Monthly Archives: February 2013

Review: Breathe – Sarah Crossan

3/5

Sometime after the world has starved itself of oxygen and humanity has retreated to sealed domes, our three main characters find themselves bound together in an adventure. Alina, resistance fighter, who knows the pods are an excuse for the elite to hold on to power; Quinn, the son of one of those elite; and Bea, the daughter of one of the working classes, lovelorn for Quinn who never notices her (at first, anyway).

It’s a wonderful premise of a book, the world suffocating without oxygen, and the world building and descriptions of the wastelands outside the pod are great. It’s the characters that let the book down a little. We shift from one perspective to another every chapter, first person every time, and perhaps that’s the problem. I would have liked to have stayed in Quinn’s head for longer to get to know him better, for instance. The characters voices are quite similar as well, such that I had to check the chapter headings to see who was speaking and thinking a few times.

I would have enjoyed the book more if it had been about the end of the world, the time called “The Switch”. Watching humanity fall apart into ruin was what pulled me into the book and the little flashbacks are what kept me interested. It would have been grim reading, I’m sure, but there are glimpses of the lost world that I felt needed exploring more. A character talks of when she was a death nurse, killing people who asked rather than let themselves slowly suffocate. Tell me what that was like rather than focus on the long-after. Write a prequel, maybe.

Unusually, the love triangle is between two girls and one boy, rather than the other way round. I liked that. I liked there was a character who was gay and it was the least interesting thing about him. It’s mentioned once and not again. He isn’t defined by it as though it were his only attribute.

There are inevitable loose ends – this is book one of at least two – and it felt like there was a slow build that will continue into the next book, and I never felt cheated out of the unanswered questions.

Will I read book two in autumn 2013? I think I will, just to see where it all goes and how it all ends.

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Be careful what you wish for

My wife is out of the country until at least the end of March, so it’s just me and a silent house, as it has been for a fortnight now. So after my chores are done,  I settle down to do some writing. Now, you will think: no distractions, nothing but me and a keyboard and my imagination. Have that book cranked out in no time!

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

It occured to me this weekend that the house being so silent with Mrs T. away is actually…distracting. Yep, no distractions and no background noise…are distracting. It’s as annoying as anything.

Partially, it’s because I know she’s on the other side of the planet, and I miss her terribly, but the fact is the house is too darn quiet.

I don’t mean to say she comes in and interrupts every five minutes (sometimes she does, but let’s not go there!). But just the sounds of her moving around is a sound of someone else breathing in the house beside me and Tweety the cockatiel.

I’ve had the same problem in hotel rooms, when I’ve been on courses for a few days and took a laptop with all good intentions of getting some work done in the quiet.

Can’t do it. Can’t write with all this lack of noise! If I went to a coffee shop or library, it would probably be TOO noisy for me. Can’t win.

So I’ve shifted to writing late at night at weekends – in the week I have to go to work, or I’d do it more often – because then at least the silence feels natural and not forced. Maybe I should stick the TV on, but then if Mrs T was downstairs, she wouldn’t be watching it anyway.

I could listen to music, but I’m not in a writing to music mood with my book.

I’m sure some would trade me the quiet for the noise. There are some who would die for a quiet day of writing, who would love to have no distractions. Heaven, they would say, bliss!

But I’m telling you now…be careful what you wish for. If your writing world is full of sound and fury, you might miss it when it’s gone.

I know I do.

Review: Mystic River, Dennis Lehane


3/5

When they were 11, Jimmy, Dave and Sean were playing in the street. A car came up to them, the men inside said they were cops, and took Dave away. Four days later he escaped from the cellar where they were holding him.

The story picks up after that when the three are grown men. Jimmy has done time, Dave is still haunted by his four days in the hands of pedoephiles, and Sean is a cop with a marital problem.

When Jimmy’s daughter is murdered, their three lives collide again.

Part murder-mystery, part police-procedural, the book never lags in it’s pacing or the development of its twisting, intertwined relationships. In its gritty depictions of the squalor of “The Flats” the neighbourhood where Jimmy and Dave still live and part of Sean’s beat, Lehane gives you a real sense of place and the people that inhabit that place, the drug dealers and the prostitutes, and also the good people trying to live their lives as best they can. The ones trying to escape as well as the ones who have accepted this is all life has for them and merely get on it.

It’s also a book about the sins of the fathers, and the sins of adults being passed onto children. Dave has animalistic, murderous urges brought on by his time in the cellar and tries to still them with drink and his family. Jimmy tries to put his criminal life behind him.

Of all the characters, I think Sean has the least development. He’s pretty much the same at the end as the start…maybe a little more humility and humanity in him.

All the characters, even the minor ones, have lives and stories to tell, and you get the feeling of them going on in the background even when they aren’t on the page. Seans partner, who returns one afternoon smelling of beer. The Savage brothers, who grew up in a room “the size of a Japanese radio.” I like that line, a simple and elegant description.

I figured out who the murderer of Jimmy’s daughter was about halfway through, but then this was never really a book about a girl being murdered, and the search for who did it – the murderer is revealed in an almost throwaway scene and quickly dealt with and over.

There’s a real sense of place and characters here, a smell and taste of desperate people and determined people doing the best they can. They make mistakes like the rest of us (some of them deadly), and they don’t admit to their mistakes, like the rest of us. Everyone in here is human, no stereotypes or cliches. No black or white, only tones of grey.

Rough and smooth, in its appreciation for beauty and its monstrous ugliness, its desire for revenge and the difference between that and justice, all of human life is here.