Post-HP Rowling: Does She Still Have It?

JK Rowling

The incomparable Jo Rowling, one of my heroes (or heroines, whatevs).

Hello, my followers and friends (or random visitor — hopefully a potential follower and/or friend)! Sorry I haven’t uploaded anything lately: I’ve been so busy lately finishing my first year of uni, and it’s just getting busier with Christmas approaching, but I’ve made myself sit down and write this double-review that I’ve been meaning to do for ages.

J.K. Rowling, author extraordinaire, has released two novels since she finished her global phenomenon that is the Harry Potter series. You might be wondering, are they any good? How can you compare anything to Harry Potter? Why would you even try? Well, I’ll try my best to answer these questions (and more!) in my reviews of The Casual Vacancy (2012) and The Cuckoo’s Calling (2013).

Published firmly in the genre of contemporary/literary adult fiction, The Casual Vacancy was never going to escape the limelight that Harry Potter had created. Never. Not in a hundred years. It’s a sad, but true, fact that Rowling will never be judged solely on her writing ability any longer (she even tried to write under a pseudonym — which lasted all of three months), that she can never escape from her own shadow. It’s the saddest part of fame, I think. And, for that reason, The Casual Vacancy has got a disgusting rating on Goodreads, and is overall viewed as a disappointing next-novel from such a literary great.

That said: I don’t agree at all! I think it is a magical novel, with a charm all its own. I think it isn’t very well liked because people pick it up for the wrong reasons. They pick it up because it is by J.K. Rowling, and not because it is something that sounds interesting to them, or is part of a genre they enjoy. I guess I’m one of the lucky few (or so it seems) that thoroughly enjoys well-written fantasy AND contemporary/literary fiction (or, anything well-written, really).

The Casual Vacancy cover

I am in love with this cover…though I’ve always been a sucker for both English landscapes/cityscapes/villagescapes and curly lettering. It’s a pity I have a different edition…

The characters are so clearly drawn, so amazingly crafted, I feel as though I know them. I feel as though I could pass them on the street, wave at them as they put the bins out across the road from me, smile at them as they serve me my food, cry at their funeral…

Everything ties in together blissfully. I get excited when seemingly trivial details become important later on, and I especially loved how different characters’ stories intertwined (one of my absolute favourite parts includes a girl, a river and a computer — not to be too explicit for those of you who are still to read it). And yet, everything ties in together realistically. I think that’s important in a novel claiming to be contemporary fiction — fiction doesn’t mean that you can make anything up, it still has to remain consistent and plausible. I think Rowling does this wonderfully.

There is one thing that I got slightly annoyed with in the book, and that is the use of parentheses. Rowling apparently loves to use parenthetical asides, and long ones at that. There’s nothing wrong in itself about that, but there were times when she should have been using parentheses (I thought) but she didn’t. Maybe I was missing the point of them? Aside from that (which wasn’t really that big a deal, just me being a pedant as usual), I absolutely loved this novel.

I don’t want to say too much for fear of spoiling the magic (of a different kind) that is this novel, but please, if you haven’t read it and it does sound like something you’d enjoy (a heavy, populated novel focussed on the politics and passions of a supposedly idyllic village) please do read it. And if you have read it, please leave me a comment below! Do you agree or disagree with my judgement? I’d love to hear from you!

How JK Rowling came up with the name Robert Galbraith?

I know this is completely stupid, but it made me chuckle. Apparently Rowling’s always liked the name Robert, and Galbraith was just a surname that had stuck with her since childhood. Funny how it turned out to literally translate as ‘famous stranger’.

And now onwards, to review “Robert Galbraith” and his debut foray into crime fiction. I must say, I would never have picked this up if it hadn’t been revealed that it was Rowling in disguise, so I am kind of glad for that. But I’m not glad that a lawyer from the firm of solicitors she uses (presumably in her publishing contracts and rights of reproduction and whatnot) was the one that leaked her secret to the world, through Twitter. Shame on them, whoever they are. I hope they don’t feel good about themselves (although they probably do). It really wasn’t fair to blurt out somebody else’s secret, one which had been expected to remain confidential for at least a little while longer.

