Friday, 14 October 2016

Reading, Lately: 5 Book Reviews

Reading, Lately: 5 Book Reviews (Book Pile)
It's super weird that I've never reviewed books on my blog before, because guys: I love to read. I love books. I could talk about books all day. I thought it was high time I got some book-related content up on ALG, so I've started with some reviews of the books I've read recently.

A few things:

Firstly, I like mini book reviews where a brief synopsis is included before the review rather than clumsily trying to avoid spoilers while writing my own summary, so that's the format I'm going for. Skip the italics if you don't like to know too much about a book before you read it.

Secondly, a friend of mine recently got his knickers in a twist about decimals in numerical scores ("just rate out of 100 if that's what you need"), so I'm restricting myself to the standard 5-star scoring system and I'm not allowed any half stars. Which is difficult.

Thirdly, I don't have photos of all of the books in this post because one is my sister's and one I lent to a friend. Forgive me.

Let's get on with it, shall we?

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer Cover

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind

In the slums of eighteenth-century France, the infant Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is born with one sublime gift — an absolute sense of smell. As a boy, he lives to decipher the odors of Paris, and apprentices himself to a prominent perfumer who teaches him the ancient art of mixing precious oils and herbs. But Grenouille's genius is such that he is not satisfied to stop there, and he becomes obsessed with capturing the smells of objects such as brass doorknobs and fresh-cut wood. Then one day he catches a hint of a scent that will drive him on an ever-more-terrifying quest to create the "ultimate perfume" — the scent of a beautiful young virgin.

I knew this was going to be one of my favourite books before I'd finished the first chapter, which doesn't happen often. The fact I of all people enjoyed a book written through the eyes of a man who does not feel emotion is testament to Süskind's skill as a writer, but I don't want to say much more because it's one of those stories you should go into knowing as little as possible, I think. I couldn't recommend Perfume more, even if it doesn't sound like your cup of tea.

I now also can't wait to pick up a copy of Pigeon by Patrick Süskind.

Rating: ★★★★★

Running Girl by Simon Mason

Meet Garvie Smith. Highest IQ ever recorded at Marsh Academy. Lowest ever grades. What's the point? Life sucks. Nothing surprising ever happens. Until Chloe Dow's body is pulled from a pond. His ex-girlfriend. DI Singh is already on the case. Ambitious, uptight, methodical - he's determined to solve the mystery - and get promoted. He doesn't need any 'assistance' from notorious slacker, Smith. Or does he?

I love a good young adult novel every now and then, and I LOVE a good crime thriller, so I had high hopes for Running Girl. Though while I didn't hate it, I also didn't love it. The characters felt a little clunky at times (is this the book or are teenagers just cliches?) and I didn't warm to any of them, particularly the protagonist, Garvie Smith. This can be fine (case in point: Gone Girl), but it felt as though we were meant to forgive him for being, essentially, a selfish teenager with an attitude problem, because he has "a double-take sort of face", but really I just want to give him a slap and his mum a hug for putting up with his bratty bs while I'm at it.

It was about the right pace for a crime thriller, though I did find some of the twists and turns a little forced. I try not to expect non-YA from YA, but it's hard. It's gripping in an easy-read kind of way (I read it in a matter of hours, despite its size and weight). 3 stars, or 2.5 if Niru isn't reading this.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Cover

Harry Potter And The Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne & John Tiffany

It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn't much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband, and father of three school-age children. While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.

As I tweeted after I finished it, I loved Cursed Child, but I was never going to not love it. I hear you, cynics and haters, and I get it, I really do, but I got joyful tears in my eyes at one stage 'cause I was just so happy to be back in the wizarding world. It does read a little like fan fiction, the way Ron was written was a disappointment and the whole time turner thing did feel like a bit of a cop out, but I still loved it and I'd still recommend every Potter fan reads it.

The format takes a little while to get used to if, like me, you don't often read plays, but it's still an incredibly quick read - partly because you can't NOT read Harry Potter all in one excited sitting, and partly because the play has a conversational rhythm that you naturally find yourself falling into place with. I'm a reasonably speedy reader but I opened the book at 11:30 at night and finished it before I went to bed a couple of hours later.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Oryx And Crake (MaddAddam #1) by Margaret Atwood

Pigs might not fly but they are strangely altered. So, for that matter, are wolves and racoons. A man, once named Jimmy, lives in a tree, wrapped in old bedsheets, now calls himself Snowman. The voice of Oryx, the woman he loved, teasingly haunts him. And the green-eyed Children of Crake are, for some reason, his responsibility.

I loved A Handmaid's Tale and I'm big on dystopia in general, plus a few of my most trusted book advisors recommended it, so I had high hopes for Oryx and Crake. Assuming you're gonna love a book before you start reading it can often come back to bite you in the ass, but, fortunately, it didn't this time; I loved this book and I - queen of getting distracted and Netflix addict - could not put it down.

It's a pretty terrifying concept and Atwood writes the world so beautifully that the fear is very, very real. I loved the retrospective look over Snowman's life - much more than I liked Snowman himself, though that wasn't an issue - and we come to understand the unfolding of events piece by piece with a "big reveal" type storyline; something that, if done well, I love.

That said, my only issue was the pacing. It felt so slow to start with and I feel like we miss out on so much character development in the first half that I was desperate for by the end. Atwood's writing makes up for it, though: she's incredibly talented and I can't wait to read more of her work. Luckily, there's two other books in the MaddAddam trilogy.

If you're into dystopian worlds and speculative fiction, you'll like this book; extremely compelling and well-written.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Under The Skin Cover

Under The Skin by Michel Faber

In this haunting, entrancing novel, Michel Faber introduces us to Isserley, a female driver who cruises the Scottish Highlands picking up hitchhikers. Scarred and awkward, yet strangely erotic and threatening, she listens to her hitchhikers as they open up to her, revealing clues about who might miss them if they should disappear. A grotesque and comical allegory, Under the Skin takes us on a heart-thumping ride through dangerous territory — our own moral instincts and the boundaries of compassion — to present a surreal representation of contemporary society run amok.

Eery from the start and strange throughout, this book is truly brilliant. Under The Skin explores humanity, power, morality and empathy with humour and artistic pacing. It was the juxtaposition of the ordinary and the extraordinary that I fell in love with, and seeing our world through the eyes of Isserley, our protagonist, whose insights on the banal were so beautiful and poignant at times that I found myself reading them twice or three times over. I wish I could immerse myself in her world again.

I actually watched the film first, something I rarely do, but luckily the adaptation is very different in terms of plot and much more surreal in nature, so I was still relatively blind going into it. I'd say this is crucial, so try not to read too much into it. Another one for lovers of speculative fiction.

Rating: ★★★★★

Any book recommendations for me, friends?

Find more books I'm reading on Goodreads.

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