Title: Ship Breaker
Author: Paolo Bacigalupi
Genre: Young Adult/Dystopian
Category: 10. Read a book labelled as young adult
Date Started: September 5th 2017
Date Finished: September 13th 2017
Set in the same world as Bacugalupi’s earlier book The Windup Girl, this novel is the first in a series aimed at young adults. Taking us back to America somewhere around New Orleans we get to explore the world of ship breaking through young Nailer’s eyes.
His job is dangerous. He crawls through the innards of big old ships, the kind we’re used to seeing photos of today huge iron ships that haul cargo all over the world. His job is to pull them apart though, just the small bits, copper wiring and such, then the so called heavy crew will come in and pull the ship itself apart.
One day he almost dies but he doesn’t, so he becomes known as Lucky Boy. Then he really does get lucky when a storm shipwrecks one of the new clipper ships just off shore and he is the first one to find it. There’s more wealth than he’s ever seen before. And then he finds something else that changes everything. Maybe he could even get out of this place and make it somewhere better.
Unlike the Bangkok we saw in the Windup Girl, New Orleans is completely underwater aside from the occcasional tip of a high rise building to be seen at low tide. Nailer and everyone he knows survives in tiny huts along the beach and everyone he knows works on the ships. He can only dream of what’s away from there. He dreams about the clipper ships that they see in the distance and wishes he was on one but his little corner of America has been forgotten by the rest of the world.
Rating: 4/5 stars (definitely be reading the other books in the series)
Title: Into the Water
Author: Paula Hawkins
Category: 14. Read a book published this year
Date Started: August 2nd 2017
Date Finished: August 4th 2017
I’ve been pretty excited to read this for a while after loving the Girl on the Train so much but I was just the tiniest bit disappointed in this compared to the Girl on the Train.
That being said. I really loved it despite not having quite such an unexpected twist at the end. I loved the character development in this one though, in part because I love books that are set in a small town where everyone knows each other so this town was perfect for me. Not just did everyone know each other but many of them had known each other as children as well. So there’s this feel of the past meeting the present and history repeating itself in a way.
I won’t give too much away, but the story follows a woman who’s estranged sister has died leaving her to look after a teenage niece she barely knows in the house they spent their summers in. At first the death seems to be a suicide in a popular suicide spot but it’s not that simple and of course there was some kind of foul play involved.
One of my biggest frustrations with the book though, is that the main character is painted as this ‘ugly duckling’ who lost some weight and grew up to be pretty. I’d love to see tv shows and movies that bothered to tell their story with a little more effort than this. I understand why it was done because it made her an easy target as a child for bullying and what not but there’s no reason it needed to be touted as some great transformation story.
But anyway, check out both these books because they really are great.
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Title: The Windup Girl
Author: Paolo Bacigalupi
Genre: Science Fiction
Category: 35. Read a book labelled as dystopian
Date Started: August 1st 2017
Date Finished: August 15th 2017
So this is the second book by this author I’ve read this year and the two books really couldn’t be much different if they tried. At least on the surface. This is actually the first novel he released way back in 2008. His novel Shipbreaker released in 2009 is kind of a companion book to this one aimed at a slightly younger audience. But it’s only when you consider these two in conjunction with his more recent novel The Doubt Factory that many similarities begin to emerge.
The Windup Girl (and Shipbreaker) are set in the not too distant future in a world that has suffered from both a rise in sea level leaving many major cities submerged, partially submerged or in the case on Bangkok (pictured above) surrounded by a huge sea wall. But this is only the start of the world’s problems. In bioengineering food horrible diseases have emerged killing many people and leaving many starving as well as many species of fruit and vegetables completely removed from the ecosystem.
The novel follows a white man in Bangkok trying to get access to the Thai seedbank under the guise of a factory owner. The novel switches between his story and that of his Chinese assistant, as well as government officials and a windup girl from Japan. A windup girl is essentially an engineered human who is highly prized in Japan but not so much in the streets of Bangkok where it is a struggle just to survive.
Slowly the stories of the characters converge leading to a huge climax. Though for me it was not the story that was a s compelling as the setting. Beyond the bioengineering and sea level rise there is also a huge step backwards in technology with the characters relying not on cars or fossil fuels but on the burning of calories. Though you’ll still see guns and ships as well as factories all of it is powered by people or animals rather than the traditional fossil fuels.
