Review: Eve of Man

2/5

 

 

There’s a problem with the human race: For fifty years or so, no girls have been born. Until Eve comes along into the remains of a civilisation that has nearly torn itself apart…

Well, where did that go wrong? The four hundred pages of this seemed to take me forever to read…it seems longer than the two weeks I have it listed as “reading.”

I had hopes something was going to happen as the pace picked up.

It’s the first part of a trilogy, so I wasn’t expecting all the answers to be rounded up by the end. What I was expecting was something more than a painfully slow incremental drip of plot points that tip into something actually happening only 300 pages in. By then, the book was nearly over. I had hopes something was going to happen as the pace picked up…then it dropped off again. So much of this story seemed slow filler that should have been trimmed.

The world building is repetitive and dull. I lost count of the number of times a character describes the waterproofing of their underground home, always with the same details – the rubber panels that drip water, the pipes that snake across corridors. I lost count when we were told something about a character and then had it repeated two pages later. (“They were here to see Eve’s father, Ernie.” A page later: “Ernie – Eve’s father”). The place where Eve is secluded is described as a tower, a dome and mountain-like. Which is it?

A plot-important location falls out of the sky in the later part of the book, and conveniently, Bram instantly knows where it is to the point where they can find it with GPS. How?

Eve often chooses a dramatic course of action as an end–of-chapter hook.

Characterisation is inconsistent. Eve is suddenly aggressive and rebellious, then passive again a chapter later. She is determined to find the truth of her existence, but then gets sleepy and forgets all about it. She often chooses a dramatic course of action as an end–of-chapter hook, then never follows it up. Bram is unable to fight against his father, but manages to kick ass against other males.

There’s no chemistry between Bram and Eve, and the dialogue between them is stilted and insipid. The villain of the piece, Vivian

Spoiler!
(She’s obviously a hologram of Isaac Wells),
is mainly petty and a cardboard thin character.

There are a lot of parallels between this and Rapunzel, obviously: A lone woman in a tower (dome/mountain) with limited experience of the world. But there are also a lot more with The Truman Show, even the ending

Spoiler!
where Vivian even tells Eve as a voice from the clouds, “You won’t be safe out there”.

The most fun I had with the book was Bram out of the tower and exploring flooded and forgotten London. It gave the story a sense of place that was desperately lacking.

I won’t be back for part two or three.

Have you ever been suckered by a pretty cover and an interesting premise that didn’t work? Let me know!

Review: Truth or Dare

4/5

 

 

When Kam gets in an accident that leaves him brain damaged, his brother Sef comes up with an idea to raise money to help him: Dare him to pull pranks. Enlisting the help of social-media expert Claire, things begin to spiral out of control…

It made it hard to guess where you were in the story and how much you had left to go.

This is one of those books where the narrative splits half way through, comes back together, then splits chapter by chapter until the end. Claire’s “half” of the book is flipped and inverted from Sef’s, which I thought was a nice touch. It made it hard to guess where you were in the story and how much you had left to go, which isn’t something you come across often in a story.

What did confuse me was the different fonts used for Sef messaging Claire and Claire messaging Sef, which were intermixed with their own internal voices. Got a little fuzzy who was talking and thinking there a few times.

And yet they felt so flat and predictable.

First the bad news: Claire’s half didn’t grip me at all. Her friends and her relationships with them felt so exactly calculated, you could almost guess to the page where they would be resolved. Despite that, everyone felt very real and their dialogue and characterisation were all spot on. And yet they felt so flat and predictable. No one acted out of character or threw up any surprises.

Sef’s half of the book though…wow. There’s a real sense of his absolute agony and guilt over his brother’s injuries, the explanation of which is hinted at but never explained until the end. And we’re right there with him, going through it as he does and feeling it all. Sef is unpredictable and wild and will do anything to help his brother. It lends his half of the story a sharp edge, and that edge cut me enough to make me tear up a few times.

His story resonated with me on a personal level as well – I had a brother who would dare to do anything. Only one of his didn’t work, and he never came back from it alive. So I certainly felt more connected to Sef than Claire.

