The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Just finished reading the Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.  Before I put one more thing down I must firstly say that I adored this book and I think I now love Neil Gaiman.  Not that I’m about to turn into a bunny boiler or start stalking him – no, I will love him from afar and show my love by reading all his books and annoying the hell out of everyone about how good they are!  Simples.  This man is brilliant.  His writing is so damned easy to read and his imagination is unbelievable.  Yet again I wonder what took me this long to pick up this book.  For starters it’s based in a graveyard – and I actually like graveyards, I don’t know if that’s a bit creepy but there it is.  It’s also based firmly in the land of make believe which I love to read about.  I think to be honest I didn’t pick this up because it’s a children’s book.  I haven’t got anything against children’s books, I’ve certainly read enough over the course of time, but sometimes they can be just too ‘young’ in the way they’re written.  This book isn’t like that.  The writing is a joy to read, the graveyard and the ghosts practically come off the page and, almost in the style of children’s animated films, there is definitely some more subtle adult humour and areas that I don’t think children would pick up on – for example Silas?  So, in that respect it has something for a more rounded audience.  Anyway, who am I kidding, I love Harry Potter and the Pullman Trilogy – and I’m pretty sure they’re children’s books!

Anyway, I’ve gotten ahead of myself.  The Graveyard Book starts off with a heinous murder, almost an entire family killed in their home by a sinister and dark man.  Only one survivor, a toddler, who unwittingly, and as a result of the curious nature of one that age, has crawled out the front door – which was oddly left open.  This little child manages to toddle along to the local cemetery at the top of the hill  and in doing so unwittingly finds a strange bunch of unlikely saviours.  The ghosts of the cemetery come to his aid and grant him their protection and the freedom of the graveyard.  However, although the ghosts who adopt him together with the strange darkly clad man who acts as his guardian, do their best to protect him – the murderer is still at large and won’t be happy until he’s finished the job!  For the next few years this will be the boy’s home and henceforth he shall be called ‘Nobody’,  Nobody Owens, although to his friends, family and readers he will become known simply as Bod.

Basically, this is a coming of age book and given that Gaiman, in his acknowledgements, praises Rudyard’s Jungle Book as one of his favourite childhood books the inevitable comparisons I suppose are to be expected.  We basically have a young boy, homeless and without family being adopted and brought up in unconventional surroundings and with a family of a different nature.  This is only a short book and so we only spend short paragraphs with Bod at various stages of his life but all of them are pertinent to the tale, all of them are really enjoyable and unfortunately – all of them end too soon!  I think it’s great to see Bod as he moves through his childhood.  He’s an inquisitive toddler, as he becomes a little older he loves his family and the wealth of friends he has in the cemetery, then he becomes a little more difficult to manage and quick to annoy as he moves into his teenage years until finally he has really outgrown the confines placed upon him.  And, it’s at this point that things become a bit more dark and the murderer returns to the scene.

I really loved Bod.  He’s such a great character.  He’s innocent and he’s good and kind.  He’s brought up in this totally strange environment but as it’s all he’s ever known it’s all perfectly natural to him.  Gaiman also manages to introduce other characters who are great to read.  We obviously have all the graveyard ghosts who we briefly touch upon including Bod’s adopted parents, The Owens.  We even have a ghost dating back to Roman times and all of this gives Bod a rather more in depth knowledge of history than most people – a fact that becomes a little obvious when he joins school.  We have the witch Eliza – who had a great time relating her own story, also the rather, at first, stern Miss Lupescu who occasionally stands in as Bod’s guardian and of course we have Silas – Bod’s full time guardian.  Very mysterious and dark, a little sad but a great protector of  Bod throughout the story.

On top of this there is just this wonderful array of short stories included in Bod’s growing up, for example the Chapter headed ‘The Hounds of God’ which brings to us the Ghouls Gate or the chapter in which Bod makes a new friend and introduces her to ‘the barrow’ or more to the point the mysterious creature that lives beneath!!  I don’t want to give anything away here but even the Order that the murderer belongs to is such a great take.

Anyway, clearly I enjoyed this book very much.  Throughout it put me in mind of so many enjoyable reading experiences whilst not actually appearing to be like any particular one.  For example, the friendship between Bod and Scarlett for some reason brought Pip and Estelle to mind from Great Expectations.  I also had thoughts of the Labyrinthe – not that the book is like that, or Great Expectations for that matter – just that it made me think back to those particular reads.  I really enjoyed when the ghouls were travelling with Bod and carrying him and throwing him from ghoul to ghoul as they travelled – very reminiscent and a sort of homage to the scene in the film Jungle Book where Mowgli is being passed through the tree tops by the apes.

