One thing you should know about Nick Hornby is that he is insanely - and I mean insanely - quotable. It's the reason he's my go-to author when I'm in desperate need of something clever and funny and insightful. He has the uncanny ability to articulate things that you've always thought about, but never been able to put in to words.
Also, just look at that cover.
That being said, I was more than a little disappointed with Juliet, Naked.
When I picked up the book - I won't lie - I expected it to be a lot like High Fidelity (which you really should read, if you haven't already). In fact, I was rather counting on it. I haven't found a single author that talks about music like Hornby does and the reason that is, I think, is because he delves into the why of it all. Why do we spend hours labouring over the perfect playlist, and creating an atmosphere that will suit the music instead of the other way around? Why do we fiercely defend our favourite bands and automatically and unreasonably dislike the people that don't think as highly of them? Why are we so possessive of the music we listen to and so picky about who we introduce it to?
Juliet, Naked - quite simply - is about music. And our relationship with it. How we sometimes go overboard and it turns into an obsession. How we sometimes claim ownership over a band or an album, something I find myself extremely guilty of doing. And how doing all of the above is okay while still being not okay. You know?
Nick Hornby has a way of talking about dysfunctional people and dysfunctional relationships that leaves me shaking my head in wonder. There is no condescension. None. Things just are as they are, and the characters he introduces us to are extremely real - they mess up, they make bad choices, and sometimes things get better, but sometimes they don't. They make no apologies for their behaviour, and that - that - is why I love reading about them.
“But then, that was the trouble with relationships generally. They had their own temperature and there was no thermostat.”
The reason I didn't like this book as much as I thought I would has more to do with me than the actual book, I suppose. I loved that it made me ask myself all those questions and shift uncomfortably in my chair. I also loved that it made me feel like I wasn't alone in that aspect. It seemed like I was having a conversation with these characters rather than just reading about them. But then, as the book went along, the story arc seemed separate from all these conversations about music and love and loneliness. It distracted me. I didn't care what happened to the characters next, I just wanted to hear them think. And they were increasingly engaging in more doing and less thinking. And that's where the problem lies. Hornby is a thought-and-dialogue-crafting word-ninja. When it comes to his characters actually doing things, I find myself slightly less enamoured.
What do you say about a book that makes you want to jump in and take care of the characters? To give them a hug and tell them you’re there for them and it aches not to be able to?
Ishiguro has been on my to-read list for quite a while now, but I was very particular about this book being my first – a sort of gateway into the world of Ishiguro-loving-awesomeness, if you will. Why was I so particular? I saw the movie earlier this year as part of my 50-50 Challenge.
I’ve heard a lot of people praise this book to the stars, always along the lines of, “Ishiguro is amazing. You have to read his work!” But WHY is this man amazing? What is it about him ? I’ve never heard a single bad review of this book, and I never thought it strange until I started reading. I’ve always just nodded eagerly and made a mental note to get my hands on the book.
So, let’s look at this man, shall we? For the first fifty pages or so, I felt nothing. Sure, it was interesting, but his writing wasn’t particularly scintillating – certainly nothing I’d be impressed by having just read Angela Carter.
Was it the characters? No, not really.
Was it what he was writing about? (I’m not telling you, this book has been falsely advertised as a lot of things and it makes me very angry.)
“Get on with it!”, you’re thinking. “Tell us!”
Honestly? I don’t know.
Never Let Me Go is the most beautiful, depressing piece of art I have ever come across. It isn’t one whose magnificence you’d shout from the rooftops, but one you’d carry around with you, stare at lovingly from time to time, flip through pages long after you’ve finished – just to remember the journey it took you on.
It’s the kind of book you’d recommend with sparkly eyes and a secretive little whisper. The kind that you’ll think about long after you’ve finished reading and occasionally shake your head in wonder.
Is there anything extraordinary about this book? If I have to be honest, no. But it’s a special book. A very special book. A very, very, very, very…you get it. I expected to weep buckets, because that’s what happened when I watched the movie for the first time. But I was dry-eyed for the most part. There were just two sentences that set me off. Two sentences, two choked sobs. That’s it. But in those few moments, I felt such a deep connection to Kathy, that it felt like..I can’t tell you what it felt like. I don’t have the words.
WOW, this woman can write.
Deliciously creepy. I couldn't sleep until I was done, and I sure as hell couldn't sleep after.
Disney retellings will never be enough again.
Let me start by saying I did like Love Story. So you really can’t hold this against me.