I’ve read Non Pratt before, and I know she does tend to veer towards melodrama at points, but there’s only one instance I noticed it and it only bounced me out of the story for a few pages. It didn’t take long before I was right back in the story.

Pratt is an extremely talented writer, and her characters come alive and off the pages. There’s nothing flat here except the predictable sub-plots in the first half. Apart from that, it crackles and jumps with life…and desperation.

What do you think about Non Pratt? Let me know!

Observation is my superpower!

 

“You see, but you do not observe.” – Holmes to Watson, A Scandal in Bohemia.

 

For those of you who don’t know, my Myers-Briggs personality result says I’m an INFJ. So what does that mean for me?

Well, I’m very sensitive to criticism, shy away from confrontations (verbal and physical) and hate social events with a blazing passion. I don’t like bullies, and I hate to see animals and people get hurt. I’m very, very quiet until you get to know me. Then I’m just quiet.

I’m also a snowflake, baby, one of a kind: INFJs make up less than 1% of the population, and male INFJs are even rarer. I only know one other female INFJ for sure. We don’t get together much!

But INFJ’s also have superpowers…

Because I’m very sensitive to emotions, I pick up on mood changes very, very quickly, and I also observe people closely for those changes. It’s practically sub-conscious and instant when something about them changes and I notice.

Let me give you a little personal history: I walk quicker than average (Interestingly, my INFJ friend does the same), and for a decade of that walking, I worked in a very busy supermarket. I had to learn to guess people’s directions and movements from the subtlest movement of feet and hands and hips and heads, or I’d bang into them constantly.

So I learnt where people were moving to, and when those movements changed. I learnt it so well I can do it without thinking.

I was standing at the back of an auditorium at work one morning (That’s a thing with introverts and INFJs: we observe from a distance) and watching a small crowd of teachers gathered around a laptop. Humans are fascinating when you study the way they interact.

At one point, Mr B started talking to Miss A. I don’t know the subject of the conversation. I was too far away, and as I said, I watch hands and feet and heads. Mr B takes a step closer to Miss A after a few sentences. At this point, Mr C walks all the way around the crowd and physically places himself between them. Jealous much?

The conversation continued without a pause. No one noticed but me.

We have student teachers here from time to time. Mostly they hang out in the staff room and work. During my lunch, a regular teacher came up behind one of them and started talking to her. He wasn’t standing over her or pushing into her personal space and his voice wasn’t raised. He was completely passive.

But I noticed her fidgeting went up a hundred percent. While was talking to her, she was scratching her arms, fiddling with her pen and her hair and tapping her feet. This was from someone who usually barely moved.

I talked to the regular teacher a while later and asked him why he thought he made her nervous. He looked genuinely confused. “Did I? When was this?”

That’s one of the reasons I don’t bring this up with the people involved. They never see it themselves. I always feel like the conversation didn’t go well when I’ve tried it, so I never have those conversations anymore.

I don’t think people like it when you see something they’ve missed.

I also do that wonderful thing INFJs do so well: I listen. I listen for the gaps in the conversation, the parts where you hesitate and don’t even think about it.

A work colleague of mine, myself and a premises guy were taking a TV off the wall in the PE department. The premises guy was wondering how long it had been up there and mentioned, “It had been there before Miss J left the PE department”. Premises guy asked work colleague if he remembered her.

The colleague replied: “Yeah, I remember…her.”

I only needed that three-dot pause to figure out: “Ah. Beefy girl was she?” And premises guy nodded.

I can’t explain how I came to that conclusion; Like I said, I do this stuff sub-consciously and instantly. Best I can do: She worked in the PE department; PE department women tend to be Amazons (no judgement: Just observation), and my colleague wouldn’t pause over describing someone unless she was exceptionally Amazon.

I got that from a three dot pause.

Imagine what we can do if an INFJ talks to you for an hour.

What’s your personality super-power? Let me know!

Dickens!

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…
I have been reading Charles Dickens for quite a while. I started with A Tale of Two Cities at some point in the 20th century. My mum had an old copy published in the 1950s, I think.