So, well written, funny, creepy and sometimes even a little sad.  Good characters, a little bit hair raising (just in a couple of parts) and overall downright enjoyable.  What’s not to love?

Read it.

The Graveyard Book

The Graveyard Book

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Ring by Koji Suzuki

Just finished reading Ring by Koji Suzuki, the novel that inspired the movies.  I’m sure this novel needs very little introduction or plot outline but basically this is a story of a journalist who, when investigating the death of four young teenagers who all died under mysterious circumstances, becomes much more embroiled than he ever imagined or would have believed possible.

I really enjoyed this book, but, for those of you who’ve seen the film and are expecting a horror story – this isn’t it.  This story is much more based on the investigation carried out by Asakawa, the journalist who becomes involved in uncovering the mystery surrounding the video tape that causes the death, within one week, of anyone who watches the content but fails to carry out the charm. It’s more pyschological thriller than horror.

What I particularly liked about the book was the style it was told in – which was very simple and unadorned.  I would say it almost read like a journalistic report and perhaps that was the intention given Asakawa’s profession?   I also liked the journey that we went on with Asakawa and the friend he enlists to help him with his race against time.  Gradually each part of the mystery unfolds and we are given a trail of breadcrumbs to follow.  I must admit that the explanation in the book is much better than the film and even the name of the book/film is given its true meaning and was one of those ‘ahh’ moments.  The book then ends with a twist which I won’t elaborate on other than to say I thought it was a small moment of genius.

In terms of the characters, I didn’t particularly find either of them likable – but this didn’t detract from my enjoyment.  The main character Asakawa is not a bad character in particular although I wouldn’t say he had anything redeeming about him or any particular endearing characteristic that would make you want to call him your friend.  His friend Ryuji comes across as a particularly repugnant character – although for some reason he is more readable than his ‘best’ friend and at the end you’re given some food for thought that leaves you in doubt as to his true nature.  I couldn’t help wondering why the characters in the film had been changed to females??

So, whilst I wouldn’t class this as a horror book I would say that if you liked the film you should give this a go – just for the sake of completeness.  I think the plot and eventual conclusion are far superior to the film(s) and whilst I wouldn’t say it was a chilling read it was certainly intriguing enough to keep things moving very quickly onwards to the final outcome which I was really keen to reach.

In terms of criticisms – I don’t really have any particular criticism, I suppose I wouldn’t have minded a bit more of a creepy tale – but I think that’s based more on my expectations given the film and once I’d got over myself and realised that the book was going to be different I was able to enjoy the read much more.

If you were to ask whether I preferred the movie (the original) or the book – mmm, a bit of a struggle.  Normally my immediate answer would be ‘the book’.  Always (well, nearly always).  However, in this particular instance I think the producers have made an excellent job of turning this story into something really sinister and to be honest, down right scary.  But, I thought the explanation in the book was much more understandable and the motivations come across much better.  So – split feelings on this one.  I think I enjoyed both equally.

Thanks to Jason at Genkinahito for the recommendation.

Ring

Ring

Fracture by Megan Miranda

Just finished reading Fracture.  This is a very readable book which really became quite gripping.  The pages seemed to turn themselves and the tension builds quite quickly to a strong ending.

The main protagonist is Delaney.  She’s 17 years old, very intelligent, her best friend (Decker) is, quite literally, the boy next door, she’s part of the ‘in-crowd’ at school (albeit in a quiet and wallflower type of way), she has her life ahead of her and it looks like she has a good future in store.  Then, she sets off one day with Decker to meet the rest of the group.  Taking the short cut they cross over the frozen lake when a terrible accident occurs, the ice cracks and Delaney is swallowed by the freezing water.  Put bluntly Delaney is under the water for a good few minutes, enough to give her brain damage, enough to put her in a coma and enough to make the doctors believe she won’t wake up.  But, miraculously, Delaney does wake up and against the odds she seems to be doing okay and suffering no ill effects.  Looks can be deceptive however and Delaney has not returned to the land of the living unchanged.

Basically, Delaney seems to be drawn inexplicably to people who are dying.  Of course she doesn’t understand what is happening to her and she’s floundering around.  She can’t control her strange urges that draw her to people in the throes of death but one thing that is for sure is that turning up on a regular basis at the scene of death doesn’t cast her in a favourable light.  People are starting to suspect her, her parents are beginning to have misgivings, can they trust her?  Her doctor thinks she is suffering hallucinations due to the brain trauma and on top of that there seems to be somebody mysterious skulking around following her movements.

I found this story strangely eerie.  I think it’s described as a paranormal story but I would say it only veers slightly in that direction.  The majority of the book is based on the relatively everyday – it’s just the strange nature of Delaney after returning from the dead that makes it different.  It’s a bit spooky and a bit tense in that you don’t know any more than Delaney what is going on but you can just sense it’s all going to go horribly wrong.

