Tag Archives: Ursula K Le Guin

Mini Review Madness Part II; Ruiz Zafon, Kelly, Harris, & Le Guin

So as Christmas is now less than a week away (eek) it means that New Year is less than a fortnight away and in an attempt to try and have written about nearly all the books I have read this year I thought  would write a couple of catch up mini-review posts. I would love to give them all a full review but I am running out of days to do that and all of the books have been featured on one of the three podcasts I co-host or host so links for more on them are available below, so really you get even more out of these than you would a normal review, sort of…

Marina by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, hardback, 2013, YA fiction, 296 pages, kindly sent by the publisher)

I am a huge fan of The Shadow of the Wind and having read Marina, which was published in Spain before it but has only recently come out here in the UK, I am really keen to read it all over again (and indeed might next year) because all the best bits of Ruiz Zafon’s last YA novel made me think of it. Initially this is the story of Oscar and how he finds the mysterious Marina on one of his escapades from the school gates on the edges of Barcelona where he boards. However a mild mystery of a woman in black and an unmarked grave, which Marina instigates they try and find out about, leads them to a much darker mystery and takes them through and under the streets of Barcelona. Sounds good doesn’t it and often it is. There are some wonderful ‘monsters’ and dark chilling moments yet I found myself rather distant and often uninterested in the tale of Oscar and Marina and much more so in the one involving a dark love story from the past. Ideal if you love Ruiz Zafon, or if you have a younger reader who might not be ready for The Shadow of the Wind and so could do with something in the interim.

You can hear myself, Kate, Rob and Gavin discussing this in more detail on the third episode of Hear… Read This

The Burning Air by Erin Kelly (Hodder, paperback, 2013, fiction, 355 pages, kindly sent by the publisher)

Possibly one of the best psychological thrillers that I have read this year and one that I didn’t, and won’t write about in too much depth for the fear of spoiling a chilling tale with a nasty twist and sting (or two or three) in its tail. Opening with a letter telling of a deep family secret which we soon learn is written by a woman recently dead, Lydia, we then join her bereaved family as they meet for Bonfire Night, as is tradition, along with spreading Lydia’s ashes. Sophie is recovering from a huge shock to her marriage and also having recently had a baby, a baby who is soon abducted by Sophie’s brother’s new girlfriend Kerry. I won’t spoil the plot any further (though that happens quite quickly on) other than simply saying that if you want a book about deep seated revenge and the darkness it can create then you should read this, as should you if you like a good thriller as this is a marvellous one – surprises will lie in store and you will be gripped to the end.

You can hear Erin and myself in discussion about the book on You Wrote The Book here.

Peaches for Monsieur Le Cure by Joanne Harris (Black Swan, paperback, 2013, fiction, 541 pages, kindly sent by the publisher)

After having utterly adored Chocolat (I love the film but the book is so much better) earlier in the year, I was ready to read everything and anything by Joanne Harris. Instead of reading one of her thrillers, ghostly tales or even The Lollipop Shoes I decided to go with my gut (quite literally as they are my favourite fruit of them all) and read Peaches for Monsieur Le Cure which finds Vianne heading back to Lansquenet-sous-Tannes, eight years after she opened her sumptuous chocolate shop, despite herself. Here she finds quite a different town from the one she left and an old adversary who of all things may actually need her help. Once again Harris vividly captures a town that has fallen ill at ease and out of sync with itself and indeed the world around it. Themes of race and racism, and generally being different, lie at the heart of a book which from the outside seems sweet but has much more going on darkly below the surface. I enjoyed returning to Lansquenet-sous-Tannes and was spellbound (see what I did there) by a tale of Vianne once more.

You can hear myself and Joanne discussing the book on You Wrote the Book here.

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin (Orbit Books, 1969 (2009 edition), paperback, 273 pages, borrowed from the library)

Hmmm. This is a tricky one to talk about as in terms of plot I am not sure I really understood the full premise the whole way through as there is so much confusing jargon about why Genly Ai finds himself on the planet Winter where the inhabitants have no gender apart from when them go into heat, or kemmer, and could become male or female. Suffice to say he does end up there and becomes part of a political conundrum that almost verges on war though Winter has never seen a war as its inhabitants are not want to fight either. Thematically the book, once you have worked your way through it, is inspired. The way it discusses political issues, possibly based around the cold war, are relevant now as are the themes of gender and sexuality. I just ended up thinking that whilst it was probably ground breaking in its time, whilst as I said it is still relevant now it would probably be more potent as a short story. It needs to hit you over the head, not have you trudging through snow for page after page after page. I also struggled to find a single beautifully written paragraph. So overall I loved the themes and discussions it raised, sadly though I didn’t love the execution of it.

