In January, I had the chance to read Michel Faber’s latest novel The Book of Strange New Things which Canongate sent me in exchange for an honest review. I can’t thank them enough for this gem of a book – inside and out.
When Peter Leigh is chosen to be the new minister on a planet in another galaxy he and his wife Bea are sure that this is the Will of God and a chance to spread The Word. Unfortunately, Bea has to stay on Earth because she didn’t pass the selection process. As Peter’s contract is limited to a few years and the two of them can communicate through a long-distance messaging system, Bea agrees that Peter should go. What the two of them don’t know is that the physical distance is accompanied by an even bigger emotional distance that threatens their relationship.
I was a little concerned about Peter being a Christian missionary, but this book is not about religion. It is about freedom, friendship, and trust. When Peter arrives on Oasis, he is a very obedient Christian who never strays from the path. This also makes him open to embrace other peoples like the Oasans, the natives whose priest he is to become. Soon, Peter decides to live with them and that changes him as well as some of the Oasans.
Speaking of the Oasans: We all know all sorts of aliens from various movies we’ve seen. The Oasans are different and they are very hard to picture, probably because our brains aren’t capable to do so ;). With his description, Michel Faber does the best anyone can do to make them imaginable by the human brain. To Peter’s eyes, and to those of the other humans on Oasis, they all look the same except for their differently-colored robes. They also hardly show any feelings or signs of personality, which basically makes them indistinguishable until you get to know them better. But when the Oasans and Peter finally warm up to each other, Michel Faber’s brilliant characterization of this unique people becomes visible.
Even though The Book of Strange New Things is almost 600 pages long it never feels like it. Michel Faber transports you right into this engaging, gripping and simply mind-blowing story about a man who does something most of us wouldn’t have the guts to do.
Mary Costello’s novel Academy Street has won the Irish Book Awards Book of the Year 2014 and was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award 2014. I’d like to thank Canongate for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review.
In the 1960s, Tess, a young Irish woman, emigrates to New York to find her destiny. Her mother passed away when Tess was a small girl and so she grew up on the dreary family farm among her siblings and her gruff father. Like most people, Tess is looking for love, but for an introvert person finding friends can be a challenge. As she tries to build a home in the United States, it isn’t always easy to stay close to those she loves. Although this country enables Tess to live a life that would be impossible in Ireland, she is just as isolated as before.
Academy Street is a slow-moving tale with a main character who is great to identify with. Mary Costello paints a realistic picture of a woman’s life very similar to the lives of many lonely people out there. The novel’s only downside is its ending. Even though it is surprising, I don’t think it very original. All in all, however, Academy Street is a melancholic novel that will make you value your family and think about those less fortunate than yourself.
(3.5 magic beans)
I’ve been curious about Emma Hooper‘s debut novel Etta and Otto and Russell and James ever since I first heard about it in October. I was over the moon when Penguin Random House UK sent me a review copy. Thank you so much!
Etta, an eighty-two-year-old woman decides to walk thousands of miles from rural Saskatchewan to the Canadian East coast to see the sea for the very first time. Her understanding husband Otto waits for her and is confident that his wife will succeed, while their friend and neighbor Russell isn’t that patient and fears that Etta might forget who she is.
Taking only the bare necessities with her, Etta starts her walk through the Canadian wilderness, avoiding big cities and roads. Along the way, Emma Hooper paints wonderful pictures of Canada’s diverse landscape and you can certainly imagine walking through fields and along lake shores.
For all her life, Etta has been the one left behind while others went away, now she feels it’s time for her to finally see the rest of Canada. The fact that Etta starts this walk even though she occasionally suffers from memory loss adds tension to the novel and shows how determined Etta is to reach her goal.
In Etta and Otto and Russell and James Emma Hooper makes great use of flashbacks, letters and even recipes to tell Etta’s story and sometimes you can’t be sure if the things happening are real, imagined, or magical. Etta and Otto and Russell and James is not just another novel about an elderly person deciding to go for a very long walk, it has more depth than that. If you like stories that feel as if they were real, this book is for you.
A couple of weeks ago, I read Nick Hornby‘s latest novel Funny Girl. I was excited because I really liked High Fidelity when I was a teenager and hadn’t read any of his other novels since then. So I’d like to thank Penguin Random House UK for providing me with this book in exchange for an honest review.
In the 1960s, Barbara, a young woman from a seaside town in Northern England decides to move to London to become an actress. Unlike many other women, she’s lucky and is cast for a sitcom that will change her life.
