Fellside

fellsideTitle: Fellside

Author: M.R. Carey

Summary: You will find Fellside somewhere on the edge of the Yorkshire moors. It is not the kind of place you’d want to end up, but it’s where Jess Moulson could be spending the rest of her life.

It’s a place where even the walls whisper. And one voice belongs to a little boy with a message for Jess. Fellside will be the death of you – if it doesn’t save you.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: After the brilliance that was The Girl with All the Gifts, it was inevitable i would read Carey’s second novel. I was prepared for different; different setting, different genre, different vibe… I was not prepared for not-quite-as-good.

This book is a slow burner, setting up the characters, moving them into positions, and setting out several story lines before things really get going. And while that didn’t make the book that exciting, it was still very readable. It was easy to fall into the world and learn more about the characters.

Talking of characters, Carey does a brilliant job with all of them. They all have their faults, but they all have things to appreciate about them; they’re all realistic. Which i’m sure i’ve said dozens of times in various reviews, is the most important thing for me. Jess, the main character, was probably the character i liked the least. It’s not that i hated her, it’s just that she was the most lacking in character. For the protagonist I found her far too reactive (or simply inactive), rather than proactive. She let things happen around her and only did things in response to others. Dr Salazar, the prison doctor, i adored. He felt the most caring in a lot of ways, despite the fact that he was such a push over. I was waiting and hoping all the way through for him make a stand. Sylvie Stock was a self-centred bitch; i loved to hate her. The prisoners, the guards, the lawyers… all of them had their layers and were interesting to read about. The characters, i think, are what i enjoyed most about this book.

The different story threads were intriguing, and I enjoyed following them all. I’d just be getting into one over a few chapters, then it would change back to another one and i’d forget all about the previous to find out what was happening with this one… it was a good way to keep me reading and keep the book engaging. I loved the way the stories slowly began to overlap and then weave together, and how that affected the characters and their motivations. It was some pretty well executed storytelling.

But still, this book was not above three stars for me. I have quite a lot i wasn’t too impressed with, but to talk [read: rant] about them at any length or in any detail would involve pretty big spoilers. Suffice to say… there were no surprises for me in the book. From the very beginning I could guess how and where things were leading, if not the specific details. The trial, the little boy, the roles characters would play in the narrative… i called it all accurately and early enough that none of it was a revelation to me. Generally, i found the book a little too formulaic. The plot–its twists and turns–were very standard, if you know what to look for.

Mostly, though, i wasn’t a huge fan of the supernatural aspect of the story. That’s not a fault of the book, just a way in which we didn’t get on. I love books that could be real, that have their plots rooted in reality in some way. I loved The Girl with All the Gifts because it was science fiction; it gave its horror a biological basis. I find pseudoscience more palatable than the outright supernatural. And i would likely have enjoyed this book more if it had leaned more towards an ambiguous interpretation of certain aspects; the classic ‘is it real or was it all psychological’ get out clause.

I will likely read more of Carey’s work, but will hope for more in the vein of Gifts than Fellside. And with The Boy on the Bridge, a book set in the Gifts world, due out next year, i am cheerfully optimistic!

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TTT: Film and TV

TTTThis was actually a lot harder than I thought it would be. I love books, and I love films and TV shows, so imagining some of my favourite books in that media should be loads of fun. Right? Except it wasn’t so much. It’s not that it wasn’t fun, it’s just that, actually, there are a lot of books i’ve read that I don’t think would translate well to the screen. That a lot of the things I loved about the books would be lost. Some subtly, or a character’s inner conflict, or the underlying meaning of the entire book. So, it ended up being quite difficult to choose 10 books, to be honest.

This entire list also comes with a proviso: I would want to see these books made into films or TV shows that I would have creative control over. I would want them on the screen like they are in my head. I would get to decide what parts got left out and any details that would be changed. So often film adaptations let me down, but if this is my top ten—it’s my top ten.

American Gods – This is already getting a pilot for a TV series, but as far as i’m aware there is no cast, no date, and no guarantee of a full series. But yes, i’d have a lot of fun making this into a TV show. Actually seeing Wednesday and his merry band of ancient gods.

The Night Circus – The rights have been bought to adapt this into a film, but it doesn’t appear to be moving anywhere. I would be more than happy to be brought on as director. The visuals in this book are extraordinary, and I can imagine them working for the screen incredibly well.

The Girl with all the Gifts – This kind of plot is exactly what the horror/zombie film genre needs. Also that ending. Yes. It’s not even this specific book that i’d (necessarily) love to see on the big screen, but a film that takes the well-worn genre and adds some twists, approaches it from a new angle and generally does something different.

Apathy and Other Small Victories – Although this adaptation would need a voice over, I wouldn’t mind, because it would be hilarious. I’d even allow the narrator to break the fourth wall and address the audience directly. It would be cliché, but clichéd perfection.

The Vesuvius Club – Considering Mark Gatiss has written for both film and TV, it’s not a big surprise to find his book on this list. It’s just… perfectly set up to be a film (film series, even, with the two sequels). Imagine an Edwardian debonair James Bond-esque character with questionable morals and an even more questionable sexuality. Add hijinks, a sex club and an potential apocalypse.

