Thursday, 31 July 2014

Book Review: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven opens with a performance of King Lear, cut short by the sudden death by heart attack of its lead actor, Arthur Leander. Within a week most of the people present will also be dead, as well most of the world, all victims of the Georgian flu.
What follows is a stunning and haunting look at how humanity might adapt to a devastating apocalypse. It's a bleak thought but Emily St. John Mandel has written a novel that finds hope where things may have seemed hopeless and  beauty amongst destruction.  The narrative switches between twenty years after the flu and the years leading up to it. Despite Arthur Leander's early death he turns out to be a pivotal character as we follow the lives (amongst others) of his ex-wives, best friend, would be saviour and perhaps most notably Kirsten, the little girl who witnessed his death then years later became a member of The Travelling Symphony, a group of actors and musicians who like the travelling minstrels of the past move from settlement to settlement performing to audiences often desperate for something else; as their mantra states, "Survival is insufficient" and for people who have lost everything it is the works of  Shakespeare which provides both a link to the past and a belief in the future.
Indeed the arts features heavily throughout the book, not just Shakespeare but music, literature, the graphic comic books drawn by Miranda, one of Arthur's ex-wives and inspiration for the title, Station Eleven, even the Travelling Symphony's mantra comes from television - it was taken from Star Trek. We are reminded that whilst people are able to adapt and survive, it's through the arts that humans connect and find themselves. That's not to suggest that Mandel's imagined future is a bed of roses, it's far from that. Survival is a struggle, it's dangerous and difficult, both through the loss of technology that we take for granted and because as is always the way there are always some people who want more, and some people who believe - or choose to believe - they have a divine right to take what they desire.
Post-apocalyptic novels can be overblown affairs akin to a Hollywood blockbuster. Station Eleven is not that, it's a thoughtful, quiet look at how ordinary people might adapt, survive and live after everything they hold dear is taken from them. Despite the sombre subject matter it's a book filled with hope and one that will stay with me for a long time. Definitely one of the best books I've read this year.
My thanks to the author and publishers for my copy, received through NetGalley in return for my honest review.

Station Eleven will be published in the UK on 10th September 2014 by Picador

Wednesday, 30 July 2014


It's been a little while since I posted a review, I've still been reading but life seems to have got in the way of review writing. With the summer holidays here I will have to play catch up soon!
In the meantime I recently took part in Sunathon, the brainchild of Emma Louise over at EmmaLouBookBlog The idea was to set aside a week for reading as much as possible and to share the books you read on Twitter, using the hashtag #sunathon.
I didn't manage to read a huge number of books, I went camping with just my youngest from Thursday to Friday and so that curtailed much of my reading time. I did however, read The Last Family in England by Matt Haig, John Green's The Fault in Our Stars and The Final Testimony of Raphael Ignatius Phoenix by Paul Sussman.

Reviews for all three will be posted in a while, I loved two but was underwhelmed by the third, I'll leave you to guess which! I've also been reading a few chapters a night of Shadow Forest by Matt Haig to my daughter.
Thank you Emma for suggesting and hosting #sunathon and I'm delighted to see the announcement that there is more to come - count me in!

Monday, 7 July 2014

Book Review: The Shadow's Curse by Amy McCulloch

Last year I was fortunate to win The Oathbreaker's Shadow in a Goodreads giveaway. It's always lovely to win something, especially if that something is a book and even more so if it turns out to be a hugely enjoyable fantasy adventure with strong characters, a compelling mystery and a tempting cliffhanger to end with. The only drawback has been waiting for the sequel!
Thankfully the wait is over and  I could find out what happened to Raim and Wadi in the second book of the duology, The Shadow's Curse. I don't want to give too much away in case readers of this review haven't read the first book yet but things were looking pretty bleak at the end of the first book for oathbreaker Raim and Wadi, a brave and fierce member of the desert living Alashan tribe. This time the narrative is shared between the two characters and so we learn of both their stories firsthand. Raim is desperate to rescue Wadi, the girl he loves but realises that won't be possible while he bears the scars of the ultimate taboo. He needs to discover who the mysterious woman shadow is who has saved his life more than once. Does she have the answer as to why he unknowingly broke an oath when he made a promise to protect Khareh, his childhood friend and now despotic Khan? Reluctantly he and his haunt Draikh head to the dangerous south to find out the truth about his oath. Wadi is in Khareh's clutches. Can she discover his weaknesses without putting herself in even more danger? Meanwhile Khareh is raising a Shadow Army and plots against King Song, ruthless leader of the south.
Being the second part of the series questions are answered but there are plenty of twists before any big reveals. As before Raim and Wadi are equally likable, both strong and brave protagonists and the alternate chapters work well. The other characters too, both male and female are well written and complex personalities. The Knots books are the best sort of fantasy, exciting and based on an intriguing premise, in this case that promises made are binding and breaking them, even inadvertently can mean becoming an outcast. More than that though the story considers such themes as fate, duty, ambition and honour. The long wait to read The Shadow's Curse was well worth it, a gripping and fitting sequel to The Oathbreaker's Shadow. I thoroughly recommend both books.
Many thanks to the publishers and author for my free copy received through NetGalley in return for my honest review.

The Shadow's Curse is published in the UK by Random House Children's Books.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Book Review: Parasites Like Us by Adam Johnson

"After trashing his cherry '72 Corvette, illegally breaking into an ancient burial site, and snacking on 12,000-year-old popcorn, Hank Hannah finds that he's inadvertently unleashed the apocalypse. Hank, a professor of anthropology back in the days when there were still co-eds to ogle and now one of only twelve humans still alive on earth, decides to record the last days of human civilization for whomever - or whatever - might replace us."

The description for Parasites Like Us led me to believe that it would be a post apocalyptic novel but actually the vast majority of the book describes the events that gradually lead to disaster. It's a very odd book if I'm honest, I enjoyed the story but not always the writing. Taken as a straightforward tale of how ordinary people inadvertently bring about disaster then it's an enjoyable enough premise. The characters however, aren't the easiest to engage with, Hank veers towards the clich├ęd, jaded professor with a sometime alcohol problem and the other characters whilst of some interest being quirky, damaged types don't always feel well-rounded and are somewhat stereotypical. Despite this I read on - and was met with some dialogue I really shuddered at. Would a college professor really say, "She carried a sheaf of paper, a wad of tissue, and a bottle of water as she strode before us in a charcoal suit that was all business, except for a V of ultrawhite skin that plunged deep into her num-nums." Perhaps even worse, "Oh, the caprice of history was limitless, and it was my job to tame this bitch."
For a time I considered giving up but as I said before the story itself whilst not absolutely compelling was enough to keep me reading and finally I was rewarded with a few chapters of genuine tension with humanity laid bare as I'd expect in a novel of this sort. If only more of the book could have been the same. Not a classic then but a mostly fun read.
I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for my unbiased review.

Parasites Like Us is published in the UK by Transworld Publishers