the kite runner

On Wednesday morning, I finished reading Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner while sitting in the tea room, waiting to start work (most of the time, I go to work really early so that I’m not starting the day in a rush). I did enjoy reading it, and thought it was quite an eye-opening sort of novel, but I don’t feel like it had as much impact as what I was expecting. To be fair, this was probably not entirely the fault of the book.

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of the girl who fell

I feel like it’s been a while since I last had a good so-called “book hangover”. On Friday, I finished reading Karen Foxlee’s “The Anatomy of Wings” and I still haven’t been able to move on and start a new book. I haven’t even gotten around to choosing which of the many books on my TBR list I should read next. TAOW is looking like a tough act to follow. I’ll probably settle on something in a completely different genre.

TAOW was actually given to me by a friend for my birthday last year. She said she bought it because it looked cool and seemed like it might be the sort of novel I’d enjoy. This is the edition that I have:

The Anatomy of Wings - Karen Foxlee (UQ Press edition)

The Anatomy of Wings – Karen Foxlee (UQ Press edition)

As you can see, it’s a rather melancholy-looking cover, so, matched with the title, I was expecting this novel to be poignant, poetic and moving. And, boy, it did not disappoint!

Before I started reading it, I had actually been a bit afraid that it’d be overly poetic in the descriptions and metaphors and the writing in general; and I was worried that I’d be going through this book, rolling my eyes at the sap dripping off the pages. First impressions can be harsh, hey? Well, I was half correct – it was very poetic, very descriptive, and abstract at times, but it wasn’t overbearing, and it never got to the point of being cringe-worthy.

I would actually say (and I have said to the friend who gave me the book) that TAOW is potentially one of the most beautifully written modern novels I have ever read. (By “modern” I mean something set within the last, I dunno, forty to fifty years (?) Well, it was first published in 2007, and the story’s set in the ’80s, so it fits my loose, not-really-defined criteria anyway.) It was so amazingly written that I didn’t even mind that Foxlee only used commas very, very sparingly (probably the only grammatical fault I could find, but you could also call it poetic licence and hence not really a fault).

“The Anatomy of Wings” is the story of a young girl, Jennifer Day, and the events surrounding the death of her oldest sister, Elizabeth (AKA Beth). It’s told from Jenny’s perspective, but the narrative switches between pre- and post-death, and you’re sort of piecing together the whole picture as you go along. At first this was a little bit confusing, but Foxlee does make it obvious enough where you are at any given point in the book (while still being subtle, of course). As I really got into TAOW, I really liked this switching and jumping back and forth. Rather than stunt the flow of the novel, I think it helped to build tension and intrigue.

But, of course, the stand-out thing for me was the way Foxlee used words to create such powerful imagery: the way she paired subjects and descriptors that usually don’t meet in the same sentences; and the way she brought small details – things that other writers might’ve ignored – into the story and actually enhanced the story by doing so.

I should mention as well that TAOW is set in a rural Queensland mining town. No offence to rural/remote towns, but given the setting, I really had not expected the novel to be so deep and magical and fundamentally moving. I hadn’t expected to uncover such a strong connection to the characters. Jenny is only about ten years-old in the book, but she has got to be one of the most likeable and relatable child protagonists I’ve ever come across. (This is probably helped by the fact that she really likes birds (as do I) and her favourite bird is the wedge-tailed eagle, which is also my favourite bird. I am actually considering writing a post on this.)

Sometmes it was the really simple but beautiful details that got me. After reading TAOW, I feel like I’ll never look at the sky in the same way again; I’ll never look at rain clouds or dead grass or eye lashes in quite the same way. And it wasn’t just the visuals. Foxlee incorporated a lot of other sensory details as well, particularly sound. The auditory details – the cicadas singing their one-worded, one-noted song; the sound of bicycle tyres on hot bitumen; the lake breathing in and out against the grass and weeds – all amazingly written. One of my favourites, though, is when Jenny describes the sound of her mum’s voice, post-tragedy, as having the quality of “a teaspoon tapped against a teacup, it had a hollow fragile ring to it”.

