Anansi Boys – Neil Gaimen

I adored American Gods so had to continue and read Anansi Boys, unfortunately that also meant that it had a lot to live up to. While not exactly a sequel to American Gods Anansi Boys follows Fat Charlie, the son of Mr. Nancy, a god we cross paths with in the original novel. Fat Charlie’s father has died and on his passing discovers that his father was a god. Not any old god but Anansi, the trickster spider. This information sets off a series of events that turn’s Fat Charlie’s life upside down whether he likes it or not.

 

Overall, this one fell a tad short for me. That isn’t to say I don’t think it is a great read but I did have extremely high expectations after American Gods. In comparison I found Anansi Boys much like most of his novels, fable-like and light-hearted, which I do love but I found myself wanting something a little grittier, with the same depth and complexities that I found within American Gods. Realistically high expectations aside, this is your typical Gaiman, fun, unpredictable and ridiculously entertaining. In particular I loved the naming of the chapters, it gave me a laugh at the beginning of each one.

 

I did find that the characters in this novel didn’t quite capture my interest as much as his usually do. In fact some of his characters are up there on my list of all-time favourites. I didn’t feel as invested in Fat Charlie, Spider, Rosie or Daisy and that perhaps hampered my ability to fall in love with this novel. That being said, this was a pleasant and easy read that I could easily pick up and put down again. I also really enjoyed leaving about the folklore surrounding Anansi, in particular that Anansi’s stories have also been attributed to Brer Rabbit, a firm favourite from my childhood thanks to Enid Blyton. I would recommend this to all of Gaiman’s fans, those who enjoy folklore tales and anyone who wants am easy-going read that will stretch your imagination. I give Anansi Boys three spiders, Anansi’s kin.

 

 

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One of Us is Lying – Karen M. McManus

One of Us is Lying was a super quick and fun read. Five walking cliches walk into detention. Only four walk out. This is the Breakfast Club with a murder mystery twist. A jock. A princess. A geek. A criminal. One dead outcast. Each one of them is hiding something, but which one of them did it? Well, you will just have to read and find out.

 

I read this novel easily in less than twenty-four hours. I don’t often read young adult fiction and even rarer, one that is not fantasy but I thoroughly enjoyed this one and read most of it with a ridiculous grin on my face. As a fan of the Breakfast Club I also couldn’t help myself but picture Cooper, Addy and Nate as Emilio Esteves, Molly Ringwood and Judd Nelson respectively (I only rematched it just last week).

 

The prose and storyline were pretty simple and straight forward, which was a nice change after reading The Shadow of the Wind the day before. The books is built on cliches and even their secrets are a tad cliche (which I don’t say in a negative way) so if you aren’t one for stereotypes maybe give this a miss, the entire premise is built on it. I really enjoyed the stereotypes at the beginning that left room for character development within the novel and I came to love each and everyone of the characters by the end of the novel, Addy in particular. The twists were not too farfetched but work within the range of the plot and finish the story off nicely.

 

Overall this was fun and consuming, a great young adult read – especially if you are a fan of the Breakfast Club (seriously, if you haven’t watched it please do so immediately) with a side of mystery with great pacing. I give One of Us is Lying three mobile phones, key to the mystery.

 

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A Brief History of Seven Killings – Marlon James

This book has been on my TBR list even since I was blown away byΒ A Little Life. A Brief History of Seven Killings tells the story of seven gunmen who storm Bob Marley’s house, firing off bullets and setting in motions reactions that will be felt for decades. A fictional take on a historical event this book was unanimously voted winner of the Man Booker Prize 2015 in only two hours.

 

This book is a marathon read which took me several weeks to complete. It is definitely not an easy read as anyone who has read this will testify, although most will assure you it is well worth the toil. Jamaican patois is not easy to wrap your head around at first but eventually the reader will pick it up. There are also many, many characters for the reader to keep track. A cast of characters is found at the beginning of the novel, which helps a lot and even so I found myself flicking back to it uncountable times during my read. On top of all that the sheer volume of the novel is huge – weighing in at almost seven hundred pages. I guess what I am saying is be prepared for a bit of a slog wth this one. I also have zero knowledge of the history surrounding this event or how intertwined the politics of Jamaica were, some understanding of this may be of benefit to the reader, yet it is by no means necessary. The plot is complex and layered and I’m still not convinced that my tiny mind was able to comprehend the entirety of this novel and I wasn’t quite as blown away by the plot as I was expecting to be.

