself again, with the help of Lizzie, one of Arroner’s other Curiosities, and Abel, she frees herself and instead of being the Other that needs to be feared, creates an environment for herself where she is the celebrated Other; the neighbourhood mascot, instead of a freak.

Abel and Eve find each other when Abel is recruited by George to be part of Mr Arroner’s collection of human curiosities. In each other they slowly find their way back to themselves; in each other’s eyes they see the truth of themselves, not that which makes them different. It is a sweet romance, though due to Eve’s married state their feelings go unacknowledged for much of the narrative. I loved their slow dance and the air of danger that hangs around their gradual attraction. This unlikely courtship takes place under the scrutiny of the other freaks to be either helped, used to their own advantage or be ignored. The others in the household, mountainous, matronly Lizzie, the painted man George, who is covered in tattoos that tell the stories of Scheherazade and rubber boy Bill, are all fascinating in their own right, especially the first two who have larger role than young Bill. They are all outcasts, either by choice or by fate, and they all have different ways of coping with it. Within the household however, the one ‘normal’ person, Eve’s avaricious and cruel husband, Mr Arroner, is the outcast, disliked by all, except Eve; in this strange house, he is the odd one out.

Garland’s writing is exquisite, feeling both contemporary to its setting, without feeling dated and incredibly atmospheric. The sights, sounds, and smells of the Victorian streets are evoked in full measure, through both a keen ear for speech and dialogue and wonderful descriptive passages. My one complaint here would be that it didn’t feel set beyond Victorian Britain. The story is ostensibly set in London, but it could have been set in another large British town as easily, as it didn’t seem firmly rooted in its London environment.

The Palace of Curiosities is a curious beast; part fantasy, part historical fiction, part magical (sur)realism, it’s all parts amazing. For such a slim book, it contains a big story, with deep themes and wonderful characters. It was an enchanting read, which deeply impressed me. I think this will be one of the must-read books on 2013, though not everyone might be as taken with it as I am. The book will be released in the UK at the end of March. Be sure to pick a copy and discover the delights of The Palace of Curiosities for yourself.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.

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