Sunday, 27 November 2016

The Chemist: Old chestnut?


Stephenie Meyer's new book The Chemist was published this month.  It is the first publication from her in quite some time.  

Most of the works by this author have been set in the young-adult fantasy fictional world of Twilight.  I don't need to state just how successful that series has been, but I would like to comment on her work in general in advance of my review of the new publication.

Meyer's work is a bit like Marmite.  In case you are unfamiliar with Marmite, its a breakfast spread with a unique taste that is famously, generally speaking, either loved (people can't get enough of it) or hated (people want to gag the minute they get a taste of it).  For my part, I am one of the minority of readers who fit somewhere in the middle.  I can understand the appeal of the Twilight saga and I can understand why some have been angered by the subtext of her writing.  However, I don't share the passion of either side of the argument. 

One reason I believe she evokes such extremes is because one can be easily misled (or reluctantly led) by her work.
 
What do I mean by easily misled?

Twilight is set in a fantasy world where vampires exist.  However,the book rejects most of the rules associated with this gothic franchise because Twilight is NOT a book about vampires.



The Host, her adult debut, has a science-fiction setting with characters that are aliens that have a symbiotic relationship with the human race.  However, the usual rules associated with sci-fi have been discarded because The Host is NOT a science-fiction novel.


So there is a chance you won't be getting what you think you have paid for. 

What do I mean by reluctantly led?

So far, on the surface Stephanie Meyer has mostly been interested in writing about the existence of soulmates.  One could say 'the power of love' is at the heart of her stories and the conflict is always designed to demonstrate how nothing can get in its way.  The romance scores pretty high on the "fluff-o-meter", which can turn some readers' stomachs while I suspect others feel embarrassed by just how "warm and fuzzy" these books make them feel inside.  (In other words, the guilty pleasure.)

Twilight and The Host are the same plot in different settings.   The question is, will this new novel be any different? Probably not. In which case, is she in danger of reproducing an old chestnut?  Maybe, but she is not alone and she is in good company.  Jane Austen is an example of an author who wrote the same story over and over again.  (Two hundred years on and she is still one of the most loved and celebrated authors of our time.)

Meyer's books are not just surface.  Like them or hate them, there is a lot of food for thought in her work.  Is that not worthy of praise? Some of the subject matter that she explores can be a bone of contention however; another reason I believe her novels evoke such extreme opposing views.  Below the surface she is mainly concerned with the existence of the soul. Like CS Lewis, Meyer's religious beliefs come through a lot in her work.  For example, in Breaking Dawn, embedded in the subtext, is the US debate on abortion, with Edward representing the pro-choice side of the argument and Bella the pro-life side.  This is revisited in The Host in a scene where innocent unborn alien souls are massacred (which suggests, "killing babies" - the term sometimes used in her books - is a major concern to her).

People do get angry when authors express their views about strong issues such as religion and politics.  I believe in the freedom of artistic & creative expression (even when I disagree with what is being expressed), and I believe that writers should write about what they want to - not what readers want them to.  Where we part company however, is that I prefer an impartial representation of an argument, whereas Meyer is clear which side she considers to be the right one (i.e., the side that prevails in the story) - hence the irritation.  But irritating subtext does not make me angry.  My approach has always been to disregard any attempts to manipulate my beliefs and thought processes. Some may argue that younger (YA) minds are impressionable, but I believe teenagers are a lot smarter than they are given credit.  Anyone who goes below the surface and picks up on the subtext is a free thinker, anyone who does not is probably safe (from mind control).      

I will conclude by pointing out that Stephanie Meyer has inspired a lot of people to start writing - which is a good thing - and many (with similar stories)  have benefited from the success of Twilight.  Without Twilight there would be no 50 Shades of Grey - maybe not such a good thing(?).  Thanks for that, Stephanie!  

My review of The Chemist is coming soon to Sooz Book Reviews.




Saturday, 20 August 2016

Recommended Summer Reads 2016

I am just coming to the end of my series of recommended summer reads for 2016. 

Here is the list so far. 