 

What is memorable about this novel is the writing and perspectives. James is able to jump from hardened Jamaican street criminals, to white American journalists, to CIA agents, to women just trying to survive a dangerous country, and each and every one is believable. There are many passages from this book that stay with me clear as day. A woman in a car with those who she perceives to be predators waits in agony for the moment they rape her. A very long and tense scene in a hotel room (I’ll leave this one at that for you to experience, but a scene that demonstrates exemplary writing). The moment a man starts to realise that *shock, horror* he may enjoy being a battyman and not just because it happened in prison and “a hole is just a hole”. The moment a Don loses his temper and goes trigger happy in a crack house. The writing is masterful and shows depth and versatility.

 

Be prepared going into this one, the content can be confronting at times but it is all very worth it if only to appreciate James’ skill with the written word and watching him slipping into so many skins while maintaining grip on such a complex plot. His perspectives are unique and difficult to find within literature. I do understand how ground-breaking this work is and why it won (even though my heart still is with A Little Life). I give A Brief History of Seven Killings three guns because if there is one thing this plot is lacking, it is guns.

 

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Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte

Wuthering Heights was once the bane of my existence, I had tried to read it several times and failed. Finally I had the genius revelation of reading it on my lunch break away from the distraction of easier reads to be found in my own home. A genius idea because I discovered just how great a read this novel is and was reminded (once again) that classics are generally worth the initial toil. If you don’t know the story of Wuthering Heights, this novel follows the tempestuous relationship between the spoilt Cathy and the haughty and angry Heathcliff and how their actions create reactions felt across generations.

 

Wow. I was not expecting Β what I got with this novel. Classics are difficult to get into. They do require time to get used to the language and writing style but, my god, are they worth it in the end. The classics, in my opinion, are so audacious in a way that novels are not these days. If these novels were written these days many of them would be critiqued to all hell if they were even published at all. Over written and over dramatic with too heavy dialogues. Yet, these classics manage to be endearing and unique and are well worth the initial toil.

 

The first half of the book was my favourite by far, a solid four to four and a lahlf stars for me, however, I lost a little interest in the second half. Catherine and Heathcliff and their relationship were so fascinating! Both were selfish and abhorrent, yet, I found myself wanting them to end up together and finally happy. Such a tempestuous and passionate relationship there is much to be learned from this book: be honest and go after what you want. Cathy and Linton were not so interesting to me and in fact I kind of disliked Linton for his weak disposition. Heathcliff is much better because he is at least strong in his convictions and actions. Overall, I did enjoy the ending, I thought it brought the book in full circle.

 

I would highly recommend giving this classic a read as it is well-deserving of the hype. I now, also, FINALLY understand the Kate Bush song (and that interpretive dancing?). I give Wuthering Heights three of Cathy’s ponies bearing her to Withering Heights.

 

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The Underground Railroad – Colson Whitehead

The Underground Railroad has gathered a lot of attention recently after winning this year’s Pulitzer Prize. I had wanted to read it for a while and finally had the time to pick it up. For those who don’t already know this novel tells the story of Cora, a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia who finds herself agreeing to run away with another slave, Caesar. Escaping through the Underground Railroad which will take them away from their troubles to the free states up north. This novel follows just sore of Cora’s harrowing journey across America on the famed Underground Railroad trying to evade recapture back to her vicious owner.

 

This novel was a very quick and easy read. I managed to finish it in 24 hours not being able to tear my eyes away from Cora’s struggles. This is a heart-breaking but matter-of-fact story of America’s south pre-civicl war at the height of black slavery. This story starts in Africa with the capture of Cora’s grandmother and brings us to her journey.

 

Despite the win and rave reviews I noticed plenty of criticisms of this novel that ,though I understood, I felt were strengths or inevitabilities of the plot. One such criticism was the impersonal method of using third-person narration leading to not developing an attachment to Cora. In a way I liked that Whitehead did not resort to emotional manipulations or sentimentality to create a response. Personally I found the atrocities of the novel spoke for themselves weaving a dangerous and urgent vibe into the story. Readers also mentioned excessive and under-developed secondary characters but again, I feel it speaks to the nature of the novel. Times were so unpredictable and dangerous that Cora herself did not have time to develop lasting connections or meaningful relationships and so, therefore, the reader did not either. Lastly, others spoke of how the villains were not multidimensional but in all honesty how do you make cruel and vicious slavers multidimensional? Times back then were harsh and brutal. Whitehead only tells of the honesty of the situation with no embellishment or sugar-coating.