“The Anatomy of Wings” is a book that I was sad to finish. It’s one of those books that, once finished, I straightaway went back through to re-read favourite excerpts. It’s a book that I wanted to cry over – not from sadness, but from the beauty captured in its pages.

embracing the wonder

OK… I’m going to warn you right now that this is a bit of a long rambling post, so unless you’ve read ‘Akarnae’ or have some interest in YA fiction or fantasy, you probably want to skip this post…

This morning I finished reading Lynette Noni’s debut novel ‘Akarnae’. (It’s pronounced “ah-kar-nay”, as helpfully explained early in the book, in case you were wondering.) I first heard of ‘Akarnae’ through the author’s blog. I started following her blog last year (?) when she was in the final stages of getting her book ready for publishing and release. It was a pretty exciting time, and even more so for me because she’s a local author (same state still counts as local, right?), so I wanted to support her and buy her book when it came out.

It was released early this year, but it took me a while to get around to buying it, and then it took me another while to get around to actually reading it (too many other books in the way). But now I’ve finally finished ‘Akarnae’, so let’s get on with the review!

I haven’t read a fantasy novel since October last year (when I read ‘Northern Lights’ by Philip Pullman), so I had another reason to be excited – especially since everyone says ‘Akarnae’ is a cross between ‘Harry Potter’, ‘Narnia’ and ‘X-men’ (which, by the way, it pretty much is). However, as I started reading it, I kind of felt like my (unintentional) break from fantasy novels was hindering my ability to let go of reality and embrace the fantasy world (or “embrace the wonder”, as the tagline for the novel goes). During the introductory few chapters, where we learn about Alex (the protagonist) and Akarnae (Hogwarts-esque academy for gifted teenagers) and Medora (the parallel world where Akarnae is), I kept thinking that everything was happening too conveniently for Alex. My brain also kept asking questions, and wanting more explanations and for things to be more logical.

Of course, in a fantasy novel, not everything is going to “make sense” exactly, but considering that ‘Akarnae’ is about a fictional world that has a link to our world, I would have liked for it to be a bit more believable (if that makes sense).

When I had a quick look on Good Reads earlier, it seemed like everyone who read ‘Akarnae’ really loved it. I started thinking that maybe I hadn’t been in the right mindset to read it …until I found one reviewer that pretty much had the same critiques as I did. Mostly it was about how Alex just instantly became friends with Jordan and Bear, who also promised keep her secret about coming from another world, and dedicated themselves to helping her settle in; and also about how she kind of just went along with everything and resigned herself to spending months in this bizarre academy while she waited for someone to send her home. I mean, if I’d found a door to Medora, as awesome as that would be, I’d be majorly freaking out (a lot more than what Alex did).

In my opinion, however, the descriptions – of people and landscapes and whatnot – were actually quite good (if a little cliched). However, I think there’s something about idyllic scenery in novels that kind of puts me off a bit (is that weird?)

Unfortunately this particular GR reviewer had only read about a quarter of the novel before deciding to abandon it. To Noni’s credit, I thought ‘Akarnae’ actually got better as it went along, particularly the second half of the novel. I kind of wonder if Noni rushed through the introductory part of the book so that she could get stuck into the action. That being said, there’s a lot of detail throughout the novel as well. I actually considered re-reading it so that I can soak up all the details, but I usually don’t re-read books (in general), so it’s probably not going to happen (unless I have to wait years for the sequel).

The only other (kind of) negative I’d add is that the writing style didn’t seem very refined. However, if you go from reading Irving and Marquez to reading YAF, you’re probably going to notice some disparity in writing style… I will say, though, that her writing generally flowed quite well, so it was really easy to just keep reading and reading (particularly the second half!)

Since I followed Noni’s blog before I read her book, I also wonder if that biased my opinion. On one hand, I think I was more likely to enjoy reading it because Noni actually comes across as a genuinely awesome, yet humble person on her blog. Conversely, being aware of this potential bias, I might have subconsciously tried to counteract it by being hyper-critical about her novel. I’m not entirely sure which way it went in the end.

Speaking of ends, I really liked how ‘Akarnae’ ended. Everything clicked into place and everything made sense. It does well as a stand-alone novel, but there are enough hints and teasers to make me want to read more. On top of that, I kind of get the feeling that Noni has a bit of a crazy imagination (in a good way, of course), so I’m quite interested in seeing where she takes Alex next.

letting go of preconceptions

It feels like it’s been a long time between posts. I did post last week, and I’m still in time for this week’s post, but it got to the stage where I was starting to worry that maybe I’d accidentally forgotten a week…

Well, anyway, apart from being ridiculously busy at work (I think I did 40 hours over four days), I’ve been busy trying to finish ‘Never Let Me Go’ by Kazuo Ishiguro. I did actually finish reading it this afternoon, but I’m having a bit of trouble making up my mind about what I think of it.

