Monday, 22 December 2014

chasers of the light


A couple of years ago I stumbled upon, quite by accident, a poetry collection by Richard Siken titled 'Crush.' It shattered me into tiny pieces; it left me wondering how I ever got by before it; it made me feel so very many things. A copy of it lives by my bed. I loved it like I have never loved a poetry collection before and like I never expected to again.

And then I read 'Chasers of the Light.' 


Wow. Talk about feeling sucker-punched. This book is seriously beautiful. It amazes me, always amazes me, when people can use so few words to make me feel so much and this book made me feel SO MUCH.
I knew I would love it if I'm honest; it wasn't quite as out of the blue as my love affair with Siken. I'm familiar with Tyler Knott Gregson's work 'from the Internet' - I check his tumblr regularly and follow him on Pinterest. I have one of his poems pinned on the wall by my desk; this was always going to be my kind of book. I did not expect it to make my breath catch.


That's the one actually, that I printed out. I love it. I love it so much that I am very very tempted to order a signed copy of it from Tyler before signed copies is a thing he stops doing. I would love it framed on my bedroom wall, but anyway, that's another story. The thing is, that everything about this book speaks to me. The whole premise is glorious: Tyler came across an old Remington typewriter in an antique shop one day and right there onto the pages of a second-hand book he was buying, he typed a poem. Jesus. Right in the feels. 

The poems in what is known as 'The Typewriter Series' that make up the bulk of this book are stunning in their simplicity. 
Every word is carefully placed for maximum effect and I swear to you this book made my heart hurt, it made my breath catch, it made me feel like I wanted to cry because these poems are raw and beautiful and honest and they feel so  familiar. These are things that I have felt and these are words that speak to me; that feel weirdly like they are 'for' me. 

I don't know if Tyler Knott Gregson bared his soul writing these poems but I feel like he has bared mine.


Also it's really really pretty. Really pretty. 

 

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender



To many, I was myth incarnate, the embodiment of a most superb legend, a fairy tale. Some considered me a monster, a mutation. To my great misfortune, I was once mistaken for an angel. To my mother, I was everything. To my father, nothing at all. To my grandmother, I was a daily reminder of loves long lost. But I knew the truth—deep down, I always did.
I was just a girl

Oh my. I am in book love (again, I know, sorry not sorry). People, you need to read The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender and you need to read it right now. I’m not even kidding.


I found it ironic that I should be blessed with wings and yet feel so constrained, so trapped. It was because of my condition, I believe, that I noticed life's ironies a bit more often than the average person. I collected them: how love arrived when you least expected it, how someone who said he didn't want to hurt you eventually would


I knew I wanted to read this book from the moment I first saw it in hardback with its beautiful rose gold embossed cover. ROSE GOLD EMBOSSED. It’s a like a sign from the book gods or something. It’s just so pretty. I was seeing it everywhere too, like it was calling to me, like some kind of siren. Come to me, buy me, read me, love me. I didn’t though, I held off for the paperback, partly to practice my self control but mostly because hardback books whilst always that bit prettier are also rather cumbersome when you like to read in bed. The second it was out in paperback though, it was mine. Then Jen announced it as her choice for the November Weird Things BookClub (which you can get involved with here. We’re reading HDM this month…) and I did a happy dance.

I don’t think there is anything about this book I don’t like. Not a single thing. I love it. I love it like I loved Eleanor and Park last year, like it’s gotten under my skin and made a home there; like it was written somehow for me. I didn’t want it to finish – I kind of felt like I needed to read it slowly, to get fully immersed in the intricate weave of magic and reality and let this love story wash over me. That’s what it is, this book, at its heart. It’s a story of love: familial love and romantic love; lost love and unrequited love; love that’s always just out of reach and love that’s unconditional; love that blinds you and loves that helps you to see;  love that makes your heart sing and love that makes it shatter.

It’s kind of like a fairytale, not a Disney and they all lived happily ever after type of story but a proper fairytale, dark and twisted and beautiful and raw. It’s about impossible love and about loss and heartbreak and the bitter taste of joy. It’s about people turning into birds and ripping out their own hearts and about ghosts that you can never quite get away from.

And it’s about a child, born with a pair of wings.


Fate. As a child, that word was often my only companion. It whispered to me from dark corners during lonely nights. It was the song of the birds in spring and the call of the wind through bare branches on a cold winter afternoon. Fate. Both my anguish and my solace. My escort and my cage.


It’s kind of incredible, the level of originality, the beauty, the agony, the magic, the everything. It’s pretty much everything I want in a book. It’s rich and full and painful and stunningly stunningly lovely. It’s angry and violent, and there is murder and suicide and pain and sex – consensual and otherwise – and sorrow (the title doesn’t lie, about anything) but it’s also lyrical and beautiful and wonderful. Walton’s use of language takes the pain she’s talking about and transforms it into something otherwordly. Her prose is rich and every word feels like it was carefully considered; the whole thing is just full of imagery that makes you feel like you’re there and subtle foreshadowing that has you feeling pulled in and pulled forward.
It made my heart ache in the most wonderful way. Life is painful, it’s just the way it is, and this book makes you feel every single thing that you’re supposed to feel; everything single thing those characters feel gets you right in the chest. It’s glorious.  


The first of many autumn rains smelled smoky, like a doused campsite fire, as if the ground itself had been aflame during those hot summer months. It smelled like burnt piles of collected leaves, the cough of a newly revived chimney, roasted chestnuts, the scent of a man's hands after hours spent in a wood shop.