It was kind of weird, since it was my first classic. It took a while to get into the language and the fact people took a page to ask for something simple. There were paragraphs that went on forever. Characters would say things like, “My G–!” and it would be written blanked out just like that. But there was enough there that I wanted to read more.

It wasn’t until 2011 or so when I joined Goodreads and started putting together a TBR list that I decided I was going to read all of Dickens, but I didn’t really make a conscious decision to do it until I found his complete works on Kindle and realised how many I’d already finished. Physical shelf space is an issue when you’re talking about someone who wrote fourteen beefy novels, after all.

So I can’t tell you exactly when I started; I can’t tell you when I decided to go through the whole works; But I can tell you I finished his novels with The Pickwick Papers on the 8th September 2019 at about 1:00PM.

And that’s just his novels – I still have his short stories to go through.

So who was this guy?

I know a bit about Dickens. I know his dad was thrown in prison for debt, and Chuck had to go work at a seriously menial job pasting labels on jars for a while at the age of twelve. Prisons, debt and the lives of the poor run through his stories and his strongest writing is there. He knows the dankness and the dregs of London intimately. He can’t write a female character to save his life.

I know he wasn’t above ditching a plot when it wasn’t working. He sold books in serial form to a specific word count every month, and if his sales dropped one month, he was on it instantly. There are times when plot follows plot until the public got something they liked.

At the bottom of it all is a man who feels like he was in it for the money. He never forgot the public was paying the bills, and wasn’t above toadying to them when they didn’t like what was going on. None of this “write for yourself” for Charlie.

And if his word count was down for the month, he had no hesitation slapping in filler. Oh, so, so much filler! I’ve read a chapter that was nothing more but the description of an inn. For a whole ten pages!

Was it worth it?

Of his fourteen novels, the ones that stand out are the ones most people have heard of: David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations. To that list I’d add Hard Times, which is one I think slips by most people and which surprised me. If you want to experience Dickens, you could read those and call it good.

Avoid Barnaby Rudge and Martin Chuzzlewit. Oliver Twist I can take or leave – there’s an awfully contrived coincidence which is really hard to swallow. The same with Nicholas Nickelby…there’s a lot of filler there.

Charlie was a Victorian, so don’t expect anything from his women but fainting spells and fits (Read Wilkie Collins if you want kick ass Victorian women). His villains are a melodramatic bunch, of course. And since he’s a Victorian, happy endings are a guarantee.

In the end though, I have cried and I have laughed with the characters he created.

I’d call that time well spent.

Have you ever worked your way through an entire authors works? Let me know!

Review: The Pickwick Papers

 

1/5

 

 

“Being an account of the Pickwick Club”, of Victorian London. (Actually, slightly before Victoria. This was written in 1836, and she didn’t reign until 1837).

I’m glad I didn’t start with this one.

Phew. This was the last Dickens novel I had to read before I finished his fourteen novels…and what a drag it was. I’m glad I didn’t start with this one or I would have lost interest much quicker.

For the first third of the book, Dickens isn’t doing much more than transcribing stories he’s heard or has written down from other people. The book goes like this: Mr Pickwick (or his friends) go somewhere by coach. They meet someone. Someone tells them a story. Repeat for the first dozen chapters.

Perhaps that’s the problem: A lot of this doesn’t feel like his story. There was little through line or plot development to interest me.

There are flashes here and there of what he could accomplish.

I’d seen reviews where it said the story does get better as it goes along, and to be fair it does. But not by much. Dickens stretches his literary muscles and writes for a few chapters about his favourite topic – the poor and the mired in debt. There are flashes here and there of what he could accomplish: brilliant descriptive passages of rainy and foggy London streets, rural coach rides through August fields. There’s some nice wordplay with names – a doctor called Nockemorff (knock-em-off. It took me a while!) and a man called Smorltork (Which sounds like something IKEA might sell to me).

But it’s butter spread too lightly on a thin toast. If you ever feel like working your way through Dickens, start with Oliver Twist and then come back to this one.

Next post: Dickens. Was it worth it?

Do you have a favourite Dickens or classic author? Let me know!

 

Movies: First Man (and why I avoid Oscar movies)

2001? Nope, never heard of that movie.