 

The majority of this review is debunking other criticisms of the book in an attempt to tempt all of you into giving it a go and looking past these critiques as plot devices that help tell this story. Cora is a beautiful protagonist and I enjoyed following her through her many horrors. My heart broke for her over and over again. There are twists and turns within this novel keeping the reader on their toes and barrelling towards what they hope is a happy ending. The Underground Railroad is well worth a read and I highly recommend picking it up and making your own mind. This was an insightful and touching novel that speaks to just one small portion of our brutal history as human beings. I give The Underground Railroad four trains bearing away slaves to safety.

 

 

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A God in Ruins – Kate Atkinson

A God in Ruins is the companion book toΒ Life After Life, a read I thoroughly enjoyed last year. Life After Life follows Ursula and her family as she lives out her many lives over and over again. A God in Ruins follows Teddy, Ursula’s brother in one of these lines, one that Atkinson points out was not written in Life After Life. We follow Teddy throughout his life, back and forth, from when he was a child living at the beloved Fox Corner, through his time during the war as a pilot running missions to Germany and his life after the war where we meet his daughter and his grandchildren.

 

Unfortunately for me, A God in Ruins had none of the magic that I loved in Life After Life. I found this book tedious to read and as such it took me a week to get through it. I found it picked up in the middle and I didn’t struggle as much from there onwards but I still found this book a chore. I think what made this novel so difficult to enjoy was my lack of connection with the characters. Teddy in Life After Life was a fascinating character and I could not wait to read a story from his perspective. What I found myself with was not who I was expecting. His character didn’t seem to have any of the spark that drew me in initially. I understand some of this is tied into how war can affect those who experienced it long after it is over, however, I just could not reconcile who Teddy ended up as. From there things only got worse. I could not stand the character who was his daughter. She was a reprehensible, selfish character and I did not enjoy reading about her at all, part of what made the book so difficult to get through for me.

 

Personally I would not recommend this novel. Do pick up Life After Life, it is a beautiful story wrapped in a fascinating concept. Just be aware this is a very different novel. I was prepared for this from the beginning and still could not enjoy this one. There are some great reviews for this one on Goodreads, so some people definitely connected with this novel, however, I was not one of them. I give A God in Ruins two of Teddy’s hares.

 

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Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman

Neverwhere tells the story of London Below. Interestingly enough I learnt that Neverwhere was originally written as a TV series but changes and exclusions frustrated Gaiman enough to write the book as a way to tell the story as he envisioned it. In Neverwhere we meet the protagonist, Richard who crosses over into London below after he helps an injured young woman. This young woman is Door, who is escaping men contracted to kill her, men who killed her family. Somewhat reluctantly Richard assists in keeping Door safe.

 

I loved Gaiman’s foreword at the beginning of the novel and the way he describes the fantasy he wants to write as to “write a book that would do for adults what the books I had loved when younger, books like Alice in Wonderland, or the Narnia books, or The Wizard of Oz, did for me as a kid”. This is what I love about fantasy, this is why I read it. This is why I now own five of Gaiman’s books and plan to continue collecting them. I do have to say I did not quite love Neverwhere in the same way that I loved American Gods, but I did thoroughly enjoy it.

 

Gaiman created a rich, fantastical world in that of London Below. I do feel like I would have loved a little more understanding of how it worked. His descriptions are clear and fascinating – it is a world like no other I have read about but the descriptions only lead to more questions of how the strange systems worked. I also found the protagonist Richard a little grating at times. I get it, he was a reluctant hero and ordinary. Very ordinary. Did I mention that he was ordinary and just wanted is old life back? That is how the book felt at times. Then his crossover from ordinary to stepping up and becoming a bit of a hero is a little too instantaneous and contrived for me.

 

The protagonist may have been irritating but the supporting characters were sensational. We are introduced to probably two of the best villains you will ever come across. Mr Croup and Mr Vandemar are chillingly brutal cold-blooded killers that terrify me. Their dry, dead-pan delivery of their lines are hilarious and creepy all at the same time. Gaiman’s description of these villains is masterful and sets the scene for their macabre presence throughout the novel. Door, The Marquis and Hunter are all highlights in the novel and I found myself falling in love with each of their characters quite quickly in the novel.

 

Overall, I do recommend Neverwhere if you are a fan of fantasy and love nothing more than creating a fantastical world in your imagination. This is a fun, freaky and unforgettable fantasy and I give Neverwhere three keys to the doors.

 

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