The Ship by Antonia Honeywell

Young, naive, and very sheltered, Lalage Page has grown up in near-isolation in her parents’ flat. She is sheltered from the chaos of the collapsing civilization. People are killing one another over crusts of bread and the police are detaining anyone without an identification card. With things getting more dangerous outside, Lalla’s father decides it is time to use their escape route – a ship he has built for them and the five hundred people it can hold.

Once they get underway, Lalla realizes the utopia her father has created isn’t everything it seems. There is more food than anyone can eat but no way to grow more; there are more clothes than any one can wear but no way to mend them. And no one can tell her – or is willing to tell her – where they are going.

Going by just the premise alone, one would think The Ship would be a fascinating and nail-biting read. Even the little blurbs on the cover made me think this and so I was quite eager to begin reading this book. I was hoping for something dark, something that would keep me up at night reading despite the fact that I had to work the next day. Something that I could really sink my teeth in to.

What I ended up with was just over 300 pages of a whiny, self-absorbed teenager and her ‘poor me!’ attitude.

Lalage Page is the main character of The Ship and everything is told from her perspective. She is sixteen years old and has apparently spent the majority of her life confined to the four walls of her parents’ flat in London. The only times she leaves the safety of the flat is when she goes out with her mother; either to the National Museum or out on some errand for food or something. What interaction she has with the outside world is through her screen, which is likely akin to an iPad or other similar device. The little interaction she has with actual people is with the homeless living in the National Museum, and even then she bemoans this as boring and as taking her mother’s attention away from her.

This isolation causes Lalage to be somewhat stunted emotionally. She is very naive, to the point that she does not understand that food spoils and she attempts to eat a fake apple, believing it to be real. She has trouble relating to the other people on the ship, even ones that are relatively close to her age. When her mother dies, Lalla mourns but really only in a “How could she do this to me?” kind of way. She gives little thought to how the death affects her father or to any one else on the ship.

This does not mean that the others on the ship are without their own problems. Lalla’s father, Michael, seems to develop a kind of Messiah complex over the occupants on the ship. Even before they set sail he sees himself as their savior, the shepherd leading his flock to a new life. Some of the speeches he gives can even be viewed as proselytizing. He urges the people of the ship to give up their old lives and not speak of the time before, he tells them the ship is their new home for now and for always.

And the people of the ship follow him, almost blindly it seems. At his encouragement they seem more than happy to discard the few memories of their loved ones, tossing them over the side of the ship and in to the water. When Lalla questions them, wondering why they could simply throw items once considered precious away, each claims they are happier without them.

As an avid reader, I find that I enjoy a book more when I can relate to the main character in some way. Even if it is something small, even if it is that I simply like how a character acts, I am more likely to enjoy reading about that person. Unfortunately, such was not the case with Lalla. I found her to be irritating and at times downright annoying. I found her to be whiny and self absorbed. If her internal character had started like this and changed over the course of the story, that would be understandable and even enjoyable. Since this was not the case, I could not relate to her in any form.

With such an interesting premise, The Ship had a great deal of promise to be a riveting read. Sadly, such was not the case. Skip this one, dear readers. You’ll thank me for it.

 

Advertisements

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

Tom Hazard is a man with a dangerous secret. For all intents and purposes, he looks like your average 41 year old man. However, Tom has a rare and unique genetic condition that slows his aging dramatically. In truth he is over 400 years old.

In that time Tom has done amazing things. He’s performed with the great Shakespeare, sailed with Captain Cook, and even had cocktails with Fitzgerald. But now Tom is tired and longs for a normal life.

So with some help, Tom moves back to London and takes a job as a history teacher. All is well and he even meets a lovely French teacher and the two take an interest in one another. Tom’s past, however, continues to haunt him in the form of worsening headaches and memories of his lives gone by. Including the most important one; his first with his wife Rose and daughter Marion.

As events begin to unfold before Tom he must at last come to a decision; to continue living in a past that he can never recapture or come to terms and live in the present.

I will be completely honest with you, dear reader, I was expecting so much more from How to Stop Time. When I first heard of the book, it was when it had been announced that Benedict Cumberbatch (a favorite actor of mine) had been cast in the movie adaptation of the book. Like many fans I was excited and while it took some time, eventually read the book. Now, I’m only looking forward to this movie if they do an almost complete rewrite.