Our main character Barbara, or Sophie as she calls herself later on, doesn’t have more personality than any of the other characters. Her storyline isn’t nearly as engaging as Tony’s, who is one of the scriptwriters struggling to find his true self. But whenever Tony’s plot line becomes interesting it is dropped just like it happens with other plot lines that might become too engaging.
Funny Girl has no climax to speak of, the plot is just slowly flowing along. It seems like Hornby hoped for the story to develop through the process of writing, but, unfortunately, that didn’t work out. All through the book I was waiting for something to happen and it didn’t.
Don’t get me wrong, Funny Girl does address topics like homosexuality and self-discovery and it gives a good overall impression of the British society and television in the 1960s, yet somehow this novel and I aren’t made for each other. So I’d recommend it to die-hard Nick Hornby fans or British-sitcom aficionados, but if you are none of those, I think you’d better pick up High Fidelity.
(2.5 magic beans)
Today’s the publication day of Chris Killen‘s new novel In Real Life. I had never heard of Chris Killen until Becca from Canongate Books recommended In Real Life to me and she really seems to know what I like. Thank you Becca!
When you reach thirty, you are supposed to live an orderly life, earn a regular income and, ideally, have a spouse and children. It can’t be that hard, can it? Until 2004, Lauren, Ian and Paul went to university together but a lot has changed since then. Now, ten years later, their lives aren’t what they imagined them to be. Lauren has to convince her friends that she’s not interested in blind dates anymore, Ian is broke and Paul’s life is a lie.
When I started reading In Real Life, I didn’t know what to expect. Fortunately, I soon found myself among three characters who seemed like close friends. We share the same hopes and fears and even though their lives are quite a mess, Lauren, Ian and Paul’s stories are still believable. If you are around thirty, you probably have a friend who is just like one of them.
In Real Life is an easy-to-read novel that jumps between 2004 and 2014 and therefore evokes feelings of nostalgia. You’ll have the ultimate reading experience if you are the same age as the three main characters, because you will be able to empathize with them and relate to their numerous worries. Chris Killen does a brilliant character study introducing three thirty-somethings who stand for a generation of adults striving to lead the ideal life that doesn’t exist. When you think your life isn’t easy, just see what Lauren, Ian and Paul’s lives are like and you’ll find that you are not alone.
Thank you Canongate Books for a review copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
This review is long overdue which resulted in my reading the book twice within the past year. :D But I didn’t mind, because Neil Gaiman‘s Fortunately, the Milk is a real treat.
When Dad stays out way too long on his way to get some milk, his kids want to know where he’s been all the time. What they didn’t expect is that he had a weird time-traveling experience with Professor Steg, a talking dinosaur.
Dad and Professor Steg travel through different centuries and countries and meet all sorts of characters who aren’t always friendly. Professor Steg is an intelligent and likable character with whom I would travel the universe right away and Dad is, well, a caring Dad who doesn’t shy away from the unknown.
Fortunately, the Milk is a witty and imaginative book that holds surprises on every page. Chris Riddell‘s fitting drawings are beautiful and enhance your reading experience. As this book is a great read for adults, I’m sure children will love it too.
Happy New Year everyone!
I really hope 2015 will be a great year for all of you. It can only get better :)
I’ve been very busy all through December preparing for Christmas, celebrating my birthday and visiting family. But I didn’t forget to read, so I’ve got a lot of reviews prepared for you. :)
The first year of Great War remembrance is over now and I read yet another Great War novel. This time it’s The Moon Field by Judith Allnatt.
In 1914, George Farrell, a young English postman decides to join the war in the heat of the moment when he learns that his crush Miss Violet is already promised to someone else. When George and his comrades arrive in France, they are surprised that they are to fight at the front like professional soldiers.
George soon finds himself knee-deep in mud. The cold and wet is creeping into his bones. Reading about the deafening noise of exploding shells and the stench of decomposing bodies is almost unbearable and you’ll start to understand that you can’t imagine what it must have been like for millions of soldiers who fought this war.
While George fights at the front, his best friend Kitty is at home doing men’s jobs and she really enjoys being able to do so. She knows what she wants but has to live a life restricted by society and class. While Kitty is the hard-working girl walking straight into a modern world, Miss Violet seems like a fading picture of a past era. She’s like a princess in a castle waiting for Prince Charming to come and save her.
The plot switches between George’s, Miss Violet’s and Kitty’s view In the beginning, Miss Violet’s plotline is most gripping, but that changes as soon as George joins the war. Even though it takes a bit to get going and you’ll definitely need a sturdy stomach, The Moon Field is a truly rewarding read.