Friday, 24 February 2017

The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon

Publication date: 27th January 2015
Published by:  Bloomsbury
Genre: Sci-fi/Dystopia (YA)

Publisher's synopsis
Paige Mahoney has escaped the brutal prison camp of Sheol I, but her problems have only just begun: many of the survivors are missing and she is the most wanted person in London...

As Scion turns its all-seeing eye on the dreamwalker, the mime-lords and mime-queens of the city's gangs are invited to a rare meeting of the Unnatural Assembly. Jaxon Hall and his Seven Seals prepare to take centre stage, but there are bitter fault lines running through the clairvoyant community and dark secrets around every corner. Then the Rephaim begin crawling out from the shadows. But where is Warden? Paige must keep moving, from Seven Dials to Grub Street to the secret catacombs of Camden, until the fate of the underworld can be decided.

The Mime Order is the second instalment to The Bone Season series.  I first read it when it came out in January 2015 and I read it again more recently (in January 2017).  I had completely opposing experiences/views of the book with each read.  I was rather disappointed with it the first time, possibly because it was so different from the first book, whereas, I enjoyed it a lot the second time around.

2017 Review

Like all good sci-fi/fantasy fiction, this book is wonderful escapism. I felt I had entered a new world where I was completely immersed and was in no hurry to leave.  The novel is quite complex and rather sophisticated (much like The Bone Season was but in a different way).  There are many layers to this story: there is what is happening in the clairvoyant community (including a murder mystery intertwined in the plot), then there is the constant threat of Scion and what is likely to result in a clairvoyants' revolution, and there is the danger posed by the Raphaim.  

The writing style is quite descriptive (as opposed to demonstrative), with a lot of explaining of both historical and current significant events.  Some readers prefer a 'show' rather than 'tell' approach, but I believe there is merit in both styles - it is all about the context (in this case descriptive is necessary because a demonstrative approach would take volumes of books).  That said, the first time I read this book parts of it felt a bit like an academic lecture, whereas it did not seem that way the second time around and I found it really interesting.

A novel that is novel, and not-so-novel
I have read quite a lot of fantasy fiction but I have never come across one centred on clairvoyants before this series, making it a novel reading experience. That said, I would argue there are influences coming through from other popular YA fantasy/sci-fi stories.

I alluded to this in my review of The Bone Season, but here are two examples pertaining to The Mime Order:

  • Twilight - I would say the relationship between Paige and Warden is as disturbing and he is as much a threat to her.  Although not a vampire, Warden is immortal and, instead of blood, he requires a clairvoyant's aura to sustain him.  He resists taking it from her (and other clairvoyants), much like Edward does.   He is part of the Ranthen, Raphaim who reject the cruel ways of their own kind (much like the Cullens).  Unlike Twilight, the romance in this book scores zero on the fluff-o-metre (see below). 
  • The Hunger Games - Paige is emerging as the face needed to promote and persuade the clairvoyants to unite with the Ranthen to expose Scion and defeat Nashira. Spoiler Alert!  Also, the reason for the meeting of the Unnatural Assembly is a competition that requires clairvoyant contestants to fight to the death in front of hungry for violence spectators.

Raphaite + Clairvoyant + Love = ?
Writing romance is a lot harder than one may think.  Where fluff (i.e. sentimentality) is concerned, you need a balance.  The trouble with this book's complete absence of sentiment is that it renders Paige and Warden's intimate exchanges unconvincing and, in my view, is a weakness of the book. 

Nerd alert! It is a tricky one because we just don't know enough about Warden or where he comes from.  We know that, although humanoid, the Raphaim do not procreate like humans. There is no such thing as a Raphaite child since they are not birthed (they are produced in adult form by the Netherworld itself).  Perhaps, therefore, (from a biological point of view) there is no need for sex (and therefore no need for intimacy). As a result, I struggle to understand Warden's motivation for his relationship with Paige. 

On the other hand, gender exists among the Raphaim and we know matrimony exists - since Warden is the Blood Consort. The way a Raphaite is created, and the existence of the golden cord (the bond that connects two souls) suggests the aether has something to do with the why and the how; but what? These are questions that need answers if Paige and Warden's relationship is to make sense (to me).  Perhaps all will be revealed in future novels.  So far, the narration has been first person perspective, so unless the stories switch to a different voice (in this case Warden's), I see a problem getting answers to those questions.

