Saturday, 31 December 2016

2016: A bad year in general, a great year in books

I think it is fair to say that many of us feel as though 2016 has been an annus horribilis. That said, this has not been the case for my year in books.  

Books have been a soothing balm in a year when we lost so many prominent people, such as the MP Jo Cox, who was brutally murdered for what she believed (and others too numerous to mention), who touched the lives of so many and made a positive influence, leaving many of us feeling sad and cheated.  

Some of these books have mirrored humanity; reflections of the feelings of frustration and helplessness some of us feel in a world where other prominent and influential people who stand for selfishness and intolerance have prevailed, gaining power and influence that will affect the lives of so many.
These books have also been a temporary distraction in a world where we receive news reports of innocent people being massacred or displaced while their homes and cities are being destroyed because they are caught up in wars they want no part of and no one seems to have the power and influence to stop.

On Twitter recently Book Lovers tweeted a quote made by the actress Emma Thompson who said, "I think books are like people in the sense that they'll turn up in your life when you most need them."  I am inclined to agree.

Happy New Year. May 2017 be a better one in general (and another good year in books) for us all.

Click here for my Top Ten Reads of 2016.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

The Chemist: Old chestnut?

Stephenie Meyer's new book The Chemist was published this month.  It is the first publication from her in quite some time.  

Most of the works by this author have been set in the young-adult fantasy fictional world of Twilight.  I don't need to state just how successful that series has been, but I would like to comment on her work in general in advance of my review of the new publication.

Meyer's work is a bit like Marmite.  In case you are unfamiliar with Marmite, its a breakfast spread with a unique taste that is famously, generally speaking, either loved (people can't get enough of it) or hated (people want to gag the minute they get a taste of it).  For my part, I am one of the minority of readers who fit somewhere in the middle.  I can understand the appeal of the Twilight saga and I can understand why some have been angered by the subtext of her writing.  However, I don't share the passion of either side of the argument. 

One reason I believe she evokes such extremes is because one can be easily misled (or reluctantly led) by her work.
What do I mean by easily misled?

Twilight is set in a fantasy world where vampires exist.  However,the book rejects most of the rules associated with this gothic franchise because Twilight is NOT a book about vampires.

The Host, her adult debut, has a science-fiction setting with characters that are aliens that have a symbiotic relationship with the human race.  However, the usual rules associated with sci-fi have been discarded because The Host is NOT a science-fiction novel.

So there is a chance you won't be getting what you think you have paid for. 

What do I mean by reluctantly led?

So far, on the surface Stephanie Meyer has mostly been interested in writing about the existence of soulmates.  One could say 'the power of love' is at the heart of her stories and the conflict is always designed to demonstrate how nothing can get in its way.  The romance scores pretty high on the "fluff-o-meter", which can turn some readers' stomachs while I suspect others feel embarrassed by just how "warm and fuzzy" these books make them feel inside.  (In other words, the guilty pleasure.)

Twilight and The Host are the same plot in different settings.   The question is, will this new novel be any different? Probably not. In which case, is she in danger of reproducing an old chestnut?  Maybe, but she is not alone and she is in good company.  Jane Austen is an example of an author who wrote the same story over and over again.  (Two hundred years on and she is still one of the most loved and celebrated authors of our time.)

Meyer's books are not just surface.  Like them or hate them, there is a lot of food for thought in her work.  Is that not worthy of praise? Some of the subject matter that she explores can be a bone of contention however; another reason I believe her novels evoke such extreme opposing views.  Below the surface she is mainly concerned with the existence of the soul. Like CS Lewis, Meyer's religious beliefs come through a lot in her work.  For example, in Breaking Dawn, embedded in the subtext, is the US debate on abortion, with Edward representing the pro-choice side of the argument and Bella the pro-life side.  This is revisited in The Host in a scene where innocent unborn alien souls are massacred (which suggests, "killing babies" - the term sometimes used in her books - is a major concern to her).

People do get angry when authors express their views about strong issues such as religion and politics.  I believe in the freedom of artistic & creative expression (even when I disagree with what is being expressed), and I believe that writers should write about what they want to - not what readers want them to.  Where we part company however, is that I prefer an impartial representation of an argument, whereas Meyer is clear which side she considers to be the right one (i.e., the side that prevails in the story) - hence the irritation.  But irritating subtext does not make me angry.  My approach has always been to disregard any attempts to manipulate my beliefs and thought processes. Some may argue that younger (YA) minds are impressionable, but I believe teenagers are a lot smarter than they are given credit.  Anyone who goes below the surface and picks up on the subtext is a free thinker, anyone who does not is probably safe (from mind control).      

I will conclude by pointing out that Stephanie Meyer has inspired a lot of people to start writing - which is a good thing - and many (with similar stories)  have benefited from the success of Twilight.  Without Twilight there would be no 50 Shades of Grey - maybe not such a good thing(?).  Thanks for that, Stephanie!  

My review of The Chemist is coming soon to Sooz Book Reviews.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Recommended Summer Reads 2016

I am just coming to the end of my series of recommended summer reads for 2016. 

Here is the list so far. 

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld - Contemporary

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo - Fantasy (YA)

Freedom/Hate by Kyle Andrews - Dystopia (YA)

This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki - Graphic novel (YA)

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel - Literary

Half Lost by Sally Green - Dystopian Fantasy (YA)

Just One Day by Gayle Forman - Contemporary

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Dedication to Dystopia

Science fiction is probably my favourite genre of fiction.  When I first discovered Dystopia I was less keen (for reasons outlined, below), but my attitude has changed considerably over the years - which is just as well since Dystopian fiction is so prominant that it is difficult for a sci-fi fan to avoid, particularly in Young Adult fiction,

That said, I have my own idea of what Dystopia is.  For me, in the same way that horror is supposed to evoke a sense of fear, Dystopia is supposed to evoke a sense of dread and anxiety.  If a horror isn't scary, it isn't doing it's job.  To me the same applies to Dystopia. Sometimes it is difficult to indentify what is causing that uncomfortable feeling; its about sensing that something terrible is just around the corner, but not knowing what.  Sometimes it takes the form of dramatic irony - when the reader knows what terrible things are going to happen to characters, but the characters themselves have no idea.  There are many great examples but two that come to mind are George Orwell's 'Animal Farm' and Kazuo Ishiguro's 'Never Let me Go'. 

My problem with some modern Dystopian fiction is the absence of that sense of dread.  For the month of February, my book review blog Sooz Book Reviews will be dedicated to Dystopia and will look at which of the chosen books do, and which ones do not, do the job of making us feel uncomfortable.