All Fun and Games Until Somebody Loses an Eye – I picked this book because it’s my favourite, but really, any Brookmyre book. He has about 18 of them, you could close your eyes and blindly grasp at them and you’d snag a good one. The characters, the action, the plot… it’s all so larger than life, it’s so easy to image watching it on screen.

Tiny Deaths – I’d love to see these short stories adapted into a series of TV programmes. They all focus on death as the subject, but are so wide-ranging and interesting. It’s also something I can see going beyond the book, with more writers and more stories.

It – Okay, this has already been adapted into a film. Both the book and the film were a huge part of my childhood. And guess what? I’ve always preferred the book. There is something in the book that the film just fails to capture (as most book-to-film adaptations do). From my youth i’ve always wanted to write a screenplay for a new adaptation, ergo, it makes my list.

Plugged – This book in another that I can so easily see working well as a film. It’s not got a huge amount of depth to it, it’s a more typical action-driven story with some real characters and some interesting details and settings along the way. A classic action comedy.

Apartment 16 – Really now, I love the horror. This book has some great and varied aspects that could work so well on screen. Such creepy, subtle shiver down the spine moments, as well as some more straightforward gruesome creatures. And an apartment building setting; corridor after corridor, door after door, a slow creaking lift… it’s just perfect.

TTT: Books with Characters who Read

TTTI kind of disliked the openness of this question. I already have to pick my 10 choices, now you’re making me decide on the subject matter, too? It was too wide open—it could be anything. That felt more than a little daunting, so I pulled it back in to the subject matter at hand: books.

Behold, a list of 10 books with characters who read…

The Book Thief. An obvious choice, perhaps, but an excellent one. Liesel’s passion for reading, for exploring worlds beyond the terrifyingly violent one she’s in, was the entire reason I picked up this book in the first place.

I Capture the Castle. Cassandra is well-versed in poetry and literature, and because of this comes across beautifully in her writing. She even politely reads Stephen’s plagiarised and terrible original poetry, and doesn’t hate a word of it.

The Girl with All the Gifts. Melanie is a very clever 10-year-old girl who enjoys learning. She particularly likes read Greek mythology, drawing parallels and blending them with her imagination and the world around her.

The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop. Technically not a character, as this is Lewis Buzbee’s memoir from a life spent working in bookshops and the publishing industry, but still. His bookish thoughts, observations and tales are wonderful.

The Book of Lost Things. After the death of his mother, 12-year-old David retreats into the world of books and stories, fantasy and imagination. Then his retreat manifests, trapping him in a world of fantasy. But does he want to get out?

Fahrenheit 451. Okay, so technically Guy doesn’t read the books he saves and secrets away, but it’s more the act and meaning behind his actions; the idea that books are powerful, that gets this book on the list.

The Art of Fielding. I guess both Owen and Guert count as characters who love books, but Guert is the only one of the two that I loved. He was perfect in his imperfection, flawless in his flawness. He loved books, his daughter, his lover, his school—all without reservation.

Breakfast of Champions. This is the book I am currently reading, It is witty and insightful and weird and I love it. Kilgore writes bizarre science fiction, the single copies of which he sends out in the hopes of getting published. The only place his stories end up are as filler for porn magazines, which he then buys in order to re-read his own work.

Walking on Glass. This is an odd, but very good, book. It focuses of three story lines, one centring around Steven, who believes he is trapped on Earth following his role in a galactic war. He reads science fiction in the hope of finding clues and messages.

Looking for Alaska. This book was a solid average for me: not bad, but not amazing. Alaska was a fascinating character, though. I can picture her room, piled with books, and it is wonderful. Of course, the fact that she never gets to read them all… less so.

TTT: Female Heroes

TTT I hate the word “heroine” like i hate the words “actress” and “comedienne” and the connotations that they are somehow lesser than heroes, actors or comedians. Why the need to distinguish the sex between two people who are doing the same thing? So yes, this is a list of my favourite female heroes.

One of the obvious choices is Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games, and as much as i love her, i figure at least 80% of people writing for this topic will include her in their list. So i picked 10 others. As it is, i had to cut this list down to 10, so. Sorry Katniss!

Mrs Twit from The Twits. She was a nasty piece of work, but what I love about her is that she was just as nasty a piece of work as her husband. They have a hate-hate relationship, but in terms of the tricks they play on each other, Mrs Twit gives as good as she gets.

Liesel Meminger from The Book Thief. She’s an independent, strong-willed and intelligent young girl in a harrowing and terrible situation. But she manages finds friends, love, connection and joy.

Phyllis Watson from The Kraken Wakes. She’s a smart woman who sees the dangers coming years in advance, and plans accordingly without even involving her husband. When shit finally hits the fan, it is her plan that sees them through in the end.

