Monday, 19 September 2016

Things I've Read that Aren't Who, Recently

Possibly this whole idea of 'Things That I’ve Read That Aren’t Doctor Who' will become its own series?!  Which should also read - '...And Aren't Romances', since they are so calming and easy to read I gobble those whole in my anxious moments.  Which are still numbered frequently.

This is just a few of the things I’ve been reading the last 5ish months or so.  They are the things I wrote more than 1 line about for whatever reason.  Sometimes I just write – ‘excellent!’ or ‘What?!’ or some other unhelpful reminder of what I thought.    But anyway – here are those I cared enough to blither about:

1.    Moriarty, by Anthony Horowitz
(I’m not sure why I bought his – possibly because I had been so wowed by Penny Dreadful recently, and wanted to feel that late Victorian time period again.  Possibly because I’ve never really read Conan Doyle; always meant to but never got there, so that this Horowitz re-imagining felt more accessible, and possibly a good place to stimulate my interest in the books from.  As it happens I remembered as I went along reading this, that I had read some Conan Doyle before; not much but some, and I remembered why I stopped and why I hadn’t read more!  There’s something very sweet about all the over exposition, the constant explaining and stopping to rethink and explain again… I’m not one who minds being told things if the narratorial voice is good and engaging…but I found the strange pacing on top of all the thinking out loud a bit tiresome.

Saying that I did sort of enjoy the book.  I felt it dragged quite a bit in the middle after a quick beginning and a speedy end, but that’s the nature of that narratorial beast being copied.  Some of the subsidiary characters were memorable: Perry of course, dressing up in his bright blue jacket to go slitting the throats of unsuspecting grown ups; and of course Moriarty himself, quite the major twister there at the end.  As effective as the sudden hijacking of the narrative in The Woman In White – which I’ve always thought is the height of doing that kind of thing.  Yep, the twist got me and I didn’t see it coming.  I kept wondering why the book was called Moriarty and when he was going to appear, but did not expect what happened!  So that was satisfying.  ACTUAL BOOK.)

2.   Those Girls, by Chevy Stevens
(This was so arrestingly readable I did not fall asleep on the bus on the way to work and almost missed my stop entirely at Kingston.  It was a very vivid thriller, and I really sympathised with all the characters.  A very good immediate read. I actually can’t say a word more without spoilering it, so you have to go off and try it if you want a good female centred thriller. ACTUAL BOOK.)
3.   Ink Exchange, by Melissa Marr

(This is the second in a series.  It has the usual immersive quality of a well written YA fantasy – and the vision of faeries is rarely done better than by this sort of author [see Holly Black, for example, for another excellent one].  This was a beautifully creative world and I enjoyed seeing Niall and Irial both be so close to Leslie, but the end having neither of them win her – both letting her go for different kinds of twisted love.  This was a very inventive and beautifully imaged read – the swirling dog tattoos on Gabriel’s arms, the vines and feathers stretching between Irial and Leslie; the way she lost time when under his power.  All very believable; and with a lot to say about addiction without one word of preaching or judgement. Enjoyed a lot. ACTUAL BOOK.)
4.   You Are Here, by Thich Nhat Hanh

(Possibly THE BOOK of all books.  So much in here that is actively helping me. “Dear One, I am here for you.”  Compassionate listening: understanding that nasty said things and actions come out of pain.

“My friend, if you have some cows, you have to identify them.  You think they are essential to your happiness, but if you practice looking deeply, you will understand that it is these very cows that have brought about your unhappiness.  The secret of happiness is being able to let go of your cows.  You should call your cows by their true names.”    Did he mean this to be both so true AND SO FUNNY????

“Dear one, I am here for you. 
Dear one, I know that you are here, alive, and that makes me very happy. 
Dear one, I know that you are suffering.  That’s why I am here for you. 
Dear one, I know that you are suffering a lot.  I know this, and I am here for you, just as the trees are here for you and the flowers are here for you. 
Dear one, I am suffering, I need your help.  I need you to explain why you did this thing to me.”
Impermanence, interbeing.  10/10.

5.   No-Nonsense Guide to Green Politics, by Derek Wall

(Excellent book.  Filled with ideas that people think are radical for some reason I don’t really understand.  Just because things have been done a certain way for 200 years or so, doesn’t mean they must always be that way??  The way of doing just about everything, described in this book makes a thousand times more sensible and kindly common sense than anything else I have read.  It also isn’t stupid – what with all the malarkey [hate that word, but it’s true in this case] about compromise vs. purity in left politics with the election ‘contest’ going on in Labour at the moment, it’s just so relevant.  Yes, compromises would have to be made.  Obviously.  But SOME good would be done.  Will read more and be inspired further.  ACTUAL BOOK.)
6.   Tell It To The Skies, by Erica James

(I had this book a long time ago but it never called to me to be read and so I gave it away.  Erica James used to be one of my regular reads, but I noticed a shallowness to those books of hers I had rest last [can’t remember which they were].  But I re-bought this one from a charity shop a short while ago, whilst thinking how great Erica James used to be.  And this one called straightaway.  I think I ate it in 3 days flat.  It was brilliant.  It was one of those books that masquerades as sort of chick lit but really isn't, and is very serious indeed.