BUT, like I said, if it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t have picked the book up. And not just because I’m not big on crime fiction, although I do love a good Agatha Christie or Dorothy L. Sayers (yes, shut up, I like golden age stuff, what of it?), but mainly because I hadn’t even seen it in bookstores yet. I’d never heard of The Cuckoo’s Calling before she was outed. She wasn’t even given half a chance. Not even a year, or enough time for it really to gain a following. And it makes me grieve that Robert Galbraith died before he really had a chance to live.

Enough doom and gloom, though, eh? Except, well, this novel is about a lot of doom and gloom. There is a lot of death (though none of it happens during the story: it’s all about the consequences of death). There is a lot of brokenness, and the characters felt whole and rounded out, and Rowling did her trick again of bringing these people to life, like they could actually be living, breathing human beings. And I think, for her, they are, which is maybe one of the reasons why I love her and her writing so much.

It’s so hard to review this book without giving away anything crucial or repeating what’s on the blurb already, but, I must say, I love the chemistry between Strike and Robin. So not cliché, and everything it should be. Just perfect. It was agonisingly slow to get started, but the payoff was worth it, and it makes sense that the plot has to be set up so the reader feels comfortable in the created world. I mean, I got why it was so slow, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. Hopefully the sequel (and Rowling herself did say a sequel is coming out next year) will be better, without having to set up the protagonists as well as everyone else. I really am looking forward to the sequel, even though I struggled a bit to get through the first third.

The Cuckoo's Calling cover

The Cuckoo’s Calling…the cover doesn’t give much away, but I do love it.

Would I recommend it? Mm, hard to say really. If you like crime fiction in general, if you like crime fiction that it’s possible for you to solve as well (like a Sherlock Holmes story, the clues were all there), if you like descriptive writing and characters as compelling as the plot…if you like any or all of these things, then you’ll like the novel. But, if you wouldn’t ordinarily pick up a crime novel, then it’s probably not your cup of tea. Then again, if you’re wanting a book to read that’s a bit outside your comfort zone, I’d say give it a go. I’m not that into crime fiction, and I still thoroughly enjoyed it. Have you read it? Did you like it? Please, leave a comment below!

So, has Rowling still got it? I think she most definitely has, and I look forward to many more novels with much excitement. Plus, I can’t wait for The Casual Vacancy BBC1 TV series that seems to be in the works, and I don’t understand why she can’t write a sequel to that as well (she might be, I don’t know, but it doesn’t seem like it). I mean, if they can do a season two of Broadchurch, why not a sequel to The Casual Vacancy? And I’m sure there’s probably going to be an adaptation of The Cuckoo’s Calling somewhere along the lines. In other, slightly related news, I am so unbelievably excited for the film version of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. It’s going to be fantastic!

The Casual Vacancy: ★★★★★ 5 stars

The Cuckoo’s Calling: ★★★★☆ 4 stars

Happy reading! May all your Christmas presents be books and things you love!

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Quick Lit Review: HIGH FIDELITY

HIGH FIDELITY novel cover

What a strange, wonderful, depressing book! It’s a coming-of-age story narrated by middle-aged Rob, audiophile extraordinaire. He is unmarried, childless and possesses a wry, self-deprecating humour, but his charisma is what drives the narrative forward.

The novel has been called ‘humorous’ and ‘satirical’ by some, but I feel it speaks of a deeper truth, one that everyone is scared of: to have achieved nothing in this lifetime. It questions the meaning of existence and the purpose of humanity.

HIGH FIDELITY film poster

But don’t let that put you off! Nick Hornby’s acclaimed novel is famous for its many allusions and references to music, but don’t let that dissuade you either. I know next to nothing about music, and I got along swimmingly.

The ending is particularly fitting, I feel, and concludes the story wonderfully.

Also, there’s a movie, with a young John Cusack and Jack Black and middle-aged angst and a brilliant soundtrack (or so I’m led to believe)…

The Weight of Souls — Book Review

As I sit here, hot chocolate by my side and rain thundering outside, I am glad to say that my holidays have been very full. I’ve had five weeks of church camps, acting at the local theatre, family and friend get-togethers, job hunting, movie watching and book reading. I also got my uni marks for last semester back, and I’m pleased to report that I went extremely well in all of my subjects. (Yeah, I know, I’m real modest.)