Tom, the major character of the book and through whose eyes we are taken on this journey, is such a boring individual. You would think that after 400 years a person would become at least marginally interesting, but such is not the case! Tom is terribly wishy washy, pining over his dead wife for over 300 years and leaving the search for his daughter – who he learns is like him and ages slowly – to someone else. For all the love that he professes he has for the child, he has an odd way of showing it.

Much like Forrest Gump, Tom floats through history and meets great people almost randomly. He plays lute for Shakespeare, he shares a drink with F. Scott Fitzgerald, he even dines with Cecil B. Demille. Even for one as nearly immortal as Tom, these would seem incredible, but he brushes them off and mopes. He agonizes over his wife and daughter but eventually does nothing.

The flashbacks of Tom’s, to his earlier lives, are certainly interesting. Haig seems to have done a fair bit of research and does his best to capture the feel of London as well as other places. The only drawback is Tom, at times he is very difficult to relate to or even feel any empathy for.

Another point I found irritating was that for all of the information we are given on Tom, there is so little given about the other characters. Characters like Hendrich, the head of the Albatross Society, or Camille, the pretty French teacher Tom develops a crush on. At times these characters are little more than window dressing. The reader is given so very little on them that when something happens, when something is revealed, there is no emotional reaction brought about.

The one individual that brought the most irritation in regards to this ‘not enough information’, was Agnes. We are given to believe that she is Hendrich’s right hand man – or woman, in this case – seeking out Thomas originally and helping him on occasion. Yet, other than that, we are given almost nothing else. Who is she? Where did she come from? Why is she helping someone so clearly unhinged as Hendrich? None of these points are touched on and are left dangling like loose threads.

The ending of the book is incredibly rushed and was not very satisfying. Throughout the entire book we are given all this build up and it is resolved in a handful of pages. The whole situation with his daughter – something that has gone on for centuries – is not even given that. I find it hard to believe that the decades of hurt feelings and pent up emotions can be simply forgotten just by seeing an old coin. And considering the plot of the book itself, this is really saying something.

The epilogue also felt tacked on and again did not satisfy me while reading it. It was as if Haig had finished the book and then came back at a later date with an “Oh, the readers will want to know what happened next…”. The actual ending of the book, despite its numerous flaws, felt like an ending.

If I were to recommend this to any one, I would say wait for the movie. That might actually be better than this was.

FantasticLand by Mike Bockoven

Since it opened in the 1970’s, FantasticLand was the theme park where “Fun was guaranteed!”. Like Disney and Universal, it was a major draw for numerous visitors to the Sunshine State. But when a hurricane ravages the Florida coast and isolates the park, the employees left behind find the park anything but fun.

Five weeks later, when authorities finally find a way to rescue the survivors, they come upon something out of a horror show. Photos soon appear online of heads on spikes outside of the rides along with viscera and bones littering the gift shops. Those who see the pictures are left wondering, how could a group of mostly teenagers commit such horrible acts?

FantasticLand is an interesting read as it is presented as a kind of investigation. Each chapter is told from one person’s point of view, transcribed from the interview in to a short story in first person narrative. There is only one actual interview and that is with an individual that numerous others reference throughout the rest of the book.

Numerous reviewers have compared FantasticLand to Lord of the Flies and I find that to be a very apt comparison. In both books a disaster of some kind leaves groups of individuals stranded and hoping for eventual rescue. The differences being in the former those stranded are both male and females of various ages from teen-aged to older adults, while in the latter the stranded are all young boys. This makes a difference in how the tragedies are dealt with and perceived, but at times there is little to be seen.

In both books those who are left behind form social groups or tribes. In FantasticLand, the tribes are based on where the employees worked in the park itself. As they worked together day in and day out, they were comfortable together and as such gravitated together when times were difficult. This formation of tribes also created a kind of rivalry with the tribes battling one another over necessities like food and water – even when no such fights were necessary as there was plenty to go around.

In a way FantasticLand can be seen as a kind of think piece. So many of the characters in the book are young adults; little more than kids in the high school/college age range. Their entire lives they have had information fed to them via social media, be it on the TV or computer or cell phone. Their every move has been documented and shared and either that or their job had given them a direction to go. When they are deprived of that direction and that audience, where are they to turn?