You can hear myself, Gavin, Rob and Kate talking about The Left hand of Darkness on the latest episode of Hear… Read This

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So that is my second and final mini-review madness of the week and indeed the year. Let me know if you have read any of these books, or any of these authors other works and what you thought of them? Also let me know your thoughts on what you think about mini-review posts like these, is it nice to get a quick glimpse of some other reads every now and again or do you prefer the longer (and they are getting longer) fuller reviews?

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Filed under Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Erin Kelly, Joanne Harris, Mini Reviews, Ursula Le Guin, You Wrote The Book!

Do Comparisons Help Or Hinder A Book?

We all do it don’t we? You cannot help comparing books to other books; it is how we gage what we think of them after all. You need to read some duds, or a few ‘meh’ ones, in order to work out what you like and what you don’t even when the books couldn’t be further apart – for example tonight I will be recording the third episode of Hear, Read This! and will probably end up comparing Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s Marina with Ursula le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness to make various points. Those two book are around 30 years apart in publishing and have two very different audiences in mind because of their genres. Comparisons will be made though. Yet in the industry there seems to be this need, which is know is marketing, for books to be compared to other books and I sometimes wonder if this helps or hinders those books?

An example of this would be my thoughts/review of The Silent Wife yesterday. Throughout the review I couldn’t help but allude and compare it to Gone Girl because that is what the quotes do and that is how the publishers are pushing it. In many ways this completely makes sense as a) Flynn’s book was huge last year and people are always looking for the next ‘x’ author b) there are some similarities between the two books – as I discussed. Yet this can also be slightly detrimental as not only might a reader have certain expectations that aren’t fulfilled can leave them feeling less favourable or indeed with the hype of the amazing book it was compared to give a reader such high expectations it could fall because of them. For me the Gone Girl comparison got me to read The Silent Wife  but my expectations were massive because of it. The book may, who can say for sure, have done better with me if I had just read it as a thriller, simple as that.

Gone Girl is a very specific example yet currently it perfectly highlights this trend. Not only are lots of books for 2014 coming with the tagline in the press release along the lines of ‘a thriller with more twists than Gone Girl’ and ‘a literary novel that will appeal to fans of Gone Girl for its twists’ (those are two word for word examples) but also I have noticed that some books coming out next year don’t mention Gone Girl but have its look. For example (see below) the stunning cover of Peter Swanson’s The Girl With A Clock For A Heart, which arrived this morning and I am very excited about, it doesn’t say Gone Girl  anywhere on it but the imagery is there, just a touch but there nonetheless. This happened with Twilight and even a Bronte got an apple on the cover.

The other problem with this is at the opposite end of the spectrum. I know lots of people who loathed Gone Girl (the crazy fools) and who if see a book that looks like it or is said to be like it makes them veer away as fast as possible, possibly missing a trick. I remember seeing many a book with ‘the next Stieg Larsson’ and thinking ‘well I definitely won’t be reading that then’ and almost cutting my nose of to spite my face as I might have missed out on Yrsa Sigurdardottir, who regulars here will know I love, because she was referred to as ‘Iceland’s answer to Stieg Larsson’.

It is a tricky one though because what do I want to hear people saying? The only one I can think of is the commonly used, and therefore highly unoriginal, quote of ‘a new and original voice’. Poor publishers, they can’t win can they bless them. Food for thought though isn’t it? Which books have you read because they have been compared to a book you loved and how did they compare? Have you ever avoided a book because of another it was compared to and if so what?

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination – Margaret Atwood

I am quite surprised that I have not seen more mention here there and everywhere, though I could have been looking in the wrong places, about Margaret Atwood’s latest book ‘In Other Worlds’. Those of you who visit Savidge Reads will know that I am a huge fan of Atwood’s (indeed with both my mother and Gran loving her it was only time really until I would feel the same) both for her ‘literary fiction’ and for her ‘speculative fiction’ so I was instantly looking forward to this as a read, especially with its subject matter.