I hated this book. HATED it. And I very rarely hate a book. Sure, some books fail to live up to my expectations, some are just disappointing after being hyped up and receiving rave reviews, and some just aren’t my kind of books. With Oliver’s Story, the problem was this : it was plain terrible.
I’m reviewing this book a week after reading it in the hope that some of the anger would have subsided. I can’t say that it’s worked, but at least I’m not employing every swear word I know.
1. Oh, where to start? If there was a list of things so cheesy you could make ten cheese burgers with it, this book would make it on that list. At the very top.
2. Take Oliver himself. He’s whiny, annoying, and he stalks the first female he decides to let in after Jenny died. Because he thinks she’s keeping secrets from him. The hell? They’ve gone out ONCE. And he thinks he’s entitled to know everything about her? Please.
3. Listen to this:
“For some unfathomable reason, Oliver, I like you. But you are impossibly impulsive“
“You’re not too possible yourself,” I answered.
I’m sorry, what? What does that even mean?! “You’re not too possible yourself”?! Erich Segal, have you completely lost it?!
4. I can’t handle so many stuck-up snobs. I just can’t. I don’t care if that’s how all corporate heiresses and people born into truckloads of money act (and somehow I doubt they’re thaaaat pretentious), but all the conversations about money in this book made me nauseous.
5. There’s this bit towards the end of the book where they visit Tokyo. And I swear, it feels like he’s looked up the place and Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V-ed everything he could find. Or he actually visited Tokyo and somebody gave him a dreadful brochure. I don't care, I don't owe him the courtesy of making him excuses.
I liked Jenny. I did. If this was actually a book about him coping with Jenny’s death, it might have been better. I’ve never cared about Oliver much, and I doubt I’d ever be able to read Love Story again because of this.
None. Oh, wait. At least I’m one book closer to my year’s goal. I suppose that counts.
Final verdict: Dreadful. Absolutely dreadful. I've never read anything this cliched or cheesy. Ever.
If you see this on a shelf in a bookstore and think, "Hmm. Maybe I'll just pick it up to see how Oliver's doing," DON'T. PUT IT BACK. TRUST ME ON THIS.
Brilliant. BRILLIANT. I have never laughed so hard in my entire life. You can't conceal the fact that you're reading this - it will have you in splits, snorting like a warthog. DO NOT read this under the table in class. Or at work, for that matter.
I'm just itching to use my Punctuation Repair Kit.
Amulet has been on my to-read list for a very, very long time. After getting nowhere with The Umbrella Academy and I Kill Giants (I always find that I can’t finish a book every time I put it on my Goodreads currently reading shelf), I was desperate. So I picked it up, with high hopes and a nice comfy cushion, trusting in all the outstanding reviews I had come across on Goodreads.
Boy, was I disappointed. A lot of reviews compared this to Bone, and while I can see similarities here and there, the fact of the matter is: Bone is an all-ages book — everybody who reads it should will like it. That isn’t the case with Amulet. True, it’s got breathtaking illustrations, but that isn’t all a graphic novel is. You need something to back the art.
If I was ten/eleven, I’d love it. It would be my favourite-est book of all time (granted, “all time” is very short when you’re that age), but I struggled through this. What made this series unbearable for me was knowing that there was a time I would have enjoyed and raved about it for the next few years. I get the feeling that I’m being a little harsh, but I’m upset with the fact that I had to try so hard to love it – to think like a twelve-year old – and it still didn’t do anything for me. You shouldn’t have to try. See, with Bone, it’s effortless. Jeff Smith takes a story we’re sort-of familiar with, and he still manages to make it work. Kazu Kibuishi falls short, just a tiny bit.
And you know how I feel about spoilers? Well, for the first time ever, it won’t matter if I tell you what the book is about, because it doesn’t matter what age you are, you can see where this is going.
Family moves to Grandpa’s (haunted) estate/mansion/tower-y house thing. Goes on a cleaning spree. Girl finds library and mysterious book. Magical things happen, and she ends up with a stone. Monsters kidnap mother; Girl and Brother try to save her. On the way, a lot of self-discovery and various other clichéd fantasy plot points are highlighted – cruel king disappointed in son, son trying to do good, The Resistance, Super-Awesome-Ninja-Fox, ancient city situated in the clouds, all that stuff.
I constantly felt like he was insulting a child’s intelligence. I’ve grown up on a healthy diet of Roald Dahl’s work, and when I re-read them now (yes, I’m sentimental about these things), I can still connect to every word. Every single one. I’m twenty, and Dahl makes me feel like a twenty-year old reading a fun book. Twenty, not twelve.