In terms of criticisms I would say that Delaney and Dexter could be a tad infuriating in their odd denial of their feelings for each other!  Maybe if something is as plain as the nose on your face it becomes invisible – can’t see the wood for the trees, etc, etc.  Also, I could have shaken Delaney as she did seem to let herself be pulled into situations which you could see from a mile away were not going to end well – maybe Delaney has a problem with perception.

Seriously, I didn’t have a lot of negatives with this book.  It was gripping, it was tense, there was emotion and chills.  A very enjoyable debut.

Rating -A

Fracture

Fracture

Book Lists, Challenges and New Year’s Resolutions

Posted On 1 January 2012

Filed under Book Reviews, Challenges for 2011

Comments Dropped 10 responses

Looking back over 2011, which was a good year for books!  I had a few reading challenges which all went fairly well and managed to read over 100 books during the course of the year.  I think during that time two things have become apparent for me.  Firstly, I think my favourite type of book to read definitely falls into fantasy/adventure and secondly, I realised how much fun it is to join a few group read alongs.  I also found quite a few really good and interesting blogs where I have picked up some really good advice and sound recommendations for books to read.  So, thanks to all those lovely book bloggers out there for that.

I’ve looked back over the books I’ve read and wanted to choose my top 10.  It wasn’t easy but these are my choices for 2011 in no particular order:

  1. Desert Spear by Peter Brett – I love this series and can’t wait for No.3 to come out.
  2. Unwind by Neal Shusterman – can’t believe I didn’t read this sooner.  It’s a brilliant book
  3. The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss – enough said! Brilliant book, I think I liked it even more than The Name of the Wind
  4. Bloodstone by Gillian Philips – Firebrand was one of my favourite books of 2010.  I love GP’s sithe and Bloodstone was very dark and brooding (and who am I kidding – I love Seth McGregor, he is ‘the man’!)
  5. Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch – I love the world that this author has created, The Lies of Locke Lamora was an amazing book to start the series and Red Seas Under Red Skies returned Jean and Locke to us with further adventures on the high seas.
  6. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor – what a brilliant story teller.  I was totally immersed in this world, the descriptions and the creatures are amazing.
  7. Ashes by Ilsa J Bick – this is a fantastic novel, totally gripping and horrifying.
  8. A Game of Thrones by George RR Martin – finally started the series off – absolutely brilliant, can’t wait to read No.2
  9. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman – I love this book and wish there were more so I could return to this world again!
  10. Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence – dark and twisted but frankly unputtdownable!

That was so difficult.  I want more on my list but I want to stick to 10!

I think I should mention the series that I’ve enjoyed reading this year as well:

  1. Patricia Briggs – Mercedes Thompson books – just love this series
  2. Jim Butcher’s – Dresden Files – found Harry Dresden and intend to keep reading his series
  3. Rachel Caine’s – Morganville Vampires, still loving this series, especially Myrnin!
  4. Gail Carriger’s – Parasol Protectorate, brilliant, original, witty
  5. Sookie Stackhouse – True Blook novels – good fun! (if you can call vampires, werewolves and fey – fun!)
  6. Melissa Marr – finished the Wicked Lovely series and really enjoyed it.
  7. Holly Black – curse workers – love this series, can’t wait for No.3
  8. Michael Grant – The Fayz – Plague was the best so far!

So, in 2012 I’m hoping to read some more Sci Fi – I’m going to join in with a Sci Fi Vintage reading month which is being hosted by The Little Red Reviewer and also reading some other sci fi for the 2012 Science Fiction Experience being hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings.

Also, going to continue with my 100 book challenge over at Book Chick City and will probably still take part in the British Book Challenge and 2012 Debut challenge hosted by The Story Siren.

On a personal note – I will eat more healthily (repeat 100 times) and I will exercise (repeat 100 times!).  Starting with my healthy challenges I have decided to abstain from alcohol for the month of January!  The gauntlet is down. Don’t get the wrong idea – I wouldn’t say I have a drinking problem, just think it’s a good idea to have a bit of a clean out after the indulgence of Christmas!

Hope everyone has a great 2012.

😀

 

Twelve by Jasper Kent

Wow, just finished Twelve by Jasper Kent.  My last book of 2011 and what a great book to end with!  I will say that this book will probably not be to everyone’s liking (if you’re a bit squeamish) but I thought it was really good.

Twelve is a blend of historical fiction and supernatural chiller/horror.  Personally I found it veered more towards horror than chiller as there is quite a bit of blood and gore plus some rather unsavoury scenes that would probably put some readers off.  The setting is Russia, the year 1812.  Napoleon is invading Russia with his Grande Armee.   Four comrades in arms adopt drastic measures to try and help combat this foe but what they have actually invited amongst their midst is not everything that it at first seems.

