Tony’s Review: The Fault in our Stars

 

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3/5

The cancer that seventeen-year-old Hazel survived left her lungs in tatters and tied to an oxygen bottle for the rest of her life – however long that may be. Her mother suggests she visits a support group, where she runs into Augustus Waters…

This has been at the edge of my reading-pile for at least two or three years now, and I finally picked it up. (One of the reasons I delayed was Becky’s review (Here), where she rated it…okay. Didn’t set the world on fire for her. I trust her judgement on books, which is why it’s taken me so long. But I digress.)

The first thing I noticed when I was reading this – and I’m talking Chapter One – is that no seventeen year old in the history of the world talks like Gus and Hazel. I’m a pretty smart guy; I’ve know some very smart people. I have never met ANYONE who used the word univalent in a sentence. No one. People simply don’t talk like this. Hazel knows what an oncogene is; she knows the word hamartia; Why then, doesn’t she know the word ontological?

Green seems determined to be obscure and borderline pretentious with his language and his characters, and they suffer because of it. Their conversations are superficial, for the most part; cocktail party debate on the breakfast-only nature of scrambled eggs.

I got very little from Hazel and Gus but mostly surfaces. It felt like I rarely saw the places where they lived and dreamt. Because of it, they’re as superficial as the conversations they hold, and easily forgotten.

Fortunately, the dialogue settled down after a while and approached a normal level. Green definitely has different narrative voices for Gus and Hazel, there was no trouble telling them apart. His wordplay and love of puns makes the dialogue – when it does work – sparkle and shine. Make no mistake that Green is a smart guy…but he seems intent on preening his feathers and flapping his wings to show off.

There are moments which do work wonderfully well in the book. The trip to Amsterdam was the delight of the book, the real highlight. Making Hazel’s favourite author a jerk was a masterstroke: After all, you should never meet your heroes – they’ll never live up to your expectations. And because Green wasn’t too worried about showing off with the author, he’s the most realistic character in the book.

There’s a character dies in this – no spoilers as to whom – and another character goes to their funeral. I’m pretty sure…no, I’m definitively sure…that Green never went to a funeral when he was seventeen of anyone close to him. I did. And there’s no way you would act the way the character did when they were there. You don’t have the mental capacity, for a start. You’re certainly not going to fire off witty replies to people who post on a dead characters Facebook page.

An intriguing read, but it lost its way somewhere with an author determined to show off and not let his characters do the walking and the talking.

 

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Tony’s Review: Every Day, David Levithan

 

51i318LHixL4/5

“A” wakes up each morning in a new body. “A” has done this every day for the whole of their existence, and doesn’t question it any more than we question waking up in the same body every day. Then “A” meets Rhiannon and wants to have a ‘normal’ life.

This is a difficult book to review. Not because of the content or writing. It’s a lot simpler than that, and a lot harder: “A” is without a pronoun. They are completely non-corporeal – without a permanent body. “A” is neither he nor she, and I’m going to be forced to call them It, to give them the overtones of a non-person. It feels like the wrong approach, because “A” is such a strong character, labelling them as It feels…rude. Derogatory.

“A” has a unique narrative voice, one I have never come across, or even contemplated – one without gender. Gender is so tied into every book I’ve ever read, that having a character without gender, with a constant shifting body every day is disorientating. The only way I could relate to “A” is to read them as a male character.

A female friend is going to read it and I’m really fascinated to see if she reads “A” as a female. I wasn’t sure I wasn’t projecting my male narrative voice onto “A”. I needed a gender to work with.

That isn’t an issue with the book at all by the way; just my perceptions of reading it.

The book itself is wonderful. “A” is eloquent, warm, emotive, caring, passionate. If you wanted a friend for life, “A” would be it. “A” feels every moment of every day, living entirely in the present; it’s all “A” can do before It moves on. Because of “A”‘s unique perspective on life, “A” notices details the rest of us would miss. The shoes Rhiannon wears; the callous on her thumb; the texture of sand through a host’s fingers. “A”‘s language is lyrical and powerful, the soul of a poet.