First man is a potted biography of Neil Armstrong (You might have heard of him) from 1961 to the first moon landing in 1969 (I hope that’s not a spoiler for anyone except those who think he didn’t go).

At times it felt like it was trying to out-odyssey “2001”

It started off shakily. Story wise, that is. The shaky camera work was pretty consistent all the way through, and it was damn annoying. At times it felt like it was trying to out-odyssey 2001: A space odyssey. There were lots of extreme eye close ups, lots of shaking heads and shaking rockets. Despite that, I enjoyed the dive into his character.

This man is so stoical he wouldn’t sweat if he was on fire.

Armstrong was a notoriously reclusive and private man, and the film gets that isolation across. He doesn’t even talk to his wife or his kids, but internalises everything. It’s tough, trying to live with us introverts sometimes, huh?

The background information makes it sounds like this man is so stoical he wouldn’t sweat if he was on fire.

 

 

 

 

 

Well, so much for that, then. He looks pretty happy and emotive to have walked on the moon to me.

It’s not a film I’d go out of my way to re-watch, but it was interesting to see someone who was so private portrayed on the screen. Kudos to Ryan Gosling for trying to act so emotional internally and not externally.

***

It reminded me of why I tend to avoid Oscar-heading movies. (You can always tell: They come out in January and have odd subjects or are biographies). They’re usually like this:

Man: I told you.

(Long, long, long pause in which the camera does not cut away and no one moves)

Woman: About what?

Man: (Inhales)

(Cut to woman who has not moved at all)

(Long, long, long pause in which the camera does not cut away and no one moves)

(Cut back to man)

Man: About Jack.

…and so on, for about three hours or more. Scenes which never end and go on for far too long without dialogue or moving the film forward at all.

First Man was bad for this when it started: We have a shot of Armstrong’s daughter (I’m presuming: It could be his niece for all we’re told) in hospital, some kind of machine looking at her.

We have no clue how the actors are feeling.

We have no idea what’s going on, since there’s no dialogue or exposition going on. Is she dying? We don’t have a clue until we see her being buried. Again, this goes on with minimal dialogue, so we have no clue how the actors are feeling in these scenes.

I don’t mind not being spoon fed for every scene. I don’t mind long scenes that do something for the movie. But Oscar-bait movies always go for these long, endless scenes with no exposition and no explanation of what’s happening. You can make a great movie without the pretention, folks!

Do you watch Oscar laden movies, or tend to avoid them? Let me know!

 

Review: Brother in the Land

3/5

 

 

Danny Lodge is one of the unlucky ones when World War Three breaks out – he’s one of the survivors…

First up: I don’t usually mention covers of books, which change from edition to edition, but this one was particularly hideous. I feel like someone let their kid play with Photoshop for ten minutes. Small wonder YA was so unappreciated for so long…

 I would have been reading this when I was twelve when it came out.

The book was written in 1984, so it falls right into the middle of my demographic – I would have been reading this when I was twelve when it came out, right in the middle of my watching Threads and The Day After and I have no doubt it would have left a permanent impact on me if I had come across it.

And since it was published in 1984, it’s an interesting experience to see how much YA has matured since. Characterisation is non-existent and the events are sanitised and far more cosmetic than they would be today. Radiation sickness, third degree burns and nuclear winter are all off page or non-existent.

The last YA I read was Dry by Neal / Jarrod Shusterman, published in 2019, and what a difference that was…

I don’t mean this as a criticism of 80s YA. This is simply how it worked for a long time. There was no perception that teenagers could handle anything more than the slim thirty thousand words this book contains, no perception they could handle more than cardboard characters.

One plus for that shortness is that the book zooms along, event after event, with little pause for reflection or for the characters to catch up.

Swindells decides to really go for it.

Then something happens roughly three quarters of the way through: Swindells decides to really go for it. He pours on the bleakness and desperation and ramps it up. This is the book we should have been reading from the first pages, and it’s grim and sobering stuff.

Even sanitised and cleaned, it’s a brutal exploration of a war that might still happen.

Have you ever found a great book hiding behind a hideous cover? Let me know!