The next instalment
The Song Rising, is out the first week of March. I am finding it hard to control my excitement, but, perhaps this time, I will do well to do just that to avoid disappointment, and maybe even read it twice before I pass comment [embarrassed face].

Friday, 17 February 2017

Crime Fiction: Holly Seddon's Try Not to Breath

Publication date:  7th January 2016
Published by:  Atlantic Books Ltd
Genre: Crime / Mystery

Publisher's synopsis

You won't be able to put it down.
Just remember to breathe.

Alex is sinking. Slowly but surely, she's cut herself off from everything but her one true love - drink. Until she's forced to write a piece about a coma ward, where she meets Amy.

Amy is lost. When she was fifteen, she was attacked and left for dead in a park. Her attacker was never found. Since then, she has drifted in a lonely, timeless place. She's as good as dead, but not even her doctors are sure how much she understands.
Alex and Amy grew up in the same suburbs, played the same music, flirted with the same boys. And as Alex begins to investigate the attack, she opens the door to the same danger that has left Amy in a coma...

My Review
Try not to Breath is being compared to The Girl on the Train, and there are similarities.  Alex, like Rachel, is struggling with alcoholism and they have both experienced the same tragedy and misfortune in their personal lives.  The key difference is that in TGOTT, these experiences are the cause of Rachel's alcoholism, whereas, in TNTB, the experiences are effects of Alex's alcoholism and we are not given an explanation for the cause.  We know she started drinking in her mid teens and it seemed to carry on throughout her adulthood and got out of control before she realised it was a problem - which, in my view, is more plausible.  We also see the reality of Alex's situation (including scenes when she is drinking and the ugly after-effects), and how she skillfully manages to hide it and give the impression to those around her that she does not have a problem.  For me, Alex is a strong and sympathetic character who I could empathise with and I willed her to get better; whereas Rachel is a weak and pathetic one that I did not care about at all. 

Is Alex redeemed?  Well, that would be a spoiler.  I will say that her investigation into what happened to Amy, and her determination to discover the truth provides her with a purpose in life, as she seeks justice for a girl (almost) all but forgotten.

Unlike the other books like this that I have read and reviewed in the past, this one actually reads like a 'whodunnit' crime mystery.  I found it affecting, in that Amy's story in particular haunted me for a day or two after I had finished it.  Also, TNTB served to help me understand further why I disliked TGOTT so much - because with all the publicity, praise and hype about that book I was expecting something that reads more like this one.

Hooray! At last I have found another crime fiction novel I can highly recommend (Gone Girl) being the other.

Friday, 10 February 2017

A Day at the Office by Matt Dunn

Publication date: 3rd December 2013
Published by: Lake Union Publishing
Genre: Romance

Publication synopsis
For most people, Valentine’s Day means flowers, chocolates, and candlelit dinners. But for five of Seek Software’s employees, it’s shaping up to be as much fun as a trip to the dentist.

Long-term singleton Sophie has a crush on colleague Nathan but worries he doesn’t even know her name. And is there really any point in her sending a card to the man who organises the annual office Anti-Valentine’s party?

Overweight, insecure, and still living with his mum, Calum’s desperate for a girlfriend. He’s recently met the woman of his dreams online but his exaggerated profile might mean tonight’s first date could also be their last.

Mark’s been besotted with Julie since she kissed him at the office Christmas party. While she doesn’t seem to remember a thing, today might be his best chance to remind her. If only he could work out how.

A Day at the Office is a wise, wonderfully moving, and laugh-out-loud novel about life, love, and relationships by bestselling novelist Matt Dunn.

My review
I got hold of a copy of this book having read and reviewed the follow-up, A Christmas Day at the Office, in December 2016, which I had thoroughly enjoyed.  I liked the characters and thought it would be good to spend a bit more time reading about them.  It was unfortunate that I had read the sequel first as it meant I knew the outcome to each of their stories ahead of time, so I would recommend reading them in the right sequence. 

