More pages doesn’t always mean a better narrative. The Farm, as is always the case with Tom Rob Smith’s novels, gets to the point right away. The lines quoted in the blurb are spoken in the first few pages and it anchors your attention. You know what’s at stake and you understand Daniel’s terrible dilemma. On one side his father is telling him his mother is insane, and on the other side Dan’s mother is saying that if he doesn’t believe her, she’ll won’t consider him as her son anymore. As a reader, you think about how you might react if you were stuck between two worlds colliding. Where do you turn? And from there the story unfolds in a unique way that’s sure to blow you away with its cunning, scary and vitriolic storytelling. It’s going to surprise you.
This one is a pure hammer blow. Reading experiences don’t get much better than this story. Despite who you are or where you were on September 11th, we probably think of the same first thing by default. I don’t even need to say it, because you know what I’m talking about. This is a story about a boy trying to solve a puzzle his father left behind for him, and it hurts. It really does. I’ve never rooted for a protagonist more than nine-year old Oscar as he scours New York City for a lost key in a city of millions of locks. This book slams its fist into your chest, squeezes your heart, tears it out, reshapes it, shunts it back in, dusts its hand off and says, ‘Done.’ I want to talk about what made this ending such a shock, but I can’t. If I did I may as well slap you in the face. I can’t stress it enough. Go out there, buy this book and read it. It’s worth every single penny of its purchase price.
I chanced across this in WHSmiths, and after reading the blurb I knew it would be something special. Ben Aaronovitch has a monopoly on interesting, clever and new storytelling. There’s no way you can read the blurb and make the connection to the actual mystery behind the book. Not just because it’s so well disguised, but because it’s just so out there. And this is the same with each book that’s followed it. By Rivers of London, I mean the entire franchise is the best find. I read this story and wanted the others instantly. Franchises don’t usually interest me, and if I don’t like the first book I won’t feel inclined to read the rest, much like City of Bones. Rivers of London is a different animal in the urban fantasy breed. Typical conventions like vampires exist but they are only briefly mentioned. Which is good. They’re bloody scary.
Don’t get me wrong, City of Bones is a fine story. But it’s just nothing more than an overload of lore. It’s an origin story, the beginning of a franchise. It certainly sets up a great thematic and engaging story, but it moves too slowly. The book is big anyway, but there are more than five in the series and not only that, there’s even a spin-off series based in the same world. All of that is fine. It’s a sign that the world is large with life, and its author can find new holes to fill and inform its audience. And City of Bones has that faithful audience. Its characters are believable, the dialogue is excellent and Cassandra Clare is a golden writer. But it’s far too slow, far too wordy and far too chaotic for an opening book for me. Nouns are thrown all over the place as if they’re all expendable and there’s even a shoehorned romance between Clary and Simon, something that I think could have waited until much later. I don’t know what I was expecting with it, but it didn’t grab my attention enough for me to continue with a series that’s undoubtedly not going anywhere any time soon.
I love American literature, and American literature doesn’t get more ‘classic’ than Harper Lee’s only book, To Kill A Mockingbird. This was a recommendation from my brother, and he’s usually right. This was awesome. You really get a great sense of life in this world. The characters are rich with their own personalities and their own mysteries. Watching Scout and her brother grow up in the Deep South where injustice and suspicion are the kings of the world is a profound reading experience, something that pulls you in by the throat. Although it takes a while to get to the meat of the story, it all works for the setup. I don’t know what else I could say that hasn’t been said before, but it’s an excellent story that you’ll want to finish. What’s more, for a classic, it’s not big and it’s easy to read. It’s worth it.
I started a few new series' this year. Halo and The Walking Dead, but none charmed me as much as Rivers of London. It beautifully fuses supernatural crime with urban fantasy, anchored by London Town. Ben Aaronovitch makes amazing use of London’s own mythic past along with his own off-world imagination to create stories that will yank you from your own world into his dreamland. You really do time travel in books, and no world is more fascinating than London in this series. I can jabber on about how much I love this series, and although I haven’t rated any of the books higher than an eight, it easily earns a 10/10 as a franchise. When I reread them I’ll probably rank them higher since the stories can get a little hard to follow from time to time. I can’t wait to revisit these books, and read the ones to come.
Halo: Combat Evolved is easily my favourite Halo in the original trilogy of games. It’s got the best story, missions that still hold a candle to campaign missions we see these days, and it has an enemy that’s still universally hated and feared- the Flood. This book comes after The Fall of Reach, and it follows the same story as the game. It was so much fun to play the game through words, and experience most of the things you see in the game on the page. The long haul through the Library while following 343 Guilty Spark is as punishing in the book as it is in the game, and the frantic fight to escape the Pillar of Autumn in the beginning is perfectly written. I’m itching to read more Halo books, and there are loads of them. But are they as good as The Flood? I hope so, but that’s going to be damn hard.
Peter Grant is a cheeky up and coming police officer who always has sarcasm and wit ready for anybody who stands up to him. It’s refreshing to read about a hero like him. He has his flaws, but he’s hardly ever broken down by them. He’s usually up and ready to tackle a problem, and quite often his inexperience with magic is hilarious to read. I’d love to see a TV show about this series. With the right cast it could be top. Who would I cast as Peter Grant? I’ll get back to you on that.
Fearful characters probably come easy for Stephen King. Brady Heartsfield I reckon would be near the top of the list of Mr King’s scariest characters. His knowledge of poison, explosives and outright lack of empathy for his actions make him super scary. But his young age, his less-than ordinary relationship with his mother and his checkered past make him super-duper scary. I enjoyed his chapters far more than the fat ex cop’s (his words, not mine). Learning about the mind of an insane young adult is fascinating, far more so than your average psychopath. I even felt sorry for Brady a few times. He’s a troubled person, but he is evil. Or at least that might be a question Stephen King is asking us. Who knows?
Both heroes and villains on the Mile lose their innocence, if they hadn’t lost it before, that is. Characters are something nobody does better than Stephen King, and wow, The Green Mile’s cast is astonishing. You’ll find your favourites and you’ll hate those who deserve it. I love that even some of the inmates are likable. John Coffey is the obvious one, but he really is the star of the show. You ache for him to be released, just as you hope that each of the ‘good guys’ make it with their souls intact. And of course you’ve got Mr Jingles or Steamboat Willie, or the mouse. He’s the magic that keeps them together, I think.
I finished this on New Year’s Day, and I wanted to read it again straight away. I haven’t yet, though. Books about loners in the city always interest me, and the second-person narrative magnified that sense of loneliness. When the narrator puts you as the main character, everything becomes personal. I’ve never read a book like that before, but I want to read more. I also want to read more Jay McInerney. Bright Lights, Big City is in my top three books of all time, and I couldn’t recommend it high enough. If you love books like The Catcher in the Rye, if you like New York City or books about loners, you need to read this. Like, now.
Songs of the Week:
- 'Idol' by Anaal Nathrakh
- 'Rage and Red' by Anaal Nathrakh
- 'It's Late' by Tim McIlrath
- 'Restless World' by Tim McIlrath
- 'Whereabouts Unknown' by Rise Against
- 'Fall to Pieces' by Avril Lavigne