NLMG, to me, seems to be a pretty short book (only 282 pages, and reasonably large font size) so I had expected to finish reading it pretty quickly (kind of like with ‘The Book of Tomorrow’, which I read earlier in the year). I can’t remember exactly, but I probably would have started reading it around mid-March. Maybe it started at a disadvantage because I’d just finished reading ‘The Hotel New Hampshire’. Actually, I remember taking my copy of NLMG to/from work and to lunch, but taking several days to actually get started on it because, although I’d been really keen to read it ever since I bought it in January, once it actually reached the front of the line, I didn’t want to rush into it.

Maybe I just wanted to allow adequate time between THNH and my next novel. (Usually I read a bit of ‘Great Expectations’ in between books – I find it helps the transition i.e. getting over book hangovers – but my copy of ‘Great Expectations’ was still on loan to a friend.) Maybe I just wanted a bit of a rest from reading in general (I’m quietly afraid of becoming short-sighted).

Now, this may seem a bit silly to some people, but another disadvantage NLMG faced resulted from the cover of the book. I’ve already written a post about the dilemma of buying the movie tie-in edition, but the problem goes beyond that. On one of the first occasions that I took the book to lunch at work, people naturally noticed that I was reading something new, and asked to see what it was. I was having lunch with quite a few people that day (good synchronising of lunchtimes), and most of them had seen the movie and thought it was, well, terrible.

I didn’t want this to deter me, as generally movies don’t live up to the books they’re based on, and I really want to say that it didn’t affect how I read it (I honestly didn’t know it was also a movie until I saw that cover), but, really, I can’t be sure. They also kind of spoiled the story a bit by talking about the donations (I still hadn’t started reading it at this stage). Again, I was hoping this still wouldn’t affect my reading experience (I knew Dumbledore would die in HP6 but still loved it), but I feel that, because of the way it’s written, it would have had a greater impact if I’d known nothing about it at the start.

Overall, NLMG didn’t capture and pull me in as well as I was expecting. The story kind of progressed a bit slowly, and I didn’t really sympathise with any of the characters. I checked out some reviews on Goodreads just now, and it seems like a lot of people thought that the first half or so was pretty slow. One person pointed out that nothing really gets explained until the last 30 pages.

I also wasn’t overly taken by the writing style – particularly the segues between sections, which felt a bit repetitive sometimes. It tended to be something like “I thought that was the worst of it, but then there was this incident” or “Before I tell you about this, I should elaborate on this other thing”. I’m probably oversimplifying, and maybe this is nit-picking, but it was just something I noticed.

The concept behind the book, however, I thought was great. It is thought-provoking, and kind of makes me wonder if this could realistically happen, provided you could get past the ethics, etc. (I can’t imagine that cloning would ever lose the controversy and become widely accepted.) And then there’s the question of whether clones would be like mindless zombies or if they’d think and feel and want things for themselves. You could end up with a clone uprising.

I liked NLMG a lot more towards the end. I think I should hide it away somewhere for 20-30 years, forget everything that happens in it, and then read it again anew.

rise and fall

I finished reading ‘The Necklace of the Gods’ (Alison Goodman) this morning, and, after thinking about it for a lot of the afternoon, I actually kind of have mixed feelings about it.

(Just a warning before I proceed: I’m going to do my best not to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read it, but I can’t guarantee anything because it’s hard to write about everything I want to write about without giving away some of the story.)

TNOTG is still written superbly well, just like the first novel, ‘The Two Pearls of Wisdom’ but the story and character development just felt … different. Not necessarily in a bad way. Here, let me explain…

It’s kind of been a while since I read TTPW (well, it hasn’t really, but my long-term memory isn’t that great so it kind of has been) so I don’t remember it in extensive details, but Eona’s character/personality seemed more stable/constant. The plot development also seemed more straightforward – not really meaning to say it was more simplistic, but TNOTG kind of weaves around a bit more in comparison.