We get to touch lives from the inside with “A”, feeling the tragedy of a girl who can’t stop drinking; the first funeral “A” ever goes to; a girl who wants to commit suicide. But also the joy as well; a gay pride parade with “A”‘s host’s boyfriend. Gender or sexuality doesn’t matter to “A”; only the emotion. So we get to see “A” as girl with another girl, a boy with another boy. Love is all that matters.

Through it all, “A” loves Rhiannon; it doesn’t matter if he’s a girl or boy, black or white. “A”‘s only thought is to be back with her, and It breaks Its own rules of ‘non-interference’ to do it more and more as love takes over.

It’s great writing, but the book does have problems – hence the not-perfect rating. There are plot holes left undeveloped – most significantly, is “A” the only body-hopper? – and the subplot with a boy who remembers being ‘possessed’ by “A” just fades away. And then there’s the epilogue. It’s only eight or nine lines, but it wasn’t needed, and only left confusion.

What “A” knows, and the rest of us barely realise, is that the package love comes in doesn’t matter; only the emotion matters. It’s a message that Levithan carries off with panache and style, with wonderful passages of lyrical and emotional writing, and a tearful punch of an ending. Superb.

Just Finished…City of Bones

imageSo, this is my first book of 2016… I realise that I am about eight years late in giving this series a try, but it has been sat on my bookshelf for ages now and I just randomly plucked it off and started it over Christmas.

Overall, my rating for this would be 4* – up until about two-thirds of the way through, it was probably more of a 3*, but the writing style and ideas behind the world created in The Mortal Instruments held things together for me, when perhaps I wasn’t as invested in the characters or their actual adventure. That might sound like an odd thing to say, but I’ve found that happening with a few books I’ve read lately (including a very long trilogy that I’m just coming to the end of and will review soon).

In terms of the world created, it has a lot of typical YA supernatural elements: wolves, vampires, angels, demons… But, in here they are all in the same ‘world’ for once, rather than split into an angels book, or a vampire-wolf combo, which is interesting. I liked the idea of the city setting as well; seeing the action unravel around various parts of New York was a nice twist for me, with demon clubs and vampire hotels around every corner.

The action/pacing wasn’t amazing for me though – I never felt ‘gripped’ by the story and could easily put it down and walk away. I enjoyed the characters and the witty banter was great, but I never really bonded with them. As it stands, I’d read more in the series if the opportunity came up, but as a completed series, ready and waiting for me, I don’t feel the urge or that invested to pick up book two. In honesty, I like the sound of Clare’s second series more and so may give the Infernal Devices a go before I venture further along the paths of shadowhunters and demons…

And for anyone interested, Tony reviewed one of the ‘Infernal Devices’ novels a while ago, you can see his thoughts here:

https://asidefromwriting.com/2014/01/15/tonys-review-clockwork-angel-by-cassandra-clare/

 

Tony’s Review: Trouble, Non Pratt

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4/5

Hannah is a wild fifteen year old, who loves nothing more than drinking parties, socialising with her friends and not caring too much about school. Then she gets pregnant.

I hadn’t heard much about this book before Becky’s enthusiastic and passionate review here. I follow every one of her reviews, and she very rarely rates a book five stars…and certainly never reads a book in two days. This was one I had to see for myself…and I’m glad I did.

I was expecting some social lecture about the perils of pregnancy, and some moral lessons about underage sex (age of consent in the UK is sixteen), but there was little of that. In fact, the book isn’t really about Hannah’s pregnancy as much as it about the social changes it causes around her.

I won’t reveal the spoiler of who the father is (I did work it out fairly quickly though), and why Hannah doesn’t go to him is revealed over the course of the book and makes a major plot point.

This brings in the other main character: Aaron. Aaron is the new boy in school, emerging from some trauma he can’t deal with. He views the eddies and streams of friendships and enemies with an indifferent eye, new to all and in some ways immune.

But when Hannah needs a father, he volunteers himself to be branded as the dad. Why he does it links back to his trauma…which is another spoiler I can’t reveal.