Like the aforementioned Lord of the Flies, FantasticLand can be a difficult read at times. Not because it is badly written – quite the opposite, I found it to be quite well written and researched. It is difficult because it is very violent and a bit depressing. In reading about what these young adults do, the reader is forced to consider what they them self might do. They must consider if they would volunteer to stay behind like these characters did and how far they would be willing to go to survive.

 

Beneath the Sugar Sky (Wayward Children #3) by Seanan McGuire

Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children may resemble a boring boarding school but there is more to the school that meets the eye. It is a special kind of school, a magical school, where students who have experienced fantastic adventures are slowly reintroduced in to the “real” world.

One of the students was a girl named Suni. Suni was supposed to be the savior of the sugary magical land Confection; she was to defeat the Queen of Cakes, marry, and have a daughter named Rini. Unfortunately, Suni was killed before any of these things could happen.

And yet Rini was born anyway.

With Suni gone and not having returned to Confection, the timeline is trying to correct itself. This means that Rini is slowly disappearing and Confection is slowly crumbling. It will be a race against time for Suni’s friends, both old and new, to try and make things right.

Beneath the Sugar Sky is the third and most recent installment in McGuire’s Wayward Children series. It picks up about a little over a year after the ending of the first book. Some students have left the school while some have remained and new ones have joined them, one of them being Cora.

Previously, McGuire touched on different ethnicities, skin colors, gender identities, and sexualities. Now the subject of body image and it’s accompanying anxiety is added to the mix through the character of Cora. In our world, Cora is seen as obese. Her weight seen as an affliction and something to be ashamed of, whereas in the underwater world she traveled to her weight was seen as a boon. The layers of fat that were a point of shame for her here were a point of pride among the merpeople she met. In returning to our world, Cora must once again face the negativity.

Unlike the first two books (Every Heart a Doorway and Down Among the Sticks and Bones, respectively) Beneath the Sugar Sky has a lighter feel to it. While there are some darker elements – the cemetery scene immediately comes to mind – it does not continue throughout the entire story. Much like the world of Confection, there is a lighter feel to the prose in this latest installment.

That is not to say the book is all light and frivolity. It is actually a meshing of darkness and light. It is a tale of friendship and love, even when we do not know the person we are trying to help.

Yes, there are a few confusing elements but they are minor compared to the overall tale. Alas, I cannot go into them too much as to do so would ruin the story itself as they are a key part to the plot. I myself had to reread a handful of passages a few times just to make sure I had everything straight in my head.

I do recommend readers read the previous books before delving in to Beneath the Sugar Sky. At the very least they should read the first book, Every Heart a Doorway as characters in that book return here. Other than that, I absolutely recommend this one to my readers. I tore through it in a single evening and am sure you will do the same. I cannot wait for the next installment.

Fox by Dubravka Ugrešic

With the shape-shifting and wily fox of Eastern folklore as an underlying motif, Fox is a novel that reinvents itself over and over again. It is a blending of literary trivia and the timeless story of a young woman trying to find love.

Through it’s narrative force the reader is taken from Russia to Japan, through Balkan minefields and on American road trips. We are taken from the 1920s to present day, as the novel explores the power of storytelling and literary invention. Of the notions of betrayal, and the randomness of human lives.

It is incredibly rare, dear reader, for me to not finish a book – much less write a review on it. Yet that is what I find myself doing with Ugresic’s Fox.

When I picked the book up off the shelf at my library, the blurb on the back seemed very interesting. It was only when I began reading, or at least trying to read, that I found myself sadly disappointed.

Perhaps it is because I do not find Ugresic’s writing style appealing. She has a kind of rambling style of writing, her words seeming to jumble together in an almost stream of consciousness style. Each chapter is its own unique story, centering on one particular event or another, but also interspersed with random bits of information that seem to pertain to what is happening.

Unfortunately, due to the style of writing, I found myself going cross eyed halfway through the first story. I could not even finish the second one before I was forced to put the book down.

Readers who are familiar with Ugresic’s previous works claim Fox is typical of her work. Perhaps it is because I myself am not familiar with her previous novels, or perhaps it is because there is something lost in the translation of this book in to English. Suffice it to say, I did not enjoy reading Fox. So much so that I did not even finish it.

Whether it is good or bad, I cannot really say. Nor can I honestly recommend it.