Eleanor Vance from The Haunting of Hill House. Although in many ways Eleanor is timid, easily manipulated and cares far too much what people think of her, she can, when the mood strike her, be hot headed, strong-willed and fiercely independent. In some ways I pity Eleanor, because I don’t at all see things how she does, but in the end she stood by her own (perhaps misguided) opinions and did what she wanted.

Melanie from The Girl with All the Gifts. From the start of the book, where she does not have all the information as to what situation she finds herself in, to the the end of the book, where she is the one who puts all the pieces together. Melanie is a thoughtful 10-year-old girl, who gives this book the kind of hopefully bleak ending I love.

Amy Dunne from Gone Girl. Don’t get me wrong—i don’t like Amy, but I have to admire her. She was smart, she was patient, and she was thorough. She got shit done, and as situations evolved, she rolled with the punches and altered her plans. I hate her, but damn it I respect her.

Jane Fleming from All Fun and Games Until Somebody Loses An Eye. From repressed and tedious wife, mother and grandmother to arse kicking, gun toting, rescuer. This granny certainly kens the score.

Angelique de Xavia from A Big Boy Did It and Ran Away. She’s an innocent looking petite lady who wouldn’t stand out in a crowd. And she can kick your arse from 20 feet away before you blink.

Jasmine Sharp from Where the Bodies Are Buried. Failed actress turned private investigator, she’s willing to work outside the law and dig up long-buried secrets to get the job done.

 

This last one contains SPOILERS for The Wasp Factory. You have been warned…

 

Frank Cauldhame from The Wasp Factory. More of an anti-hero, but the twist that Frank was born a female and pumped full of drugs and lied to for most of his life made so much of his character work for me. The hatred of women he was surrounded by and the macabre nature of his hobbies. It made me like him.

The Girl with All the Gifts

gwatgTitle: The Girl with All the Gifts

Author: M.R. Carey

Summary: Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite. But they don’t laugh.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4.5/5

Review: I don’t keep track of new releases in any way, i just randomly come across books or receive recommendations (and mostly read ‘older’ books). I was excited for this book at around the time of its release, because of this. Joss Whedon recommends a book? I immediately go and look up that book. And it did sound exactly the kind of thing i would love. Six months later, i’ve read it and i love it.

I’m going to try to review this book while not giving too much away, because while it is similar to other books, other genres, there are a few important details that set it apart and allow it to explore aspects other books in this genre do not. And that makes this book some kind of wonderful, and not at all predictable or run of the mill.

A post-apocalyptic English setting; horror mixed with science fiction; three intelligent, strong-willed female characters. OF COURSE i loved this book. The beginning is strong, setting up the strange arrangement and posing many questions and making me eager to keep reading. When the status quo is disturbed the story really gets going, and although the plot runs a not unfamiliar path, the details that make this book unique affect everything that happens.

The science aspect of the story thrilled me, in the same way I Am Legend did. The horror aspects of the plot are not dismissed as supernatural, but literally put under a microscope and given a scientific explanation–they are made plausible. The scientific explanation, and how the horror actually played out made me think of The Day of the Triffids (another book i love). A book reminding me of (but never seeming to copy) books i love is a wonderful experience, and i devoured this book. Whenever i wasn’t reading it, i wanted to be reading it.

I don’t want to give too much away, but then again, for me there were no big surprises. For an active reader it’s easy to figure out what’s happening. Why this little girl is locked in a cell and strapped in to a wheelchair. What gave me pause is how long it took her to figure it out. She’s a smart kid. Like, really smart. The fact that it takes her so long to realise what’s different about her doesn’t seem plausible to me. I’d have felt it more realistic if she’d known, but repressed the information. Consciously didn’t analyse the clues until there were too many for her to be able to deny it any longer.

There were a couple of occasions where the two male characters would use a phrase that made me frown and grit my teeth. “The women folk” being one of them. But overall this book dealt with its “women folk” very well. All three female characters are intelligent, strong, opinionated and brave. Even, and maybe especially, the 10 year old one. In fact, all of the characters were well done. The proof of realistic characters for me is when i like and hate something about all of them, and it held perfectly true for every character in this book. They also all evolved over the course of the book. Their experiences affected them, gradually and believably. Some in wonderful, positive ways; others in dark, twisted and detrimental ways.

Minor dislikes that prevented this book getting a full five stars are easily overlooked, but still have to count. There were several small moments of inconsistencies. Someone getting up when there had been no mention of them sitting down; little things like that. A half-arsed attempt at a romantic sub-plot that was forced, had no grounding and no point. Slightly too long an introduction to the characters, surroundings and post-apocalyptic world, considering many of the details are left out in order for more meaningful and dramatic reveals later on.

I enjoyed and couldn’t put down the book all the way through, but i knew, really, that my opinion of the book as a whole would hinge on the ending. It couldn’t be typical, or easy–the unusual elements this books includes demands a more complex and considered ending. Thankfully, it didn’t disappoint. The ending, again, was reminiscent of I Am Legend, in that it’s bleak, imperfect, but ultimately hopeful. It just requires you to allow your perception of a happy ending to be looked at in a slightly different light.