Having said that, however, I kind of reckon that the build-up in TNOTG was a bit slower than TTPW, culminating in a frickin’ epic ending (please excuse the language) in the last five or so chapters. Actually, it was probably because I read it more slowly than the first book…

I mean, the first book was kind of centred around the Palace and the Dragoneye Halls, and they went to that fishing village briefly, but in the second book they seem to travel all over the place. And there’s a whole lot of death and destruction throughout. I liked that there was plenty of action and such, but there was also a lot more talking and strategising – and so much more about relationships and feelings and sexual tension.

I suppose it was all necessary, though. It’s kind of a complex concept – the whole thing with the Dragons and their pearls and their relationship with the Dragoneyes and also the Imperial line…

When I said earlier that Eona’s character seemed more stable in the first book – that’s because of the development of her relationships with Ido and Kygo in TNOTG. Ido brings out her power-hungry side, which I kind of felt was at odds with who she really was, since she’s the hero. But, considering her past, I suppose it makes sense for her to have some craving for power. And then her relationship with Kygo was sort of up and down all the time.

Ok, now this next part might not make a lot of sense, considering what I just wrote, but I liked Ido a lot more in TNOTG than in the first book. Maybe I just felt sorry for him at the start, or maybe I liked that he seemed to be helping Eona and protecting her… If I think of Ido and Kygo as characters in isolation, not in context of the story and whether they’re good or evil (if that makes sense), I reckon I like Ido better. (For anyone who hasn’t read the series (can you still call it a series if there’s only two books in it?), it’s sort of like comparing Edward and Jacob from ‘Twilight’.)

I still can’t get over how awesome the ending was, though. I don’t want to fully give it away, but that twist involving Yuso kind of caught me by surprise. Overall, I reckon I’d rank ‘The Necklace of the Gods’ as highly as I did ‘The Two Pearls of Wisdom’. Too bad there won’t be another sequel…

Edit: Just wanted to add, for the record, and for random trivia, when there are only two books in a series, it’s actually called a duology (as advised by a friend). There don’t seem to be many duologies in the literary world (I haven’t heard of them, anyway) but there you go.

when I grow up, I want to be a Dragoneye

It feels like a while since I wrote anything about books here, which is weird because I’ve been reading a lot. Well, actually, for the last week or so I’ve stopped doing the whole read-three-books-at-once thing, and just focused on finishing one of them: ‘The Two Pearls of Wisdom’ by Alison Goodman (also published under the title ‘Eon’ in some countries – the copy I was lent just happened to have the TTPW cover).

This book was also recommended by a friend (the same friend who has a number of other books lined up for me) and I’m actually really glad that she did recommend it because it is an amazing book. There are two things that stand out to me about TTPW, but I want to go through some of the other things I liked about it first.

I feel like there’s a tendency for some fantasy novels to be overly descriptive or caught up with elaborate details, so when I read the blurb and it told me that the story was “inspired by ancient Chinese lore” and is “set in a brilliantly envisioned world”, I had some misgivings about the writing style. But it didn’t take long for me to realise that it wasn’t going to be that sort of fantasy novel. I mean, there’s still a lot of fine detail in parts, but it’s the right amount of detail.

I also like the actual writing style, which just made the novel flow so well. Even being as tired and sleep-deprived as I have been this last week with 7am starts at work, I read through a surprising amount on my daily commutes, which tend to be reserved for daydreaming if I’m particularly tired/stressed.

At this point, I’ve realised that I haven’t actually mentioned what TTPW is actually about. Coincidentally, my next point was that the story is quite original (to me, anyway) and is constructed so well with plenty of twists and turns. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but it’s basically about a teenager, Eon, who is training to be a Dragoneye (someone who can connect with one of twelve dragons and harness their power). That’s probably not even the bare foundations of it, but it’s kind of a complicated story to explain, which is good because it means that there is depth in the story.

So the things I’ve mentioned so far are all well and true, but above all of these, I noticed that I had two recurring thoughts as I was reading TTPW: (1) This would make a really awesome movie, and (2) Reading this really makes me feel inspired to write.

With so many movies based on novels these days, maybe it’s not a very special thing, but I don’t think I’ve had that thought about a book before (is that strange?) so for me to read TTPW and decide that if someone ever made a movie out of it I would definitely watch it, I think that’s kind of a big deal. As for point #2, that thought is basically a result of all of the good qualities of TTPW. Let’s just hope that the sequel is just as good…!