Somewhere in there I received an ARC in the mail: a book for me to review, free of charge. I think it’s obvious that I was excited. Plus, I received a little card signed by the author and a little ghost charm (it’s themed, don’t worry). And it was a Strange Chemistry book—an imprint of Angry Robot, a publisher I love. So, awesomeness in a little cardboard package arrived at my house that day.

Bryony Pearce’s novel The Weight of Souls gripped me immediately with its story of ghost-avenger and struggling teenager, Taylor Oh. It had the perfect mix of fantasy and reality, of ancient curses and broken friendships. It took me a week and a half to read it, but I had read half of it in two days before I left for a four-night camp, which was followed by two nights of performances in the play I was in. Cut me some slack, you fast-readers you.

Cover for WEIGHT OF SOULS

A pleasing mix of China, Egypt and magic…

The main character is of Asian descent (‘Oh’ is generally a pretty good indicator of that, as is the cover), and the rest of the character cast is pleasantly multicultural. But don’t let that sway your opinion one way or the other, because it really doesn’t add much to the story. The most her being Chinese means is that bullies can direct racial slurs her way. Anyway, it was nice to read something where different ethnicities aren’t that big a deal. As they shouldn’t be.

Know that this is a YA novel. It shouldn’t make a difference, because the best YA should be universal, but I do feel like the plot is dumbed down a bit. And I’m getting really sick of the ‘and they all lived happily ever after’ endings. I mean, the novel is obviously set up for at least one sequel, but does everything have to go so swimmingly all the time? My favourite ending of any story would have to be at the end of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials — but no spoilers for those of you who haven’t read the trilogy yet!

All in all though, this was an enjoyable read, and I look forward to reading the second one in the series (as there has to be after an ending like that!). I’m tossing up between three and a half stars, or four stars. Meh, what the heck: four stars it is. Well done Bryony!

Stuck in the doldrums of literature…

So I haven’t finished a book in…ooh, four months? I know, I know. But hear me out. I’ve started so many books, but then I always get interrupted with life: uni, chores, friends. Not that I mind, but I wish I could just finish a book for once. I think once I finish a book, I’ll get back into the swing of things, and perhaps be able to keep my attention focussed long enough to read more.

See, I’ll start a book, read maybe 250 pages, then leave it for a few days (or weeks, whatever) and when I come back to it, I feel lost and confused — but not bothered to start it again. I’m a slow reader; I can admit this freely and without shame. However, it does frustrate me that to enjoy a book (even only a slim one) can take me up to a week, and that’s without reading anything else.

Image

Maybe not THIS slow…

I’ve decided to put away all the books I’d started on, and to just begin afresh. It made me feel so much better. I didn’t realise the pile of books was haunting me so much. If you’re interested, the books I’ve started (some of which I’ve even read over half of) include (but are not limited to):

And yesterday I started E.M. Forster‘s Howards End, but got distracted by a second hand bookstore in a hospital and am now reading Robert Cormier‘s I am the Cheese. Not to mention that I’ve got about a dozen more books to read for uni for next semester. So much for a break. When will this madness stop?

Image

And I read faster than this statue does. I think…

Does anyone else have this problem? Please tell me I’m not the only one! (Comments and/or encouragement would be more than welcome.)

I’m back! With a review!

Okay, so after a bit of a hiatus in my blogging activity, it’s [relatively] safe to say that I’m back after being sick, making the most of my last few days of freedom, and getting ready for university (which I start on Monday! *squeal of excitement* ).

But, while I was going to review a couple of things…I’ve forgotten what exactly I was going to review. I do remember one thing I was going to review though, and that is Susan Hill‘s gothic ghost story, The Woman in Black. The past few weeks in Australia have been far from sunny, although it was supposedly ‘summer’. Heh. Figures. This means that it has been perfect weather for hot chocolates and ghost stories! I haven’t read The Turn of the Screw or the similarly-named Woman in White, so I thought this might be a nice introduction into the gothic ghost story: the book is a slim 200 pages, and the movie stars Daniel Radcliffe, so there was always the option of watching that afterwards, and besides, it looked like the perfect read while the weather was gloomy. (I thought the weather woul be temporarily gloomy. It seems that we have temporarily become England with our dismal weather over the past several weeks. *sigh* Don’t get me wrong, I love the rain, and I want to go to England in a few years, but Australia isn’t designed for so much rain…flooded roads being the least of my problems.)