The short punchy chapters alternate between Hannah and Aaron, and since they have very different narrative voices, it works very well. Hannah’s sister receives a pet rabbit called Fiver for instance: Aaron would have recognised the Watership Down reference, but Hannah thinks it’s how much it cost. Their outlooks and expectations were very different. No doubt that we were dealing with two different people at any point.

Minor characters were given lots of room and backstory as well. Neville, a pensioner Aaron visits, is a great character full of wit and wisdom, as is Hannah’s gran. Nobody felt two dimensional.

There were points when the plot veered into kitchen-sink soap opera, but they were isolated. Pratt does a great job of pulling at your heart and then tickling it with her emotive writing within a paragraph or two.

This is a book about the strength of family and the power of good friends; a book about finding out who those friends are and who you can count on when you need them.

In the end, it’s a happy and uplifting story, a potent and positive spin on a subject usually given more dour treatment.

Cover Reveal! The Ninth Hunter by Anna Hub

Cover Reveal Banner

The Ninth Hunter by Anna Hub

A standalone paranormal thriller

Release Date: January 12th 2016

The Ninth Hunter ebook cover.jpg

Cover Design by Amygdala Designs

 

These weren’t ghosts of the dead with unfinished business. They were something far more sinister.

Daniel Barrow is a ghost hunter bound to a life of misery; protecting the world from ghosts by killing their human hosts. He knows the rules: mark the targets, plot the crime scenes, and then murder those beyond saving. Daniel’s safe in his rituals—until he meets Faye Michaels.

Faye isn’t his average target and her ghosts threaten to destroy everything he has worked for. When his ritual goes wrong, Daniel must create an uneasy alliance with the woman he intended to kill. But the deeper they dig, the closer they get to a dangerous secret that will change their lives forever.

Daniel must make a choice: fulfil his duty, or turn his back on those he has come to trust. Can the truth lead him to salvation?

 

LIMITED TIME OFFER

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Website: http://annahubbooks.com/

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Tony’s Review: Doctor Sleep, Stephen King

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4/5

Dan Torrance, the child protagonist of King’s The Shining, is now an alcoholic drifter, chased by the ghosts of his childhood and trying to drown them in drink. When he gets off a bus to nowhere in New Hampshire, his life begins to change…

Including The Talisman – Black House books King wrote with Peter Straub and his Dark Tower series, King is actually an old hand at sequels. This one doesn’t disappoint: it’s full of warmth and humour and characteristic King touches and style.

About a quarter of the way through, I realised the plot is more of a Dean Koontz feel: Troubled man helps protect precocious tele-everything teen from very real psychic vampires, learning the redemptive power of family on the way. Not that’s a criticism at all, I just thought it was interesting.

Dan attends Alcoholics Anonymous, and one of the twelve steps is apologise to those you’ve hurt…and it seems like King wants to apologise to Dan Torrance for running him through the hell of The Shining. He wants to know that Dan’s life turned out all right in the end. It’s very much a story of redemption and returning sanity, a counterpoint to the damnation and slide into insanity that was The Shining.

And King’s own demons mirror the book: As a recovering alcoholic and substance abuser, he’s been at the bottom where Dan starts off. As a result Dan feels like a very intimate and personal portrait, a thin veil of King’s own fall and recovery.

As much as Dan realises he can’t escape the virtual demons in his head, so Abra – his teenage counterpart – can’t escape the real demons chasing after her: Wherever you go, there you are, they realise.

The climax felt a little rushed, but then as a book about redemption and healing, it was never really about who was going to win in the end. And, to be honest, it was pretty obvious from the start.

It’s been a while since King wrote anything as simple as splatter and gore, and the horror and the terror in this book are restrained and off-screen. No one loses a foot or does the Mashed Potato all over a giant eyeball for instance.

With such a strong young adult protagonist, it’s also a great young-adult book.

I haven’t read The Shining in a few years, and it didn’t feel as if I needed a refresher to read this. There would have been a few paragraphs that wouldn’t have made much sense, that was all.