Review: Bird Box

3/5

 

 

 

No one has seen them and survived. No one knows what they look like – or even if they exist as more than mass hysteria. All people know is the result when they do see one: psychotic rage and suicide. Malorie doesn’t believe it until her sister becomes another victim…

Despite there being moments of absolute and complete cold terror in this story, it all felt flat to me. There’s far too much telling and not enough showing going on. I can understand it when the characters are blindfolded (“Tom sounded happy.”), but not when the blindfolds are off.

I’d rate it a lot higher if I felt for these people.

Because of that, there’s a distance between the characters and their fates that left the apocalyptic climax empty and hollow. Which is a shame; I’d rate it a lot higher if I felt for these people rather than had them described to me.

There are other structural problems as well: Malerman also tells most of the story through flashback, and when flashbacks happen inside that flashback, it’s time to look at that structure again. In one instance, a flash forward takes place inside a flashback. There’s a relationship implied between Malorie and another character, but there’s no evidence of it going on in the story.

We only hear the world, not smell it or feel it.

It’s not easy to take a visual medium like a book and turn it into a world of sounds, and for the most part, Malerman pulls that off very well. But again, there are problems: Malerman focuses on sounds, not smells or textures. We only hear the world, not smell it or feel it.

When the characters are outside in the absolute darkness of their blindfolds, we are as blind as they are, and the mere snap of a twig sends them into a fear for their lives and sends a shock from us. It’s a terrifying feeling, and it stems from a very primal fear: One day, we might wake up blind.

As an extra note, I haven’t seen the movie. But I bet this is one instance where it works better than the book.

Have you seen Bird Box? Is it better than the book? Let me know!

Review: The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

3/5

 

 

Awaking in a forest, Aiden Bishop has no idea of who he is. He has no idea where he is, or how he came to be there. And, in fact, he doesn’t seem to be himself at all. In short order, he’s informed that’s he’s looping through the same day as different people. He has eight “days” to solve a murder that was never solved…

I’m not sure what to make of Seven… I haven’t read many murder mysteries, and when I do, I always think I’ve missed giant clues that I should have picked up. Sometimes I have trouble picking up the subtext in conversations and actions in stories, and it doesn’t help. The detective gets all excited about something small, and I’m wondering what obvious thing I missed.

It’s fairly traditional in its format: Isolated country house, everyone has a secret (including the maids), people being hit on the head, poisoned, and shot with a variety of weapons. Information is introduced towards the end that means you couldn’t possibly have solved the murder before the protagonist, and the murderer or detective often spends a chapter explaining what they did.

I was expecting something more…off the wall for such a fun concept

I wanted to rate Seven higher, maybe four stars, but hiding under the body-swapping and time-looping is a fairly traditional murder-mystery with a fairly traditional resolution. I think I was expecting something more…off the wall for such a fun concept.

I would have liked to have seen all eight hosts converging on the murderer, or more interaction between them. But because the hosts days are linearly explored, it wasn’t an option without giving away the murderer on loop one. I would have liked to have seen more dialogue and situations from (say) host four to host two, and then seen it from host two to host four, to compare their internal monologues. Even so, if they ever make a movie of it, it’s going to be mind-bending trying to keep it all straight.

A character blackmails another in loop two by finding evidence in loop six

There are some fun time-bending things going on though, like when Aiden talks to himself from a later loop, then repeats it the next loop from the other characters perspective. To give a sense of linearity to the whole thing, Turton takes a character and makes them bed-ridden for the whole day. We pop back into them now and then for some exposition and explanations before popping back out again, a nice touch. A character blackmails another in loop two by finding evidence in loop six, which won’t be for four “days”.

To add to the fun, Aiden keeps meeting a secondary character out of chronological order – for her. I’d love to see the story from her point of view!

Murder and life become cheap when the person you kill is alive again in twelve hours.

One of the deeper themes of the book is who we become when we have no consequences to face in the morning. Murder and life become cheap when the person you kill is alive again in twelve hours’ time. There’s nothing like a mask to bring out our real personalities, a character says. Aiden struggles with that throughout the book, trying to find and keep himself in his hosts sometimes unattractive personalities.