But to step back to the Doubt Factory and the similarities between the two. Doubt Factory took place in a society almost identical to our own but explored the dangers of huge companies telling lies to consumers and hiding behind ‘doubts’. For me, and I have to assume for Bacugalupi as well, this is like a precursor to the world we’re introduced to in the Windup Girl and Shipbreaker. What could happen if we don’t question companies and governments and engage with the world we live in as a whole. In essence, Bacigalupi’s works are a call for all of us to take responsibility for how we live and what our ambivalence could do to the world for our children and grandchildren.
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Title: Kafka on the Shore
Author: Haruki Murakami
Genre: Speculative Fiction
Category: 1. Read a book originally published in a language you do not know
Date Started: July 8th 2017
Date Finished: July 29th 2017
So this is my first experience with Murakami, I had no idea what to expect from it. It was an interesting read but definitely not what I was expecting. I’m not even sure how to describe this to someone who’s never read it.
The novel opens on a boy running away from home, he takes the name Kafka and ends up at a charming private library where he is helped by the people who work there. There is a secondary plot though which follows an older gentleman Nakata who receives a disability pension after an event in childhood left him unable to read. But, he can talk to cats.
Ultimately, at the conclusion of the book I’m left wondering how some things connect to one another and how much of what happened was actually real and how much was some kind of hallucination. And perhaps this is because apparently Murakami writes as if if a dream but also that he doesn’t have much of an idea of the bigger picture of the novel when he begins writing. This is kind of baffling to me as someone who has spent a lot of time writing. I’m not sure if I could ever write a book without knowing how it would end or what it meant. But perhaps that is part of the charm of Murakami’s work.
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Title: 4:50 From Paddington
Author: Agatha Christie
Category: 8. Read a book written by a woman
Date Started: July 5th 2017
Date Finished: July 7th 2017
This is the third and final of my Agatha Christie reads today and focuses not on the famous detective Poirot, instead it is one of her Miss Marple novels.
Miss Marple’s friend Ms. McGillicuddy is on her way to visit when she saw a woman being strangled on a train that passed by her very close to the station. Naturally nobody believes this older lady could have actually witnessed a murder except Miss Marple. But, and here’s the weird part, no body shows up. So this murder mystery is part search for the murderer and part search for the dead body.
This book is so short that I really don’t want to spoil any of the greatness by telling you more than that. But in traditional Agatha Christie fashion there is a twist at the end. And for once I actually saw the twist coming.
At any rate, there’s a chance there will be more Agatha Christie to come next year. So, what are your favourite Agatha Christie novels that I should be checking out?
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Title: Never Let Me Go
Author: Kazuo Ishiguro
Category: 43. Read a book where the main character goes on a journey
Date Started: June 29th 2017
Date Finished: July 5th 2017
It’s possible I would’ve have picked this up if it weren’t for this challenge. Okay, I wouldn’t have. But like so many other books that I’ve picked up because of this challenge, I actually ended up liking it.
The book switches between the past and the present intertwined. The past explores Cathy’s experiences at a boarding school which seems to be located somewhere in the British countryside. The present explores Cathy’s job as a carer where she occasionally comes into contact with people she went to school with.
Right off the bat though, the boarding school seems a little weird and not quite right. First off each student cultivates their own collections which they are able to purchase from sales at the school that happen quarterly. They don’t use money though, they use tokens which they receive in exchange for their art with better art getting more tokens. In turn, the art is sold at the quarterly sales in addition to items brought in from outside the school like clothes.
There’s also this constant mention of donations which is threaded through both the past and present stories, though it’s easy to make guesses what this means since Cathy is a carer for those who have made donations. She travels between care facilities working with her clients. Of course, after she’s finished been a carer she will make her own donations.
This book has the same feel as the Handmaid’s Tale for me, even though this society is a little more rooted in our current reality than the Handmaid’s Tale is. But, I think it’s safe to say that if you were a fan of the Handmaid’s Tale then you should give this a try.
Rating: 3/5 stars
Title: Murder on the Orient Express
Author: Agatha Christie
Category: 5. Read a book written before 1950
Date Started: June 24th 2017
Date Finished: June 28th 2017
This is the second of my Agatha Christie books for the year, this is probably one of the most well known Agatha Christie books out there. So well known that it’s getting a brand new movie to be released this year. In fact, that’s the reason I chose this book because I wanted to read it before seeing the movie. Of course, having read the book I’m now wondering about some of their casting choices but we’ll see. Okay, mostly I’m wondering about Michelle Pfeiffer who is playing a character who is described as ‘homely’, a word I never would’ve thought to associate with Pfeiffer. But we’ll see.