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld - Contemporary

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo - Fantasy (YA)

Freedom/Hate by Kyle Andrews - Dystopia (YA)

This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki - Graphic novel (YA)

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel - Literary

Half Lost by Sally Green - Dystopian Fantasy (YA)

Just One Day by Gayle Forman - Contemporary





Thursday, 28 January 2016

Dedication to Dystopia

Science fiction is probably my favourite genre of fiction.  When I first discovered Dystopia I was less keen (for reasons outlined, below), but my attitude has changed considerably over the years - which is just as well since Dystopian fiction is so prominant that it is difficult for a sci-fi fan to avoid, particularly in Young Adult fiction,

That said, I have my own idea of what Dystopia is.  For me, in the same way that horror is supposed to evoke a sense of fear, Dystopia is supposed to evoke a sense of dread and anxiety.  If a horror isn't scary, it isn't doing it's job.  To me the same applies to Dystopia. Sometimes it is difficult to indentify what is causing that uncomfortable feeling; its about sensing that something terrible is just around the corner, but not knowing what.  Sometimes it takes the form of dramatic irony - when the reader knows what terrible things are going to happen to characters, but the characters themselves have no idea.  There are many great examples but two that come to mind are George Orwell's 'Animal Farm' and Kazuo Ishiguro's 'Never Let me Go'. 

My problem with some modern Dystopian fiction is the absence of that sense of dread.  For the month of February, my book review blog Sooz Book Reviews will be dedicated to Dystopia and will look at which of the chosen books do, and which ones do not, do the job of making us feel uncomfortable.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

BBC National Short Story Award 2015 - Winner






The BBC NSSA was just announced 

and the winner is....

Briar Road 
by Jonathan Buckley


the runner up went to....

Bunny 
by Mark Haddon



Sunday, 4 October 2015

BBC National Short Story Award 2015


It's the 10th anniversary of the awards.  I took the time to listen to the short listed ones on BBC R4 today.

They are:

Briar Road
by Jonathan Buckley

A woman with psychic abilities visits a family home to assist a couple discover whether their missing daughter is alive and well. 

 
Bunny 
by Mark Haddon 

A young man is trapped in his home because of his obesity.  One day a young woman from the neighbourhood turns up asking to borrow a hedge trimmer. Could she be his guardian angel?


Broderie Anglaise 
by Frances Leviston

A girl decides to make herself a dress to attend a family wedding and ends up locking horns with her mother over it's creation.

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher 
by Hilary Mantel 

 A young woman whose flat is directly opposite the hospital where the prime minister is an in-patient receives a visitor under the pretext that he is an emergency plumber.


Do It Now, Jump The Table 
by Jeremy Page 

A young man is nervous as he is about to meet his girlfriend's parents for the first time, and their unconventional way of life doesn't exactly help the situation.


I enjoyed them all but 'Briar Road' gets my vote - because I found it intriguing and wanted more.

My runners up would be 'The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher' - just because it's an excellent piece of fiction* in my view, and 'Do It Now, Jump The Table' - because the cringe factor made me laugh.

The actual winner will be announced this Tuesday (6th October).

Click here to get the link.

*Yes fiction. And yet the Tory press declined to publish it.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Best Book Reviews

Sooz Book Reviews 
Top 10 most popular reviews


Most popular review 
Undreamed by Scott Western-Pittard


 2nd  Nandana's Mark by Heidi Garrett


3rd Fading Amber by Jaime Reed

 









4th Dark Water by Tricia Rayburn












5th The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon




6th Afterparty by Ann Redisch-Stampler










7th Burning Emerald by Jaime Reed










8th The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling



9th Goodnight, Beautiful by Dorothy Koomson










10th Cloak & Dagger by Nenia Campbell






Thursday, 2 October 2014

BBC National Short Story Award 2014

I've been following the BBC National Short Story Award 2014 with keen interest.

I listened to the 5 shortlisted stories on BBC R4

  1. The Amerian Lover by Rose Tremain is about a woman struggling to come to terms with a disasterous love affair with an older man.
  2. The Taxidermist's Daughter by Francesca Rhydderch set just after World War 1 is about a young girl who experiences her first crush and sexual awareness for the first time.
  3. Miss Adele among the Corsets by Zadie Smith set in modern day New York and is about an aging African American drag queen who feels the weight of discrimination while buying a corset and takes her frustration out on the shop owner and his wife.
  4. Kalifi Creek by Lionel Shriver is about a woman who cheated death when she was a young girl on her gap year and how this experience influences her throughout her life.
  5. Bad Dreams by Tessa Hadley is about a young girl who is woken up by a disturbing dream that she finds difficult to shake.  Her actions cause a cascade of events affecting her parents.

They were all amazing but there was one clear winner and 2 (equally as good) runners up for me.

My favourite was Miss Adele among the Corsets.

My runners up were Bad Dreams and The Taxidermist's Daughter.

The actual winner was announced yesterday (1st October).  The runner up was Zadie Smith and the prize went to Lionel Shriver - 3rd time nominee and 1st time winner of the prize. I better listen to Kalifi Creek again....