This story is told by Aleksei, in the style of a memoir almost and brings to us the creatures  from old peasant tales.  Monsters whispered about behind closed doors as a warning – creatures from folklore known as the Voordalak or as they are known in this story – Oprichniki.  The Oprichniki have been enlisted to work undercover causing chaos and mayhem – I suppost a little like the resistance or underground movement – except in this case there are only 12 of them so exactly how much chaos they can cause you would think would be minimal – except of course that not everything is as it seems.  I’m not going to go to much further into the plot other than to say the mercenaries that Alexsei and his friends have sought help from could prove more deadly than they suspect (I don’t think I’m giving anything away by admitting that the Oprichniki are actually vampires – but this is a fact of which Alexsei and his comrades are ignorant).

What I like about this book – the writing is really good.  The author displays a really good knowledge of this particular period of history and provides enough background to place you firmly in the throes of Russia during war and also later during the harshness of winter!  I found the historical aspects really interesting and the fact that it was Russian history felt like a welcome change in setting and, the other bonus with the writing is that it didn’t feel too modern which I find a bit distracting when reading a historical novel – I want to feel something for the era I’m reading about and be able to picture it.  So, obviously I liked the writing and the historical aspects.

In terms of the characters the story really focuses on two – Alexei and Iuda.  Interestingly, the protagonist Alexsei is not exactly an endearing sort of chap – which at first I found a bit of a struggle as you do spend quite a bit of time in his head – he’s quite selfish he certainly isn’t loyal (n some respects that is) and those are two of his better-lesser characteristics!  But, in spite of this he is aware of his shortcomings and does have quite a bit of internal conflict over them.  Also, whilst saying Alexsei is is not endearing I will point out that I didn’t hate or dislike him – I was just sometimes a bit surprised by his thoughts and actions.  Then we have Iuda who is a totally horrible character and is supposed to be so.  He has no conscience whatsoever and is ruthless in the extreme – it also seems that he has the measure of Alexei to a certain extent which does give him an edge in terms of causing damage.

But, what I liked about this story the most, was the different levels that you can read into it.  Throughout the novel we read about monsters but I think the author clearly wants you to think about the different levels of monstrosity.  Here we are confronted with 12 monsters – and they really are pretty horrible.  These are the good old fashioned monsters of bygone stories not as portrayed in more contemporary novels, flesh eating and blood sucking with no thought about the loss of life – and yet, by comparison with the wars raging around them they actually caused very little death.  The wars that the Oprichniki use to hide their natures behind are no less horrible and cause far more human casualty.  Then we have Alexei, okay, I’m not saying he’s a monster but when we look at Alexei he certainly isn’t perfect is he?  He’s married with a child and yet carrying on an affair with a prostitue over which he has no regret or guilt about whatsoever, he readily admits that he wants no responsibility for her, he is turned on by her apparent wounds received at the hands of one of his own friends and also he’s a bit of a voyeur!  Okay, so he’s not a monster because of those things and he does have the grace to at least ponder on them, but he is the good guy in this story!!  Iuda is horrible – but he never pretends to be otherwise, he doesn’t cover himself with a veneer of respectability in the way what Alexei does – he is monstrous.  So, different levels of monster is what I was thinking.  Bit of a tangent there but I couldn’t help thinking about it particularly as Alexsie was racing around the country and witnessing the horrors of war around him.

In terms of criticism.  Well, I don’t particularly find this a problem but worth mentioning – this is a long novel, with a lot of internal reflection so if you want your action all bam bam bam then this may not be for you.  Here, it’s more bam, make a cup of tea, bam.  But, I don’t mind that personally, just acknowledging it’s annoyance for some.  Also, I didn’t think that the Oprichniki were as formidable as they seemed.  But having said that I think the author was trying to get back to a more old fashioned type of vampire (with no real supernatural abilities), can live for ever (providing they’re not staked!), must avoid sunlight, sleeps underground, etc.  And, finally, I would have liked a bit more hair-on-the-back-of-your-neck-raising creepiness.  I’m not denying that there is horror in spades but I like that neck tingling thing that makes you break from reading because you feel like someone is watching you!

All that being said I thought this was a really good book and I will definitely continue with the rest.  Not meant as a comparison to the novels themselves but it puts me very much in mind of Bram Stoker’s Dracula – because of the monsters, Elizabeth Kostovo’s Historian (especially in terms of length) and an element of the Hitchhiker thrown in for good measure (purely for the nastiness)!

I think that if you want something a bit different combining a good tale of treachery and vengeance combined with a good historical novel, well written then this could be for you.

Rating A

Twelve

Twelve

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