I was a bit worried that there would be lots of middle class annoyingness at the beginning, when I found the heroine having peskily sprained her ankle in Venice; but then…the whole flashback part of the novel started, in late 60s-early 70s Yorkshire.  The heroine was definitely NOT middle class and I experienced her every travail with a worried face.  I also worried this was going to become one of those abused childhood books that I find hard to read; but it wasn’t.  It was a very hard childhood book, but simply littered with some amazing characters that jump right off the page.  It was one of the most immersive books I’ve read in a very long time.  The ice cream salesman; Uncle Leonard [evil man], Donna, Chiara, Fabio, the sadist grandfather [I felt his presence, it was oddly physical to read him]; the sick grandmother, the sister perverted into religion – all of which is dealt with baldly.  Especially the religion angle.  Criticised though the mouths of the characters purely.  And reasonably. 

Noah was a lovely creation, as was Uncle Brad, with his stick legs and velvet trousers, grooving on the kitchen table.  The whole book was immensely vivid. And while it told a very everyday story – even the murder didn’t seem overly given the context, I felt that it was a true story, from somewhere real.  It felt as real as any other universe I might step into.  Lullingly vivid, and truthful.  It was a place I looked forward to visiting between working days.

Books like this are why Erica James can be great.  I believed it all, I lived it all with Lydia.  ACTUAL BOOK.)

7.   Always Watching, by Chevy Stevens

( Not as good as Those Girls, but a pageturner which I nonetheless finished in 2 days; and which I specifically selected to cheer me up and addictively keep me occupied during an anxious patch.  Despite this book’s darkness, it tended toward hope and did the magic deed.  I do always enjoy a book about a cult, and the one was no exception.  Aaron, Joseph, poor Willow dead in a barrel, Heather committing suicide by stuffing rags down her throat after drinking cleaner [God it’s hard to successfully kill yourself], Lisa, Keven, Robbie and the heroine, Nadine – all great characters.  Though there was a slight melodramatic turn near the end, it was a good read.  I especially liked Nadine as the psychiatrist, always explaining biologically and psychologically the mechanism of the emotional reactions and cult behaviour.  I liked her cool and calm in the face of odd behaviour.  To explain it does help master it.  Gives hope.  ON KINDLE.)
8.   The Paradise Room, by Belinda Jones
(I remember reading 3 of her books ages ago and liking them, so I picked up this one in a charity shop.  It’s a very odd mix of highly educated posh and chick lit situationing.  Yet it was slightly difficult to see which class the protagonist came from what with attending Oxford, being an art historian, having jailbird parents and a boyfriend called Hugh who was a jeweller.  [I found him horribly annoying.]  It was a good read in terms of descriptions of place – Tahiti is very BLUE; she described it most vividly, as well as a thorough lesson on Gauguin and his involvement with the islands, plus more about black pearls than I ever previously knew [they aren’t black, for a start].  I do like when books teach me things.  This was a good book, though it felt slightly…unlikely?!  The tapdancing showman of Tezz and Amber’s final pairing is beautiful and unseeable in real life – unless you really believe.  I caught myself thinking how wonderful it was that they had such a great connection, much lust but not all lust – but I wondered what would happen… on election day?  They had no idea of each other’s political views or any such actual real life thing.  It’s one thing that chick lit always strives to leave out entirely: politics, and to a slightly lesser degree, religion.  And that’s annoying, because it’s relevant.  The book has left me completely puzzled as to what tone I want to read next.  I’m a bit…still with the fish under the coffee table section of the book, and the singing and dancing in the rain, which was this vision of inner yearning.  I’ll definitely read more of Belinda Jones again because her voice and vision are oddly unsettling, as well as visually uplifting.  I do feel like I’ve actually travelled. ACTUAL BOOK.)
9.   The Silk Merchant’s Daughter, by Dinah Jeffries