At any rate, the famous detective Poirot boards the Orient Express on the way to a job, but someone is murdered on the train and it’s up to him to solve the murder. There aren’t that many people on the train but the victim seems to have rubbed a lot of people the wrong way.
And again there’s a classic Christie twist at the end which is super fun and I won’t spoil it for you.
If you read no other Christie book then definitely read this one.
Rating: 4/5 stars
Title: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Author: Jonathan Safran Foer
Genre: Literary Fiction
Category: 13. Read a book written after 1949
Date Started: June 9th 2017
Date Finished: June 17th 2017
This book would probably be an emotional read for lots of people but it was incredibly emotional for me for so many reasons. The book follows the journey of 9 year old Oskar who lost his father in the September 11 terrorist attacks. Oskar is a charming narrator, incredibly intelligent with wide ranging interests and abilities far beyond the regular 9 year old. Though it is never addressed directly in the book the film adaptation apparently explains that Oskar has been diagnosed with Asperger’s which explains many of his unusual behaviors. This is the first aspect that was emotional for me because my fiancee’s brother has also been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder and is only slightly older than Oskar so many of his slightly obsessive interests are familiar to me.
The second reason it’s so emotional is perhaps a little more obvious, when I was a little older than Oskar I also lost someone on September 11. In my case it was not my father but my grandmother and she died from natural causes rather than a terrorist attack. But, it was also one of the biggest events to occur in my young life.
The novel explores both Oskar’s experiences trying to deal with the death of his father as well as his grandparents including the relationship between his grandma who he is very close to and his grandfather who he has never met. And both stories are just amazing to read for so many reasons. It’s hard to tell you much without spoiling this book for you but I cannot recommend it enough.
Rating: 4/5 stars
Title: Fated (Alex Verus #1)
Author: Benedict Jacka
Category: 38. Read a book in the paranormal genre
Date Started: June 4th 2017
Date Finished: June 8th 2017
The first in a series this book definitely makes me want to read the rest of the books. It’s such an easy read and kept me guessing right until the end.
I don’t want to give too much away from this first book but if you like urban fantasy then definitely give these a shot. Alex Verus is the main character in this series, he’s kind of shunned the magic world and keeps mostly to himself running a small magic shop reminiscent of the Magic Box from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, he stocks both legitimate magic items as well as junk items which attract the general public. But then he is drawn back into the magic world as one of the few who has the ability to look into the future.
As someone who loves books that feature any kind of time travel or precognition this was an absolute treat for me. It’s the type of book you can devour very quickly. In fact had I not been so busy it’s likely I would’ve gotten through this a lot quicker than I did. As of yet I haven’t had the chance to read any more from the series but I’ve added them to the list.
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Title: Lord of the Flies
Author: William Golding
Category: 15. Read a popular book, with at least 1 million ratings on any one website
Date Started: May 30th 2017
Date Finished: June 4th 2017
Okay, so I’m a couple of months behind on these posts. So expect a lot coming in the next couple of weeks. Starting with this classic. This one had been sitting on my shelf for quite some time after I bought it from a second hand bookshop many years ago.
I definitely have some problems with this book, largely with the portrayal of Piggy. When Piggy is first introduced it is with a description of an overweight child who nobody respects despite the fact that he certainly has the most reasoned ideas of anyone on the island. In addition to being fat Piggy has asthma and has trouble keeping up with the other kids when it comes to collecting firewood and hunting etc. He is basically portrayed as completely useless because of his weight and medical condition. Oh and of course, he can’t see anything without his glasses. So he’s 3 for 3. This seems like lazy storytelling to me, to make a character who is slightly larger than the rest of the kids, and who has a medical condition and to stereotype them as the weakest link. Of course, this book is a product of it’s time so this discrimination isn’t overly surprising. Of course, most people wouldn’t be surprised by it today either which is sad.
Okay, so despite my issues with the book I actually did enjoy it. While I’m sure that if I had read it at school for English, then I would have hated it. Perhaps, simply being able to read the book without being forced to examine every aspect of it is a gift, particularly with this novel which despite it’s relatively short length is surprisingly complex.
For anyone who hasn’t read it, I will not spoil the ending, although, I was somewhat surprised by it, but that’s a different story.
Rating: 3/5 stars