Hot Chocolate and Ghost Stories

It seemed the perfect weather to settle down with a hot mug of cocoa (complete with whipped cream and cinnamon, of course) and begin to read a ghost story set on a cold, dark, isolated island…

I digress. The review. Right. Okay…so the book was…longwinded. And that’s putting it politely. I understand how Hill was trying to emulate the great authors of Gothicism, but it just made it boring and amateurish. The greatest part of the novel was the end, when the ‘twist’, if you can call it that, finally appears and the story is OVER. I think that the movie will do a much better job of this story (I’m yet to see it) because of the duration and more visually compelling elements that are inherent in well-made films. Plus music! Music would have done a much better job to set the atmosphere than Hill’s wordy descriptions. I did hear that this was made into a play, and I think that was what the novel should have been in the first place.

I rate it ★★★☆☆ purely because the novel was such a drag to read to get to the juicy parts of the story. I actually have more faith in the film, which is rare to have after reading a novel, but it’s the unfortunate truth. I’m hesitant to read more of Hill’s work, for fear of encountering more cumbersome descriptions in a lame attempt to set the mood. Leave it to the masters that HAVE ALREADY WRITTEN THIS STORY. Overworked and overdone, this was like chewy toffee, at times sweet, and other times bitter. I’ve finally swallowed the toffee, although it did take a few teeth out in the meantime.

THE HOLDERS — Review

I was kindly given an ARC of this novel by Strange Chemistry, a division of Angry Robot, a publishing company which I adore, in exchange for a review.

Below there be spoilers…if you can call them spoilers.

The cover for THE HOLDERS

A kind of bland cover…kind of fitting, actually.

I’m aware that this novel is still in the process of being edited, so I won’t judge it by the fact that, during the last chapter, some of the characters play an “evening round of Scrabble” when it is, apparently, “the morning”. But anyways…

So, a potentially great story ruined by the same ol’ tropes in YA fantasy. Oh joy. Didn’t see that coming. *cough* The characters were really cool (and could have been even cooler), but the dialogue was stilted beyond belief, and things didn’t really start picking up until the third chapter at least, and then they fell off again for far too long. To be honest, I only continued reading because I was planning to review it. The twists were visible a mile off (or at least three chapters beforehand), and, to have careened off the edge of creativity to conform to such lazy, unintelligent plot movement is shameful. Maybe, though I don’t think so, the novel was aimed for younger readers? I find that hard to believe however, as the protagonist is a seventeen-year-old, who graduated early (due to her “intelligence”) at age fifteen.

We’ve seen these stories before, Ms. Scott, and to think you showed such promise at the beginning…I was so excited to be involved with someone who wasn’t endowed with special abilities, wasn’t ‘the chosen one’, wasn’t ‘fated to be with her one true love’, buuuuttt…oh well.

Worth a read if you’re looking for something quick and easy: no concentration required.

★★★☆☆

PS. I was sorely disappointed with this foray into YA from Angry Robot (Strange Chemistry, whatever). I love Angry Robot, so please don’t let this deter you from some excellent reads…maybe, if you’re like me, steer away from Strange Chemistry?

Quick Lit Reviews — Part One

QUICK LIT REVIEWS – Reviews in less than twenty-five words!

Dash and Lily’s Book of Daresby David Levithan and Rachel Cohn (2010).

(I received this book as an ARC just the other day, although it’s been in publication for over two years now. Huh, go figure.)

A solid, fun read. I especially liked the melodrama towards the end of being kind-of-famous. A light-hearted look at the heart.

★★★★☆ 4/5

Book cover for 'Dash and Lily's Book of Dares'

The book cover for ‘Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares’.