(This was not quite as epically amazing as The Tea Planter’s Wife, or as emotionally lovely as The Separation.  Nonetheless, though this story felt smaller scale – it taught me an amazing amount about the period – it was still very educational and affecting.  Nicole was a strong character.  Her simple observations about war and how almost anyone can become cruel as a result are chastening.  Mark was an interesting and enigmatic character, whose background was not really examined.  Sylvie was…very depressed?  In a way, the issue of Sylvie [and also, to an extent, their father], was dealt with very quietly – almost more realistically.  There was no ultra drama involved.  I have not known much about Hanoi and Vietnam before the famous American incursion, so this period directly before was fascinating to learn about.  The violence and bad behaviour on all sides was not gloried or over luridly described.  It was what it was.  The periods where Nicole travelled starving through the country and also her time in prison, were vivid and sad, but not enough to make you wretch with the hellishness.  Which was good – JG Ballard has forever ruined me with descriptions of smells and the hell humans can make for each other.  This was easier to ingest because it was more calmly done.  Possibly most things are entirely better if calmly done.  O-Lan – also a great character, and Tran.  Yes, I definitely learned about this period J  ACTUAL BOOK.  .)
10.                The House We Grew Up in, by Lisa Jewell

(Wow. How one person’s trauma gave an entire family trauma, till they were all separate and all bouncing away from each other, all so messed up in different ways.  And with the death of that person, they come back together.  Not sure if I entirely believed the end, but the rest – how the decay happened. Masterful.  So many great characters.  I am slightly afeared that I am the Lorelei character – “Ooooooo, it’s the most amazing shade of green!!” – that is her, and that is me.  The emotional immaturity thing.  The fact my room is getting smaller and smaller due the boxes of books???!!!  I need another clear out, rather urgently.  Also….I really understood the description of wanting to keep all the memories of things, as if they were forgotten they were dead and useless and it’s as if they never were – so physical reminders became paramount.  Every moment was preserved as the present.  And I am stubbornly rather childlike.  As was dad…another hoarder of stuff.  Including his weird habit of going through things I had thrown away and bringing them back for his room…oh dear, I only just remembered that. Errrrr…

So there was mad thin Lorelei of ‘save the foils’.  Control freak and sanest – Megan.  Bethan who became so blank she nearly disappeared – that was most interesting, her attempts to be a person.  Not sure how she finally made it – that was glossed.  Surely not just motherhood? 

Bit of a glorification of family in this book.  So coming from a rather dysfunctional one, I found that annoying.  Too many babies, too much joy in being together.  Hmmm.  There was Rory, drawn most interestingly: he was very very disconnected and judgemental, almost dangerous in his disowning of women except as function.  Colin, passive, intuitive, suddenly tattoo covered.  Kayleigh – catalyst, very good character.  Rhys: was he ever not mad too?  What was wrong with him?  It seemed like he wanted his mother and sister – only them?  Was he on the way to becoming a predator, but stopped himself after his mother ‘rejected’ him?  He was scary and odd.  None of the children were normal.  It was a tour de force in how wrong things can go.

And its timings were beautifully beautifully done – the backwards and forwards, the progression of the characters problems, the letters, giving a mirror to Lorelei…Scarily, scarily real. 

One of her BEST books. Absolutely 20/10.  ACTUAL BOOK.)

11. The Seven Sisters, by Lucinda Riley 

(One of the weirdest reading experiences I’ve had.  I was not enjoying reading it, I was hating the cold fish, overly formal way of writing.  It was distant and matter of fact which I sort of like; but completely non emotive despite describing emotive situations.  I hate to be made to over-feel, but this was the exact opposite: I was reading about interesting and personally earth-shaking events, and yet finding them hugely…uninvolving.

And yet…every time I put the book down – and I read 2 others entirely, when this was put down – I kept wanting to know what was going to happen next: so I did care.  WEIRD.  I’m not sure when or if I’ll be reading the second one in this series.  I have it.  But…I felt this was overly long and overly distant.  Even if its country – Brazil – and subject matter – love in the time of the Belle Epoch and the raising of the statue of the Cristo Redentor, were fascinating, the style was not.  I don’t remember Lucinda Riley writing so mechanically before?  But anyway.  A good book in a want to know what’s going to happen way; and a bad book in a don’t like the style way.  Confusing.  ACTUAL BOOK.)

12.                This House Is Haunted, by Guy Lyon Playfair

(The book of the infamously contested Enfield Haunting case.  Scared the bejesus out of me in that it was written extremely calmly, and showed just how interminable and boring the events could get.  As well as unsensical and confusing.  There was so much philosophical discussion that I was really surprised, and captured.  Seeing as I definitely have the notion this phenomena is possible, whatever the explanation, and that I do think it can be catching, like fear or depression – I felt quite relieved to finish it – though it was remarkably stimulating in terms of the way it made its case and presented what the author says he saw and felt, heard etc.  Not clearcut, and all the better for it; one of the best ‘true haunting’ books I’ve read.  ON KINDLE.)