If you haven’t read any King, this is a good place to start.

Tony’s Halloween: Late Home

It’s starting to gather down to dusk, the world smudging and blurring like a finger brushed charcoal painting. And still there’s no footsteps coming along the path and no key turning in the door. Where is he?

I try his phone again; still it goes to his insane
(Hey, hey, hey! Try again later!)
voicemail, and I leave another message. Ten seconds after I hang up, I’m at the window. When I open it, the chilled night air rushes to me like a cloying relative at a funeral, eager to console me with its coldness.

I slam the window closed. Pace back and forward, an animal
(wolf)
in a cage. Hating about what I’m doing, I’m about to dial the police when I hear footsteps outside, the crunch of gravel. I drop the phone and beat Gerry to the door, throwing it open and my arms around him before he’s more than a shape before me, almost screaming into his ear about much I was worried, where was he, what’s going on, what’s happened.

But his arms aren’t going around me in return, only hanging limp at his sides, and he’s not answering me. I take a step back and look at him, my husband of three months standing on the doorstep of our home as though he’s a stranger.

“Gerry?”

A thousand yard stare, no recognition. His new coat is torn and there’s something
(blood?)
on his shirt, smudged. His tie is gone.

“Gerry, honey, you’re scaring me. What’s happened, baby?”

I take his hand and pull him inside, trying to tell myself that the sticky wetness on his hand is not blood, no it’s not, not at all, no way, and that’s not the metallic coppery smelltaste of it making my nostrils flare.

Gerry moves forward enough so I can close the door behind him, and I slam a hand on the hall light, showering him with brightness.

He’s covered in it. Drying to burgundy and maroon, on his coat, his hands, his
(mouth!)
face and neck.

Still the stare doesn’t see me, even when I start to strip the clothes from his body, tearing the coat away, then the shirt, my hands growing sticky as I fumble across his muscles. No injuries; the blood isn’t his, anyway.

I’m not sure this is a good thing, but he still doesn’t answer me when I ask him what’s happened. Dear God, Gerry, have you
(killed someone?)
done something?

He’s down to his boxers when he finally moves, responding to the intimacy of my fingers if nothing else. He grabs my hands tight, finally breaks eye contact with the horizon and stares at me.

“Lou?”

My hand caresses his cheek, trying not to see the blood on his
(teeth)
face.

“Yes, it’s me. Talk to me, Gerry. What’s happened?”

He shakes his head, looking down at himself. “I did…something. I need…”

“Need what, baby? Come on. Let’s get you showered, okay? Cleaned up, get that
(evidence)
mess off you.”

“No. I need.” He inhales. “I need to see the news.”

I blink. It can’t be… “What? The news can wait, let’s -”

He squeezes my hands a little tighter, then releases them and turns towards the den. “No. The news. Right now.”

He shuffles out of his pants, kicking them away, putting a hand on the wall to balance, leaving a bright burgundy handprint on the cream wall.
(We painted that wall together, argued over the color, that was the only thing we argued over, the color, now look what he’s done)
But Gerry isn’t done leaving drying bloodstains over everything. He stumbles into the den and reaches across the white sofa, leaving a scream of red on the arm as he picks up his tablet. No doubt I’ll get the job of cleaning all this up before
(the police come with forensics)
the night is out.

Gerry falls into the sofa, scrolling with a stained finger, smearing it over the cream of the tablet in his hands. I open my mouth to ask what he’s looking for, but he raises his finger for quiet.

I settle for sitting next to him and watching him scroll. Zookeepers are puzzled about an apparent wolf attack on a bear yesterday – But he skims and reads past the story and several similar ones, dated about a month apart, stretching back three months or so. I realise he’s filtered the stories down to wolf and attack.

He shakes his head and drops the tablet on the end table. “Nothing. Nothing at all. Must be too early. Maybe they haven’t found him yet.”

“Found who?”