Ender’s Game

I recently read a fantastic novel by the name of Ender’s Game. It’s science-fiction, something that I don’t read much of (if anything, I’d read more fantasy than sci-fi), by a Mormon man named Orson Scott Card. I’d previously read a book by him on how to better your writing skills, and his easy-to-read conversational tone and interesting examples made me curious to see what else he had out there.

The rather cool (I think) book cover.

He states in the introduction to this novel that he wanted the story to be just that: a story for story’s sake. Sure, you could play the literary criticism game if you wanted to, but he wanted it to be enjoyed primarily for the story it presented. I loved it. I also couldn’t help but take note of the various themes and issues he brought up, such as the meaning of family, leadership, war, invasion and free will.

To sum up the plot without any spoilers, it’s about a boy, Andrew ‘Ender’ Wiggin, who is selected at an early age to train in space to become part of the Earth’s fighting force (in preparation for the Third Invasion of the buggers, an insect-like alien race). It’s about his journey into adulthood well before his years, but also about how this backfires, and his subsequent reticence into revealing his true self. It is clear he is exceptional, but is he being pushed too far because of it?

There were a few not-so-exciting chapters, or, at least, they did not speak to me as strongly as Ender’s parts did. They were the ones describing his brother’s and sister’s lives back on Earth, and got rather political. However, I did find them somewhat necessary to enjoy later parts of the story, and overall, they did not ruin the flow of the tale much, if at all.

AND THE ENDING. Sublime, in my opinion. It was almost too fitting – there’s five more books in the series, but I’m content with ending it there. But then again, I’m eager to go on another journey with Ender Wiggin.

There’s also a film version coming out sometime this year, and, needless to say, I’m quite excited about that. But maybe my high expectations will ruin my cinematic experience. What say you?

A showdown between Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) and Ender (Asa Butterfield).

Comic Books – How Do They Compare?

Hello, my dear readers!

So, comic books…truth be told, I’ve never been a fan. Sure, I’ve read the little cartoons in the newspapers — and they’re cute — but that’s about as far as I’ve gone. Until now.

I recently finished the first volume of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, “Preludes and Nocturnes.” And it was surprisingly good. I originally picked it up on a whim because I like Neil Gaiman’s work and was looking for something quick to read. I devoured it, needless to say.

My first foray into the world of graphic storytelling: it was totally brilliant. I’d always thought that comics, like manga, were for over-obsessed nerds (I’ve changed my mind about both). I’d never even been interested in their film reincarnations. My brother loved all of those recent ‘Avenger’ films, but I could never bring myself to really watch them, and those that I did (Captain America and the first Iron Man), I didn’t enjoy as much as, say, Pitch Perfect. I’ve always felt that I was coming into a character development halfway, and I hate that. I have to read a series of books from the beginning, or watch a television series from the first episode, otherwise, don’t count me in.

But all that aside, although there is one episode that features a couple of ex-members from the Justice League of America (some Martian dude and a sci-fi guy who didn’t know his real name, so used his nickname of Scott Free — oh, and Batman makes a cameo, too), I found this surprisingly easy to immerse myself into. Gaiman is using an original character, and (I believe) quenched his thirst for including known super-heroes in that one part, so I just dealt with that minor aggravation and got over it. Pretty damn quickly.

Cover art for the first volume of Neil Gaiman's 'Sandman' series,

Some fantastic cover art by Dave McKean, longtime collaborator with Neil Gaiman.

In brief, the leader of a cult attempts to summon Death, but instead catches her younger brother, Dream. Morpheus, as he is also known, is trapped for seventy years, biding his time and waiting for his captors to die. In the meantime, three of Dream’s tools were seized, and have passed through many hands, going off in many directions. Following Dream’s escape, what ensues is a quest to obtain his beloved instruments and thus regain his power. I don’t do it very much justice, but I’ve just condensed several episodes worth of content into a paragraph. Don’t judge me too harshly.

In the Afterword, Gaiman says he was only just finding his ‘voice’ in the last of the eight episodes collected here. The fact that the rest gets better was an added bonus for me. I’m now itching to get onto the second volume.

HOWEVER: at times, I found it difficult to follow the order that things were meant to be read on the page. Maybe it’s just something I’ll get used to?

I’d love to hear what you think, so feel free to leave a comment!