I’ve read the first three volumes, and I’m not sure I want to continue. A part of me is curious to see if he turns the whole story around, and a part of me is past caring. As beautiful as the illustrations are, I’d rather find something that can give me pretty pictures with a backbone.
Final verdict: Anyone below the age of thirteen will love this. Apart from that, the artwork is the only selling point. Otherwise, I wouldn’t bother.
“Suppose we pick a name for him, eh?”
Caius Pompeius stepped over and eyed the child. “He looks a little like my proconsul, Marcus. We could call him Marcus.”
Josiah Worthington said, “He looks more like my head gardener, Stebbins. Not that I’m suggesting Stebbins as a name. The man drank like a fish.”
“He looks like my nephew Harry,” said Mother Slaughter…
“He looks like nobody but himself,” said Mrs.Owens, firmly. “He looks like nobody.”
“Then Nobody it is,” said Silas. “Nobody Owens.”
This has, without a doubt, got to be my favourite Gaiman after Sandman.
From the very first sentence, you’re hooked. Being Gaiman, he’s managed to get a wonderful illustrator to complement his writing. (Dave McKean? You’re awesome.) But now you’re thinking – because that’s all there is on the page, and you need to take a minute to mind-yell about how this is the most amazing first page ever – Why on earth does a “children’s book” start this way? And you realise you don’t care, because it’s Neil Gaiman, and you trust this strange man with stranger ideas – and if my mum had read this to me when I was a kid, I’d think she was the definition of cool.
C.S. Lewis said, “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” I agree. And this guy seems to be able to find the perfect balance. While I still read some of my Famous Five books from time to time, the only reason I enjoy them is because they bring back memories. Half the time, I skip entire chapters. With The Graveyard Book, I read it twice, back to back, and I might read it again once I complete my reading challenges – it’s that good. It’s engaging, and beautifully written, plus I don’t feel like he’s “talking down to me” – and that is my definition of a good children’s book.
Sidenote: The reason I’m spending so much time on this is because I think every kid should try reading this – and I know parents will be wary because it’s about Nobody (Bod, for short) being raised in a graveyard. But if your child reads Lemony Snicket, or Philip Pullman, or Harry Potter, even, I’d give them this (and read over their shoulder).
So. What is this book about, I hear you ask. Well, what does any book that has to do with a child in a graveyard have? It’s got an endearing mother-figure, a dead poet that took his revenge on the world by not letting anybody read his work, ghouls that name themselves after their first meal, and the man Jack. Several men Jack, actually. (Or is that man Jacks? This is going to keep me up at night.)
I’ve got to say, Gaiman has a real talent for creating characters that stay with you long after you’ve finished reading. I have a weakness for mysterious, intelligent men and strong female characters, and his books have got plenty of those. There was Morpheus in Sandman, The Marquis in Neverwhere, and Crowley (An Angel who did not so much Fall as Saunter Vaguely Downwards) in Good Omens. Also, Door, Hunter, and Coraline. In this book – there’s Liza Hempstock, Miss Lupescu and Silas.
“There were people you could hug, and then there was Silas.”
“Repeat after me, there are the living and the dead, there are day-folk and night-folk, there are ghouls and mist-walkers, there are high hunters and the Hounds of God. Also, there are solitary types.”
“What are you?” asked Bod.
“I,” she said sternly, “am Miss Lupescu.”
“And what is Silas?”
She hesitated. Then she said, “He is a solitary type.”
I absolutely adore Silas. You’re never told what he is, though. Someone here called him a vampire, and while he does have some vampire-y traits, I needed to be sure. So I tried looking it up on Gaiman’s FAQ section, and this is what I found:
Q: What is Silas in The Graveyard Book?
A: Silas is a Very Important Character in The Graveyard Book. Also, he is Bod’s Guardian.
Well played, Mr.Gaiman. Well played.
Even though I’ve been reading other books in between, I’ve really been going through a whole Neil Gaiman phase. It started when I let talks of how I would love this guy, how his writing was nothing like I’d ever read before, how positively awesome he is get to me. So I finally picked up Good Omens, which he co-wrote with Terry Pratchett (who I have yet to read). And then I read Neverwhere. Next on the list – The Graveyard Book.
So, do I love him? Yes.
Does he write like anybody else I know? No.
Is he absolutely, positively awesome? Beyond a doubt.
Why, then, have I been avoiding Sandman? Erm.
Quite honestly, I don’t know. Usually, when I hear about a graphic novel, I look up the premise, get excited, and find some way to devour read it. And I’ve loved almost every single graphic novel that I’ve read to date (well, except Blankets). So, you’d expect me to jump up and down like a crazy Oompa-Loompa at the mention of a marriage between Neil Gaiman and the glorious art of storytelling that is the graphic novel, yes? No.