Because it isn’t really my genre, some of the nods to Agatha Christie and other murder mysteries may have gone over my head, which is a shame. It felt like there was a sequel hook or two as well – the character running the loop says someone else is investigating a murder on an ocean liner.

Despite how well researched and planned this story was, I still feel Turton could have done even more with it. Next time around, maybe!

If you like murder-mysteries, did this one work for you? Let me know!

Review: Little Dorrit

3/5

 

 

Returning from a long trip in India, Arthur Clennam finds his pious mother as unfeeling and callous as when he left her. Seeking to balance her selfishness with acts of charity, he notices that his mother takes an out-of-character interest in a maid: Amy Dorrit. Arthur decides to get to know the Dorrits and their sad history better…

The story of the Dorrits didn’t seem enough to keep the thing going for eight hundred pages

About a third of the way through this, I was curious as to how Dickens was going to keep me interested. The story of the Dorrits didn’t seem enough to keep the thing going for eight hundred pages, and I was beginning to lose interest. He seemed to have felt the same thing, and introduces a whole raft of intertwining subplots. In fact, in some places, the subplots are the plot. For the first half of the book, the Dorrits rot in Marshalsea debtor’s prison while these subplots mostly run the show (A historical aside: Dicken’s father was put in Marshalsea when Charlie was twelve).

The second part of the story is where these plots start to come together. The Dorrits are released with much fanfare and a small fortune, and re-invent themselves by denying their past. Arthur is estranged from them and investigates a strange Frenchman hanging round his mother’s home, which brings about the final, amazingly convoluted twist to the story.

The whole theme of the novel is one of deception and lies and even self-deception. Arthur revisits his old girlfriend, and discovers she’s become fat (and therefore unattractive!) and fatuous. Deciding to throw in the towel in the love department, Arthur hardens his heart to falling in love again. Which he promptly does with his friend’s daughter, then spends a few chapters agonisingly denying it to himself when she falls for someone else.

Dorrit senior lies to himself and resists acknowledging that’s he’s come from a debtor’s prison when he’s released. And even when he was there, he relished being “Father of the prison” and people giving him money as though he were important.

Casby, supposedly a genial and friendly guy, is a money grubbing fraud, and his agent turns out to be a decent and honest man. Flora, Arthur’s old girlfriend (she cannot take a breath when she talks!), turns out to be compassionate and friendly. Merdle, a man whose investments cannot go wrong, is a financial fraudster.

The more obvious villains, such as they are, are intense and sociopathic. Miss Wade, who casts any act of kindness as manipulation and replies with malice. Rigaud kills a dog merely because it threatened to bite him and sneers and sings and clicks his fingers through the story. Added to this is Arthur’s mother, a wooden ruler of a woman, upright and rigid, unfeeling and unbending.

They’re a nasty bunch, but are they any worse than the Meagles, whose spoilt daughter abuses their maid? The Meagles who won’t call the maid by her name, and only tell her to count ten when she’s angry, rather than listen to her? Are they worse than Dorrit’s eldest daughter, who marries a man solely to annoy his mother?

Thank goodness our governments are so more efficient these days

Woven into the story is a long diatribe at British efficiency: The Circumlocution Office. Any progress in England must be passed through this engine of uselessness. To quote Douglas Adams, things are “signed in triplicate, sent in, sent back, queried, lost, found, subjected to public inquiry, lost again, and finally buried in soft peat for three months and recycled as firelighters.” Thank goodness our governments are so more efficient these days, or where would we be? Even here, the lie that this department is necessary is believed by all to be the truth.

At the back of all this drama and deceit there stands a small figure: Little Dorrit. Alone in the Dorrit household, she remains as untouched by the sudden wealth they acquire as she was untouched by their Marshelsea debts. Tireless and selfless, she works to bring her father food, to find a job for her spoilt sister and wastrel of a brother. She does not complain, she does not falter. She is one of the toughest characters ever to have graced the pages of a book.

And since this is a Victorian novel, her reward for this is to marry Arthur. For what else would a woman want or need?