So, I’m back! I had a pretty lovely week full of sun, sea, sangria and squid, made all the better by a bit of hiking, a lot of animals and a LOAD of books! I read one and a half novels in-between leaving my house and arriving at the hotel (flights are DULL) and managed to get in at least a few chapters per day whilst there, either round the pool or on the bus or at night before sleeping, so I was glad I erred on the side of caution and took seven titles!
I’ll be putting my holiday pics up on Facebook at some point so if you want to see some AMAZINGLY HUGE TORTOISES and magnificent whales and dolphins, check there, as on here I’ll just be talking about the books! Speaking of which, how brilliant were my guest-posters Kathryn and Sian? The books they chose to review look pretty darn good and even though I haven’t read any of them myself yet, I’ve put them both firmly on my wishlist for future! Thanks guys!
Onto The Roundup, then…. I’m doing this in two parts so the scroll wheel doesn’t get too much abuse! Here are the first three:
The Better Mousetrap by Tom Holt.
I included this in my holiday pile after Tzevai and Sarah both reminded me on twitter that it was a rather excellent book; I’d had it in my TBR list on Goodreads for a few months but never really got round to picking it up – it attracted me mainly due to sounding a bit like Neil Gaiman crossed with Terry Pratchett, and for the awesome byline ‘When is a door not a door? When it’s a mousetrap’. I like good bylines.
The plot centers around the existence of a Magic Door, possessed by magician Frank Carpenter, through which travel in time and space is possible. It’s not magic in a Harry Potter sense, more an ordinary world similar to our own but filled with a manner of spells, artefacts, creatures and places that are distinctly ‘not quite right’. Frank uses his Magic Door to go back in time and change events on behalf on an insurance company to prevent them having to pay out to claimants. One day, Frank is tasked with saving the life of one Emily Spitzer who fell out of a tree whilst rescuing a cat – a seemingly ordinary day to day task, at least for Frank. However, Emily doesn’t stay alive again for very long; and instead is killed repeatedly in a series of events that, no matter how much Frank tries to alter, insist on having the last move. Frank develops a personal interest in the case and soon works out that Emily’s first death can’t possibly have been an accident, and that someone must be actively trying to murder her and keep her dead. Armed with the knowledge of the only thing that can beat the powers of a Magic Door in this sort of battle – a Better Mousetrap – Frank and Emily try desperately to outwit whoever is chasing them and destroy them and their Mousetrap before Emily is gone for good.
There’s a lot more background and depth and complexity in the novel than my brief outline above gives credit for, but to say much more about the plot would spoil the constant twists and bits of poignancy and humour that are tucked away in Holt’s book. A Better Mousetrap is funny, engaging, exciting and a little bit different – deadbeat adult humour is mixed with fantasy and magic, and there’s even a few dragons for good measure. Themes revolve around love, greed, fate, sacrifice and lonliness, but it’s not a serious book in the in the same way that more literary fiction titles would examine these things; it’s a lot more off-the-wall, a lot more surprising and a lot more Neil Gaiman-esque. (I was right there.) There are some hilarious social observations about the City and the corporate world and some weird and wonderful references to myths and folklore and fairytales, and overall, I LOVED it. I’ve never read a Tom Holt title before but after reading this immediately downloaded a couple of his other novels; which I’m hoping are just as quirky and bizarre as A Better Mousetrap turned out to be!
Pixel Juice by Jeff Noon
This is another title I’ve been meaning to read for ages and never really done anything about. I’ve heard a fair few people sing Noon’s praises, especially for his Vurt series (which I will also get round to one day!) I’m recently getting very into short story collections and love them in pretty much any genre – this was one of three shorts collections I took away with me; I think they’re an excellent choice for travelling as you can read a whole story in 10 or 15 minutes or less; great for lazy moments in between swimming or hiking or whilst waiting for the shower to be free!
Pixel Juice is a series of SF and fantasy shorts, mixing metaphorical fiction with alternative realities and a very overactive imagination. Some excerpts are entirely nonsensical but entirely wonderful; some are strange, some are disturbing, some are funny and some are just downright odd. Mixed in with fairytale-esque narratives are fictional product advertisements, single page dream recollections and details of awe-inspiring and barely imaginable gadgets, for example the discovery of an ‘off switch’ for the human body and it’s various implications for the person and society. The first story throws you right in at the deep end of Noon’s crazy and discordant mind, telling of Doreen, a girl who is buying dog seed because she always wanted to grow a dog. The stories are fast-paced and pack in idea after idea, a whirlwind of imagination and impossibilities. Noon is an inventor as much as a storyteller and his words crash all over the place as they try to keep up with his ideas. It’s a fun read. I adored every second and am incredibly glad I read Pixel Juice , it provided an utterly fantastic and absolutely mental escape from reality, and is a book that I know I’ll be returning to again and again, picking out single entries to marvel over and get lost in and be amused by. If you think you don’t like SF or fantasy, read this. You will then.
The Storyteller by Jodie Picoult.
Now, I mentioned in my pre-holiday Bookish Q&A post that although I’m not a long-standing Picoult fan like my friend Emma, I did enjoy the few titles of hers I have read before, and was suitably intrigued enough by the premise of her latest release The Storyteller to download it the same day it came out, something I can’t remember doing with a book since the final Harry Potter!
The Storyteller, like all of Picoult’s titles, focuses on a moral dilemma and all the tough choices and mental battles that accompany it – in this case, it was whether an elderly ex-SS officer (Josef) deserved to die at his own request or be forced into living out the rest of his days suffering from the memories of what he had done and who he had once become. As with any dilemma and any Picoult book, the issues weren’t quite as cut and dry as this – the girl whom Josef asked to assist in his euthanasia attempt (Sage) is a Jewish granddaughter of a concentration camp inmate; and herself the victim of severe mental and physical trauma in her past, as well as being a friend of Josef before his big reveal. Josef himself is, in the eyes of his neighbourhood, an upstanding member of the community and a well respected figure in the local educational authority. As The Storyteller unravels we are forced to confront what exactly we define evil as, whether remorse and regret are privileges only afforded to some, whether guilt alone can be a good enough excuse to apologize and whether revenge is ever justified. Typical of Picoult there is also a mighty twist at the end, which in all honesty completely knocked me (and Emma!) for six, I did NOT see it coming and was incredibly frustrated at myself for missing it! The twist changed the impact of decisions made throughout the book by everyone involved, and again forced you to re-enter the moral thought process that was extremely difficult to both wade through and come out the other end feeling comfortable with yourself.
I’m still not certain I’ve reached a decision on what I would have done in Sage’s shoes, and I’m still not altogether certain that she made the right one – The Storyteller is the kind of book that you’ll have a different opinion on every time you think about or talk about it with someone, and the kind of story that never really goes away, even when you’ve finished reading it. I cried, I wrestled with my own conscious I started heated debates with my family inspired by topics brought up; and now I’ve read it and digested it, I know I’ll never forget it. It was extremely different to the other titles I took away with me, and I can’t say I enjoyed it in the same way, but I did enjoy it – I like being challenged and forced to think and debate and get my brain all mangled up in morals and circular arguments. If you don’t, you might find The Storyteller a bit of a hard slog, but if you do, it’s a book you must read.
Part 2 coming soon!