Before I read Volume #1, if you said the word “Sandman”, I’d picture a weird hybrid of the sand man/monster from that pathetic excuse for a superhero movie (*cough* Spiderman 3 *cough*) and the actual Sandman (the dream kind) from a Powerpuff Girls episode. Does anybody remember that one? Creepy guy in striped pajamas? Broken teeth? Can you blame me for not wanting to read it, especially when Neil Gaiman can disturb the hell out of you without even trying?
I was re-arranging books in the store, and it was the comic section’s turn. Tentatively, I picked up the first volume. Turned a few pages. Started reading. Finished reading. My shift had gotten over, and I had stayed for two extra hours. Without even noticing. Lucky for me, it had been a slow day.
I was expecting it to be a whole lot of things. I was expecting the Sandman himself to be a lot of things. What I wasn’t expecting was this.
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, may I introduce you to Dream a.k.a Morpheus a.k.a The Sandman- King of Dreams, and one of The Endless – He Who Wears Black T-Shirts And Leather Jackets And Does So Many Things That Leave You Blubbering Like An Idiot And You Want To Cry In Frustration Because You Don’t Know Him Personally And/Or You Want To Be Like Him?
If you’ve read my reviews (if you can call them that) of Good Omens and Neverwhere, you’ll know that I have a problem with how they both end. That I was craving that staring-blankly-at-the-wall-with-the-what-the-hell-just-happened feeling that I thought each book deserved. With the Sandman series, Gaiman hits that feeling on the head with every issue. I’ve read four volumes so far, I’m just starting the fifth, and it leaves me gaping like a fish every five minutes. That man is a genius, and I don’t use that term lightly. He’s a factory of ideas, producing them in such overwhelming detail that I’m half grateful that he exists and writes like he does and half extremely jealous of his ability to.
And the illustration! Yow! I loved the first two volumes more than the others so far, but all of them are incredible. They’ve got to be, anything less and the whole series would come crumbling down.
They’re addictive, these books. And even though you want to just gobble them all up, you realise how important it is to stop – and savour every panel, every moment you spend reading. I can stare at Morpheus’ cloak for a whole ten minutes. And after every few pages, you are forced to pause, shut the book, and think. Because this is not just a book. They are not just stories. Oh, no. You get the feeling that something of consequence is happening. That these books are changing something inside you, somehow. That you have to acknowledge the change, lest it slip away and forever be lost to you. That the way you see things is going to be very different the moment you accept that tentacle the books are extending to you and all that the invitation implies.
You know how people sometimes ask you if there was one book/book-series that you could read for the rest of your life – that and nothing else – which book(s) you would choose? And you think, “What? What is wrong with you? I can’t pick a favourite, go away and stop asking me these rubbish questions”? Yeah, well. I’d choose Sandman.
I usually read late into the night and sleep when the sun comes up, but this guy changed it for me. For the first time ever, I was scared to read a book. All alone. In the dark.
Mind you, it isn’t actually scary. (Yes it is.) I wasn’t trying to prevent myself from having nightmares or anything. (Yes I was.)
I loved it. But. I’ve given the book three stars. Let me explain why.
I had the same issue with Good Omens. I don’t like predictable endings. And even though I’ll forgive an ending if everything that leads up to it is excellent, Neverwhere just wasn’t a Good Omens. Yes, I was hooked. Yes, I forgot to eat. Twice. Yes, I got angry phone calls from people I’d promised to meet. This book is brilliant, it really is. But with the last forty pages or so, I wanted the escalation to be worth it. I wanted to know that all those hours I spent reading it would result in an explosion that would leave me staring at the wall blankly for the next half-hour. What I didn’t want was to be able to tell exactly what was coming.
However. A good ending isn’t the be-all and end-all (heh heh) of a book, and there’s something about Neil Gaiman you should know, if you don’t already. This guy can paint pictures in your head. Really.