“I can’t…can’t…”

My slap on his cheek startles him back to some sort of sense. “Listen, Gerry, if you screwed up tonight, I need to know. Right now. Where’s the car?” I squeeze his shoulder tight enough for him to want to wriggle away, but I only tighten the grip. I’ve dealt with bigger
(animals)
men than Gerry.

“Chambers Park. That’s where it happened.”

What happened?” I need to hear him say it, then we can move forward. Maybe. I’ll come to what happens if we can’t get past this when I have to.

When Gerry hesitates, I slap him again, leaving a red welt on his cheek. He raises a hand to rub it, but I have his complete attention. He begins to speak.

“I was cutting across the park after work to get to the car. Such a beautiful sunset…I stood there to watch it settle in the ocean for a minute. People walking past, some of them watching the sunset with me. But then…then a man walked by. Nothing different about him…but…but. Oh, God, the smell. I can’t…can’t describe it. Most amazing thing…it’s the craziest thing I’ve ever felt. I wanted to chase after him and smell him more. Taste him. Lick the smell from his skin. God, it made…made me so horny. I’ve never felt so turned on in my life.”

I can see the memory stirring him through his boxers as he speaks, and I give him an intimate squeeze of encouragement. “Go on.”

“I started to follow him. It wasn’t hard…he was like…like a bright light in a dark room. Everyone else was grey, and he was bright yellow. And his smell just kept getting stronger and stronger. I had…I had to have him.”

He shudders in pleasure. My fingers haven’t left his boxers, and they continue their slow massage.

He closes his eyes and continues. “He turned into a secluded pathway. I knew where he was going, could trace his route…I dove into the bushes, onto all fours, snuffling along. It wasn’t like the movies…I mean, I didn’t turn into a wolf or anything…”

There’s the word I’m looking for. I lean over him and take the tablet while he talks. “Go on,” I prompt again, returning my fingers to his boxers.

“…I got ahead of him on the path. Oh, the smell of him, that aroma…” He stiffens as his desire increases. “I…jumped out…started to tear…to rip…oh, God, the smell of his blood drove me into a…a…frenzy. My mouth was on his throat. His throat, the pulse of him just under the surface, and…and I bit. I bit and I tore and he went down and I drank him down, drank the sweet blood, ripped open his ribcage with my fingers and ate…oh, Jesus, Louise, what are you doing?”

His recital has excited me and my hand has been moving faster. Unwillingly, I pull it back, needing to stay focused. I turn my attention back to the tablet and move away an inch. “I’m…I’m sorry, Gerry. I should have told you earlier.”

“Told me what?”

I bite my lip. “When we got married, the first night, our honeymoon. I…I bit you.”

“You…bit…me? You mean you’re a…?”

I show him the news story he skipped. Zookeepers are puzzled about a wolf attack on a bear yesterday. The wolf appears to have scaled a fifteen feet wall and to have torn out the throat of the bear, then escaped the same way.

“That was you?”

I nod. “I’m sorry. And the attack the month before. I try to attack wild animals. Zoo ones if I’m really…stuck. They are endangered, after all, most of them. The police don’t get as suspicious with wild animals.”

Things start to click together for him. “So every month, when you say you have that knitting circle, you’re…?”

I nod.

“When…when were you planning on telling me this?”

“Well, I didn’t think the stories about biting were true, you see. I did wait until we were married. It was either that or tear your throat out the first time I…smelled…you. The first time we were together…I nearly killed you while you slept.”

“I don’t…I don’t know what to say…”

I try to still my rising desire, the urge to bite and claw. But the scent of that drying blood is driving me wild, the thought of licking it from his body…

I snuggle closer to him and breathe into his ear, returning my hand to between his thighs. “That sensation you had as you…bit and…tore. Sweetie…you should try it when I’m beside you. Or beneath you. God, you smell so good right now.”

I should really be fetching the car and scrubbing the blood from the walls, but Gerry’s breathing accelerates and his voice slows, his eyes close and his head rolls back. “Oh, yeah…tell me more about that…ripping…and tearing…”

I decide that fetching the car can wait a while, after all.