I’ve just finished reading The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes. The book follows two main characters. Harper starts out as a criminal drifter in the 1930s who enters a mysterious house and finds that it acts as a time machine, transporting him to different years. However through the house he is drawn to girls that he calls his ‘shining girls’. He visits them as children and then uses the house to travel forward in time and kill them as adults. One such girl is Kirby, the other main character, who survives her attack and goes on to attempt to track down her improbable murderer.
Last year I had read a previous novel by the same author, Zoo City, which I was really impressed by. So I was keen to read whatever she wrote next, and I was even more intrigued when I read about the premise of this book, because I love time travel stories. Surprisingly the book seems to be a big mainstream hit here in the UK, it seems to have escaped the genre label and become a sort of supermarket bestseller. In a way I can understand, because in spite of the time travel, it reads much more like a thriller than an SF novel.
I don’t intend that as a criticism however, as I really enjoyed the novel. The plot is really gripping and I read it all in a single day. I liked the non-linear nature of the story, the time travel elements of the plot were really well done. The characters are also good, even the despicable killer Harper is a presented as a well developed and complex character, and I liked the insights into the lives of his various victims too.
Again I stress that it’s not a criticism, but I suppose I was a bit disappointed that it was more of a crime thriller than an SF novel. However recently in another review I wrote about the importance of occasionally reading outside your comfort zone, and this is a great example of that. That applies both to SF readers like me who are drawn to time travel stories, and for the mainstream readers who will pick this book up because it’s on offer in the supermarket - either way the reader will encounter something a bit different from what they might usually expect.
So overall I really liked the book, I thought it had a lot to praise, and I would recommend it to all types of reader.
This week I read The Maze Runner trilogy by James Dashner. The book starts with Thomas arriving in a place called the Glade, with no memories of his past life. A group of boys live there, all with their memories wiped, and forced to survive on their own with no explanation. The Glade is surrounded by a massive Maze, and the boys must try to solve the Maze and find a way out, while facing dangerous creatures who patrol the Maze and keep them trapped in the Glade. Thomas must figure out who he is and why he has been brought here, as well as finding a way through the Maze.
I picked up the series because it was recommended as being a good one for readers who had enjoyed The Hunger Games and books like that. I’d concur with that assessment, the series is gripping and fast-paced, with an interesting setting and a compelling plot. I really enjoyed them. Of the various series in the post-apocalyptic YA genre that I’ve read, I’d rate it a little below The Hunger Games but above the Divergent series by Veronica Roth. But if you like that genre and those sorts of books then I would definitely recommend it.
I recently read Every Day by David Levithan. The book is about A, who wakes up each day in a different body. A has a distinct personality and memories, but each day inhabits the body of a different person and can access their memories too. The body can be male or female, but always the same age as a A, so A does age and is now 16 years old. A is used to this life but things change when A wakes up in the body of a boy called Justin and falls in love with Justin’s girlfriend Rhiannon. Moving on to a new body the next day, A makes the decision to get back in touch with Rhiannon and try to form a relationship with her, despite being someone new every day.
I liked the book a lot. It has a great premise that was really well done. While I really enjoyed it, it was maybe a bit rushed in places, it felt too short almost, but maybe that’s just because I wanted there to be more of it. Another thing about the book that I liked was how A feels neither male or female, feeling at home in both bodies, and how that affects the way A falls in love with people, which was really interesting. Overall it was a really unique book and I definitely enjoyed reading it.
CHVRCHES - We Sink
I am back at my parents’ home this weekend. I started reading a book that I brought with me, but I couldn’t get into it at all, so I started mooching around for a book from my parents’ book collection. My Mum reads a lot of crime fiction, and we had been chatting about how much I’d liked The Cuckoo’s Calling, so my Mum suggested I read this one, Case Histories by Kate Atkinson. Crime fiction is a bit out of my comfort zone, but I do read it now and again, so I was prepared to give it a shot. I ended up devouring the book in two sittings, as I really enjoyed it.
The book is the first in a series of novels starring private investigator Jackson Brodie, a former military policeman (parallels there with the Galbraith book I have just realised). He is called upon to investigate three old cases, the disappearance of a young girl, the murder of a teenager, and to search for the daughter whose family lost touch with her after her mother killed her father. The narrative shifts between the point of view of Jackson Brodie, and the various figures involved in his cases. The three cases and their participants end up interconnecting with Jackson’s own life.
As I said, I really enjoyed the book. It may not be my usual cup of tea, but nonetheless I thought it was very well written, with a suspensful plot and complex characters. I was thoroughly caught up in the story, and I couldn’t put it down. I suppose this is proof that sometimes it is nice to step outside your usual boundaries and explore something new, and I may well read the next book in the series the next time I am home to visit my parents.
I finished reading 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. I’m counting this as two books towards my reading goal for the year, since I have two volumes - Books 1 and 2 in the first volume and Book 3 in the second volume. It’s all rather confusing! I’ve actually owned these books since 2011 when I received them as a Christmas gift. I have been meaning to read them since then, since I do generally love Haruki Murakami, but for some reason I never got around to it until now. To begin with I was really enjoying the book, and I was glad that I had finally started reading it. But as it went on my enthusiasm waned. There are a lot of good things about the book, but the problem I found is that it is far too long and repetitive. If it had been cut down to half the length then I think I would have enjoyed it a lot more. It was also a lot darker than some of Murakami’s other novels, more weird and twisted in a way, which I also didn’t like as much. Overall the book was okay, and I am glad that I read it, but it wasn’t one of Murakami’s best efforts in my opinion.
I recently finished reading Doomsday Book by Connie Willis. I had previously read this before, about 6 or 7 years ago, and I remembered that I really liked it, so I was happy to read it again now for my book group.
It’s a time travel novel, set in the same universe as Willis’ more recent novels Blackout and All Clear. In this world time travel exists and is regularly used by historians to travel back in time and observe the past. Kivrin is a young Oxford student who has been given permission to go back to the dangerous 14th century. James Dunworthy is her tutor, who disagrees with the plan to let her go back to this period, as he feels the risks are too great. As he fears, something goes wrong and Kivrin finds herself arriving right in the middle of the black plague. However Mr Dunworthy has his own problems to deal with, as events in the present day parallel history when an epidemic hits Oxford.
As before, I still really enjoyed this book. I love a good time travel story, and this is a classic. As with Connie Willis’ other novels that I’ve read, it does have a few flaws, particularly the abundance of Americanisms in a book set in Britain. But that really doesn’t matter because it had a great, gripping plot, and fantastic characters. The setting is also wonderful, both the future present of the book, and the historical past. I love the time travel aspects of it, but it has so much more too. Overall it’s just a really good book.
A new series of That Mitchell and Webb Sound started last night. The series had previously last been broadcast in 2009, so it was a very welcome return to Radio 4. The radio show has of course previously been converted into a brilliant television series, That Mitchell and Webb Look, but I will be a purist and say that I do prefer the radio series. So if you like fantastic sketch comedies then do give it a listen!
Doctor Who! I thought The Day of the Doctor was brilliant. I was sceptical at first, but in the end I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was reminded of how much I loved David Tennant, and John Hurt was fabulous too. As much as I do like Matt Smith, my enthusiasm has been waning over the past series of so, but now I am really excited to see where the show is going next. I also still need to watch An Adventure in Space and Time, and there is a lot of other Doctor Who content on iPlayer which will keep me entertained over the next few days. But overall I thought it was a great episode, and a fitting celebration of the anniversary.