With most fantasy novels, it’s fairies and pixies and elves (not all, don’t hurt me) and while I enjoy novels like that, I don’t really see them in my head. There are images (from movies, photographs, Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter related fan art) I can link to the author’s description, but that’s about it. With Gaiman, he actually inserts pictures in your head – and I know this sounds absurd – but he manages to do it. Only, he chooses gritty, everyday landscapes to weave his stories into, instead of glimmering, airy-fairy ones. Don’t get me wrong, I love the latter – it’s just that, even when you have light and dark in those novels, the darkness is still above your everyday existence somehow. It’s something you wish you were a part of, and know you can never be. Neverwhere wasn’t like that. It was the most real fantasy novel I’ve ever read. That’s what made it creepy. That’s what gave me chills. I know I’m never going to be a Warrior Princess/get a letter inviting me to Hogwarts/plunge into a book by reading it beautifully. But I know there is, in fact, a city that exists “below” mine. A city full of dubious characters, more than dubious transactions. A city that is dark and scary without even having to be in a book. Add a little imagination to that picture and you have Neverwhere. Easily accessible. You and I could just as easily slip through the cracks and find ourselves in a world that scares the living daylights out of us.
Final verdict? Incredible. Despite the slightly disappointing finish.
This was my favourite book for the longest time. Yes, yes, I was at that beautiful age when I had a favourite book, but that's beside the point. I read this again, recently, and I'm glad to say that my opinion of it hasn't changed. While it's not my favourite book of all time anymore (you know how it is, the older you are, the more books you've read, the harder it is to play favourites), it still deserves five stars, and for every pre-teen/teenager to read it. No, scratch that. Adults will love it, too. It's smart, funny in a very..odd way, and you can't help but fall in love with Mosca.
Brilliant bit of writing. Beautifully thought-out characters. I need to get me a goose.
Consider a book with the following character introduction:
Metatron (The Voice of God)
Aziraphale (An Angel, and part-time rare book dealer)
Satan (A Fallen Angel; the Adversary)
Beelzebub ( A Likewise Fallen Angel and Prince of Hell)
Hastur (A Fallen Angel and Duke of Hell)
Ligur (Likewise a Fallen Angel and Duke of Hell)
Crowley (An Angel who did not so much Fall as Saunter Vaguely Downwards)
Dog (Satanical hellhound and cat-worrier)
Tell me you wouldn’t gobble it up in one sitting. And it gets better.
Good Omens – The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch - starts with the warning : “Kids! Bringing about Armageddon can be dangerous. Do not attempt it in your own home.” Instantly, I knew that I was going to be awake all night.
This book is wonderfully written. Each sentence (and I really do mean it, each one) is beautifully crafted, dripping with a sense of humour that is as outrageously funny as it is intelligent. And it doesn’t seem like two people wrote it (which they did – Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. (I’ve finally read Neil Gaiman!)), which is a testament to how well written it is. Seamless. And all this is not keeping in mind that the book was written mostly by, in their words, ” shouting excitedly at one another down the phone a couple of times a day for two months.”
Good Omens is a book about What Happens When You Misplace The Antichrist. About The Earth Being A Libran. About Ineffable Plans. And about Leaving Armageddon In The Hands Of An Eleven-Year Old. It’s got Angels that get drunk. Tapes that change into Best Of Queen albums after two weeks. Incredibly Spanish Spanish Inquisitions. A Stomach-Clutching Laughing Reader.
I have issues with how the book ends, but we’ll just let that go, shall we? Read this one for how it’s written. Read it when you know you aren’t going to be interrupted. Read it because it’s an instant pick-me-up, and everything is just so much funnier when you’ve finished.
I’m going to leave you with my favourite bits.
“Anyway, it’s like with bikes,’ said the first speaker authoritatively. ‘I thought I was going to get this bike with seven gears and one of them razorblade saddles and purple paint and everything, and they gave me this light blue one. With a basket. A girl’s bike.’
‘Well. You’re a girl,’ said one of the others.
‘That’s sexism, that is. Going around giving people girly presents just because they’re a girl.”
“Many phenomena – wars, plagues, sudden audits – have been advanced as evidence for the hidden hand of Satan in the affairs of Man, but whenever students of demonology get together the M25 London orbital motorway is generally agreed to be among the top contenders for exhibit A.”
“Along with the standard computer warranty agreement which said that if the machine 1) didn’t work, 2) didn’t do what the expensive advertisements said, 3) electrocuted the immediate neighborhood, 4) and in fact failed entirely to be inside the expensive box when you opened it, this was expressly, absolutely, implicitly and in no event the fault or responsibility of the manufacturer, that the purchaser should consider himself lucky to be allowed to give his money to the manufacturer, and that any attempt to treat what had just been paid for as the purchaser’s own property would result in the attentions of serious men with menacing briefcases and very thin watches. Crowley had been extremely impressed with the warranties offered by the computer industry, and had in fact sent a bundle Below to the department that drew up the Immortal Soul agreements, with a yellow memo form attached just saying: ‘Learn, guys…”