A Day at the Office is a light romantic novel packed with humorous scenes.  Some of the jokes were a bit transparent - in that you could see them coming ahead of time, e.g. when Calum acquires a packet of condoms and puts them in his jacket pocket, you know somewhere down the line a gag is coming that will feature said condoms.  The humor was a bit hit & miss, and I did not enjoy that much of it was at the expense of the female characters, in particular, poor Sophie who is sexually objectified several times, purely for comedic effect.  There is also overweight 'hairy Mary'.  Mary has nobody to love but Mr Whiskers, her cat, who she refers to as 'him indoors', much to the amusement of her work colleagues (and intended to amuse us readers).  Then there is a 'cougar' type character that Calum has a blind date with who considers herself to be a bit of a 'MILF' (after all, we all know that dating sites are full of older women who are sexual predators looking for dates with boys young enough to be their sons, and not the other way around!).   If this had been balanced by some negative male stereotypes that we could also have a good laugh at, then fine.  Even though some of the male characters are presented as not particularly handsome or attractive, they don't get objectified or ridiculed for their shortcomings in the same way.  Instead, their shortcomings are presented in a self-deprecating way by the characters themselves, which encourages us to like them and laugh with rather than at them.

I quite liked the book (although, I should be embarrassed to admit it).  I am generally anti-Valentine's day because I think it is mostly a marketing ploy, but this book has (almost) convinced me the occasion has some value.  I enjoyed reading about the characters again and was amused by some of the comedic scenes.  A guilty pleasure, methinks.

A Christmas Day at the Office is the better book; although not completely absent of stereotypes and more jokes at poor Sophie' s expense.

Friday, 3 February 2017

Just One Year by Gayle Forman

Publication date: 10th October 2013
Published by: Dutton Children's
Genre: Contemporary Romance (YA)

Publisher's synopsis
When he opens his eyes, Willem doesn’t know where in the world he is—Prague or Dubrovnik or back in Amsterdam. All he knows is that he is once again alone, and that he needs to find a girl named Lulu. They shared one magical day in Paris, and something about that day—that girl—makes Willem wonder if they aren’t fated to be together. He travels all over the world, from Mexico to India, hoping to reconnect with her. But as months go by and Lulu remains elusive, Willem starts to question if the hand of fate is as strong as he’d thought. . . .

The romantic, emotional companion to Just One Day, this is a story of the choices we make and the accidents that happen—and the happiness we can find when the two intersect.

Caution - this review contains spoilers of the first book Just One Day.

My Review 
Just One Year is not so much a sequel to, but rather the opposite reflection of Just One Day.  The latter was Allyson's story about meeting and falling for Willem while on vacation in Europe. We know from the first book that after a magical day together, Willem disappeared and Allyson had no idea why.  Did he abandon her?  Or did she in her anxiety of waking up the next morning and finding him gone, give up on and abandon him?  Just One Year is Willem's story. It tells us what really happened. 

I enjoyed this novel as much as the first one and for the same reasons.  

For me the best parts were when Willem is on his travels - in Mexico and India, his experiences in those places and his interactions with the people he met on the way.  We get an insight into his character: we learn about his upbringing and this offers some understanding of his wander lust.  

While reading the first book, I found myself speculating about him and this companion novel revealed that some of what I came up with was correct, while offering revelations where I got things wrong.  I quite liked that about the about the book. 

These are both coming-of-age stories.  Where Just One Day is about self-discovery and the pursuit of true love, Just One Year tackles multiple themes, including loneliness, grief, falling in love for the first time and the pursuit of true love.  Gayle Forman manages to cover these themes without sentimentality.  They are both fantastic books that I can't recommend highly enough.  

There is a 3rd novella entitled Just One Night, which I have also read.  I wasn't so keen on that one.  I would say this book is for readers who do not like stories that have an open ending: stories where the conclusion is to some extent left to the reader's own imagination.  Just One Night attempts to tied things up nicely.  It did not work so well for me and I found it somewhat indulgent, to be honest.  It is very tempting to get the novella if you enjoyed the novels because you want to experience more of these very likeable characters.  But, personally, I was left wishing I hadn't.