Virago Press, hardback, 2011, non-fiction, 272 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

It’s this very thing that lies at the heart of ‘In Other Worlds’ I can’t think of anyone or anything, apart from possibly the Man Booker, which causes such debate about science fiction and ‘literature’ and the divides or lack thereof. I know some people who love her writing and yet feel slightly disappointed she has gone off into these speculative worlds like ‘The Handmaids Tale’ and that she is writing a follow up to ‘Oryx and Crake’ and ‘The Year of the Flood’.

 I remember reading a very negative piece somewhere that claimed Margaret Atwood didn’t want to be labelled as a science fiction writer and thought ‘that’s a bit snobby’ but this was taken out of context. Then came the Ursula K. Le Guin review of Atwood’s last novel ‘The Year of the Flood’ in which she quoted from (are you keeping up) Atwood’s essays ‘Moving Targets’, which I now really want to read, saying that Atwood didn’t believe her books were science fiction because the things in them were possible and may be happening, therefore they are speculative. Longer story shorter, ‘In Other Worlds’ is Margaret Atwood’s response to this and is even dedicated to Le Guin. It is so much more than a simple SFF vs. the rest of the literary world book though.

The book is set into three sections. In the first ‘In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination’ we are treated to three long essays. The first of which Margaret Atwood discusses her love of science fiction, based on the fact that growing up in rural Canada she would read anything and everything and this meant a lot of her father’s science fiction, comic books, pulp, noir, you name it. She went on to draw and create stories of her own superhero’s… flying rabbits, and looks at the myth of the superhero and compares it to science fiction. The second looks at the myths and religions that make up science fiction in varying ways and the third how Margaret Atwood created ‘ustopia’s’ based on merging utopias and dystopias. I loved this section, in part because the way Atwood writes makes it feel like you are sat having a conversation about these things with her (if only), there is a humour and knowingness as you go along, secondly because it shows the forming of a writer which I always find fascinating and thirdly because it made me think. A lot. This isn’t writing you can rush, you need to read it, pause, think a bit, make some mental notes, read on, have a bigger pause, think more. I loved that this was the effect it had on me.

The second section entitled ‘Other Deliberations’ is a selection of reviews and essays about novels or writing that people see is either definitely science fiction, definitely literary fiction with a science fiction twist or seen as speculative fiction. One of the books she covers is ‘Never Let Me Go’ by Kazuo Ishiguro (another book I love) and it’s here I think she shows that really does it matter what genre or pigeon hole books are pushed, good and thought provoking writing is what matters. “Ishiguro isn’t much interested in the practicalities of cloning and organ donation… Nor is this a novel about future horrors: it’s set not in a Britain-yet-to-come but a Britain-off-to-the-side.” Not only did I want to rush and read that again, I found all the books she discussed which i hadn’t read such as H. Rider Haggard’s ‘She’ and ‘Brave New World’ by Aldous Huxley are going to be racing up the TBR and being borrowed from the library.

The final main section of the book ’Five Tributes’ are works of Atwoood’s which she believes are truly SF works of fiction, they are all slight but all wonderful, I loved everyone of these. I also thought it was particularly clever of her to choose ‘The Peach Women of Aa’A’ from ‘The Blind Assassin’ as the final one. This is a fictional tale written inside her fictional tale at the heart of ‘The Blind Assassin’ and not only reminded me of what an incredible writer she is but how diverse, I smiled to myself that a book which won the Booker does indeed have a science fictional twist in it’s heart and then felt a little cross people forget that. It also reminds the reader that reading shouldn’t be about boundaries people confine them to, in fact all literature should celebrate the fact that the boundaries are endless full stop, so why are we so obsessed with defining it?

I hope that you come away from this long ramble that forms a ‘review’ or set of ‘book thoughts’ with an inclination to pick up this book when you can. It’s a book for book lovers in the fact that it’s overall theme is the celebration of writing, and then looking at the way we take writing in and pass on our thoughts. It also shows once again what a wonderful writer Margaret Atwood is regardless of whatever genre of writer you might feel the need to put her in. ‘In Other Worlds’ is certainly one of my books of the year without a doubt.

So where do you sit on the Margaret Atwood Speculative vs. Science vs. Literary fiction debate and why do we feel the need to pigeon hole and then get defensive over those pigeon holes?

P.S Small note to say this was a hot topic between myself and Gavin on this weeks The Readers podcast which you can listen to here.

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Filed under Books of 2011, Margaret Atwood, Non Fiction, Review, Virago Books