It’s gorgeous. And I could quote possibly wax lyrical about it for A Long Time. But I’ll stop now, before it gets awkward. (Has it gotten awkward already? Oh God.) In a nutshell, this book is lovely, it’s a blend of impossibility and surety, it’s magical realism at it’s very best and it is a book that you really ought to read.


By this point Viviane Lavender had loved Jack Griffith for twelve years, which was far more than half of her life. If she thought of her love as a commodity and were to, say, eat it, it would fill 4,745 cherry pies. If she were to preserve it, she would need 23,725 glass jars and labels and a basement spanning the length of Pinnacle Lane.

If she were to drink it, she'd drown.



Monday, 1 December 2014

The Here and Now



Follow the rules. Remember what happened. Never fall in love.



Hmmm. I think I'm a little bit disappointed with The Here and Now. Probably because I read so much in this genre that my standards are extremely high; I love me a good dystopia and it has to be a good one to impress me.

Not that this was bad exactly. In fact it was actually rather good (as evidenced by the fact I read it in a day whilst say on my stall at Manchester’s Off the High Street Christmas Market.) The problem was, I think, that this story had the potential to be really great and it didn’t quite reach it. It always makes me rather sad when that happens.

The premise is excellent: the story is set in 2014 but the main character, Prenna, is from another time. She's from the year 2098 and has travelled back in time with her community of approx. 1000 people, to escape a plague that's threatening humanity.
Prenna’s spent the past four years since she arrived in 2010 trying to blend into society and trying to keep the rules laid out by the leaders of her community, rules based on fear that leave Prenna desperate to never be discovered. She’s under the impression – as you would be I suppose - that the community leaders have everybody's best interests at heart and that they’re trying to make things better. To fix what isn’t yet broken. However, (dun dun dun!) all is not as it seems.

When is it ever?

Time travel, evil baddies masquerading as goodies, a virus that threatens mankind, and a good old forbidden love story. Should have been so great.

Parts of it worked. I am in no way slating this book. It’s a pretty good exploration of important issues – most obviously global warming – and it explores these issues without ever really preaching. Far-fetched as parts of it are, there’s still a part of you all too aware that to go from where we are now to what Prenna has seen in the future isn’t that great a leap. You can't not consider the plausibility and doing so makes you realise that Prenna’s right: we very probably aren’t doing enough. I loved the idea of these people travelling back in time and things being so different and the juxtaposition of one world against another; all of that side of the story was interesting and relevant.
Then, the development of Prenna’s relationship with Ethan is lovely and honest – it’s not all hearts and flowers either, this is an honest to God look at an honest to God forbidden and impossible love, made all the sweeter the whole way through by how desperately tragic it is. All the angst people, all the angst.  I guess it’s going to happen, when you travel back from 2098 and fall in love with a guy in 2014.  S’never going to be an easy ride, is it? Brashares gets this spot on - the emotional intensity is palpable

So you have the romance and you have the whole time travel paradox side to the story, along with the underlying issue of the plague and where it came from and how to stop it and you know, all those things, they ticked all my boxes. I liked this book, I did.

I just...expected more. I just felt like I was being given a taste. Reading this book was like being offered one Malteser whilst the rest of the packet is left just out of reach. Which, holy terrible metaphor batman, I apologise. You get my meaning though, right? More Maltesers…

The main issue I had was with the narrative voice. I guess, if your protagonist is a teenage girl then I think you need to write her as a teenage girl. It didn't make sense for Prenna's narration to be as formal as it was, for her conversations with Ethan to be so lacking in teenage idioms and expressions.  Teenagers just don’t talk like that. Crikey, most adults aren’t as formal as Prenna and Ethan. Perhaps you could excuse it by saying Prenna's not from this time – things are different in 2098 - but still, Ethan’s a Time Native, and he didn't sound like any 18 year old I ever met. Often their conversations jarred a little – I was aware of it, pretty much all the time - and it made it more difficult to get into their headspace. It also made feel like there was no sense of immediacy, or urgency. Even when the spoilery Bad Stuff is happening, there's no real sense of tension, you're aware as the reader that Prenna and Ethan are working to a pressing time limit, but you don't feel like they’re in that much of a rush. It's weird.   
I had issues too with the characterisation, not so much with Prenna and Ethan (although Prenna was a little inconsistent) but with the secondary characters. The leaders of Prenna’s community are obviously asshats, and are clearly supposed to be the bad guys but there’s just no depth to them., you don’t get to find out enough about them or what they’re doing or why. To get behind Prenna’s fight you kind of need to know what and who it is she’s fighting against. And you don’t. And the big show down, the whole good versus evil thing towards the end of the book is such a letdown – because of that, because these characters have no depth and as far as we can see are evil just for the sake of it. 

I kind of felt like Brashare just doesn’t care that much – why not flesh things out further if she does. Tell me more about time travel, tell me about the effects of messing with the timeline, tell me more about this plague and what the time travellers hoped to achieve by going back 88 years, make your bad guys into fully realised characters instead of these one-dimensional people that take away from your story rather than adding to it. Make me care, I guess. The world is going to be hit by an environmental catastrophe in 84 years unless something drastic happens – make me care about that instead of just whether or not Prenna and Ethan get together in the end.

I guess, for a teen romance with a bit of a twist, it was good but when you consider it could have been so much more, it could have been an engaging and exciting story, it only reaches okay and that made it disappointing.


I received an early copy of The Here and Now via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.