Review: Preparation For The Next Life by Atticus Lish

9781780747774This is one of those books that immediately after you start reading you know you are in the hands of a wonderful writer. Atticus Lish has delivered a delicately savage critique on post-9/11 America and the so-called American Dream in a beautiful love story of an illegal immigrant and an American soldier recently returned from Iraq.

Zou Lei is a Chinese-Muslim who has escaped from northwest China and the wars in neighbouring Afghanistan. Alone, with barely any possessions or clothes Zou Lei is quickly set to work for long hours and small pay but is ostracized within the Chinese migrant community because of her Uighur-Chinese background. Despite this she embraces the small freedoms she now has and is determined to carve out a new life for herself despite the hardships.

Skinner is an army veteran of three tours in Iraq. Recently discharged he arrives in New York looking for a good time. Looking to find ways to forget. Skinner was “stop lost” as a soldier. Administratively lost in the system and sent back for two more tours of Iraq. When he does finally leave the Army, America itself “stop losses” him. Damaged and scarred, mentally and physically, from his service Skinner is abandoned by the country he has just served to find his own way, find himself and try to survive in the country he has returned to. Lost, confused, alone and haunted by what he has experienced the portrayal of Skinner is one of the best I have read in terms of PTSD, its effects on the individual and its affects on those around them.

Skinner and Zou Lei find each other and their relationship is unsentimental. Theirs is not a love story of passion nor is it one of forgiveness. It is certainly one of circumstance but they endure more than their situation. Skinner and Zou Lei both find in each other a glimmer of hope for a future. That together they might be able to overcome the situation they each find themselves in. Together maybe they can survive. They have found each other so therefore they might no longer be lost. But they must not lose each other or they could lose what little they have left.

Atticus Lish’s writing is sharp, exact and deliberate carrying you through the lives of these two tragic figures. You are absorbed into Skinner’s and Zou Lei’s lives and their surroundings and the sense of being lost and abandoned is beautifully evoked through disconnected dialogue and the divide that exists between both Skinner and Zou Lei’s relationship and the world around them. This is a novel that permeates through you, long after you finish it and is a truly exception debut.

Buy the book here…

Review: Ascendance by John Birmingham

9781742614069The final instalment in the Dave Hooper trilogy brings events to an epic crescendo.

Not for the first time John Birmingham lays waste to the streets of New York. The Dave, who has been struggling to come to terms with his recently acquired hero status, has learnt he may not be the special and unique snowflake he led himself to believe. Meanwhile the monsters, who have been unleashed upon the world, are starting to learn and adapt to human technology and tactics with the aid of a few brains.

The Dave and his new-found companion are almost overwhelmed by the new and numerous attacks in New York. Their task is made more difficult as Dave’s newly acquired powers come up against some unwanted interference from some of the more empathetic demons. As they cut and hammer their way through swathes of orcs and demons Dave soon finds he is making some very tough choices about who will survive each onslaught. Decisions he is not ready or comfortable to make. Being a hero is not the party The Dave had hoped for and as the tide continues to turn in the monsters’ favour the strain is beginning to show leaving him even more vulnerable.

This maybe the conclusion to the Dave Hooper trilogy but John Birmingham is far from finished with this new universe he has created and is in the process of tearing down. I can’t wait for the ebook spin offs he has got planned and the next epic chapter whatever and whenever that will be.

Buy the book here…

This tapped into emotions no other book has done with me before.

9781408704950Review – The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Donna Tartt is a true enigma. She is a phenomenal bestseller with a cult following. There isn’t very much known about her but you wouldn’t call her a reclusive author either. The Goldfinch is her third novel in twenty years, a decade gap between each book. All of them worth the wait.

I can distinctly remember first discovering Donna Tartt. When I first started doing the buying 11 years ago there was a lot of fuss about a novel called The Little Friend because it was the author’s first book since The Secret History. I had no idea who the author was or why, after ten years, there was such excitement and anticipation for her second novel. My rep, who was selling the book in at the time, told me to read The Secret History. Which of course I did and was totally blown away.

It was unlike anything I had read before (or since). I am not big on classics, ancient or modern, but the world Tartt created in The Secret History sucked me straight in (just like the book’s protagonist Richard). She is one of the few writers whose writing is truly mesmerizing. I was straight on the bandwagon after that, dying for a copy of The Little Friend. Which I also loved.

A lot of Donna Tartt fans were disappointed with The Little Friend but I was not one of them. I think people were expecting another The Secret History which was always going to be impossible and Tartt gave us something completely different. The Little Friend is a bit of a modern-day To Kill A Mockingbird without the anchor of a parent and where the outside world is full of much more menace. 12-year-old Harriet, bright and bookish, believes she can solve the mysterious death of her younger brother 12 years ago. The death fractured her family and Harriet is determined to set things right. Again Tartt’s writing is captivating and I can still vividly remember a scene involving Harriet’s best friend Hely and some snakes. I later found out that Harriet was inspired by Mattie Ross in True Grit by Charles Portis, one of Donna Tartt’s favourite books growing up,which also has another unforgettable scene involving snakes.

In many ways The Goldfinch is a combination of elements of her first two novels but the only thing familiar is the once again mesmerizing writing that draws you into her world immediately. When I first started The Goldfinch it felt like I was holding my breath and when I came up for air the first thing I wanted to do was re-read The Secret History and The Little Friend. I’d forgotten the power of Tartt’s writing and wanted to re-immerse myself in as much of it as I could find. And then I plunged back into The Goldfinch.

The central character of the novel is Theo Decker and a painting called The Goldfinch. Through traumatic circumstances the painting comes into his possession and becomes a talisman throughout his life. I am not into art or paintings but Tartt has this ability to draw you into any subject, in very detailed and extraordinarily intriguing ways (including antique furniture and its restoration!). The book is almost 800 pages, every one of which is totally absorbing, compelling and majestic. Unlike Tartt’s previous two novels this story is also wide-ranging, from New York to Las Vegas and Amsterdam. The Secret History and The Little Friend were very localized stories where as The Goldfinch is much more spread out while still hauntingly focused. It is also very philosophical and tapped into emotions no other book has done with me before.

I hope we do not have to wait another ten years before getting to read Donna Tartt again but then again she can take as long as she wants. In the meantime I am going to revisit her first two books something I should have done before now but that’s the magic and the joy of great books. They are always there to be enjoyed again and again, even when you forget!

Buy the book here…

A true book to digest, discuss and deliberate upon by a writer like no other.

9780091953799Review – Night Film

Marisha Pessl burst onto the literary scene in 2006 with the unforgettably titled Special Topics In Calamity Physics. Comparisons to Donna Tartt abounded and unlike many others Pessl lived up to the comparisons but also carved out her own wonderfully distinct style. I adored the book and it was a very pleasant surprise to find her new novel suddenly pop up on the release schedule.

I don’t want to give any of the plot away in this review because a huge part of this book is experiencing it. Pessl immerses you in a world where fact and fiction blur, the magical and the explained co-exist and the truth is not necessarily the answer to the questions asked.

Central to the story is the Cordova family. The patriarch of the family is a reclusive and revered film maker whose life and art is shrouded in mystery, most of which he has created himself. His films have created their own mythology that he uses to hide behind. Journalist Scott McGrath believes something more sinister lies beneath this veneer but has been unable to dig up anything concrete without his own reputation being severely burned.

Night Film is a wild ride of a novel and I was amazed by the interactivity built into the story. Apparently there is also an app coming that enables the reader to engage even more, all of which only immerses you as a reader into a world that already blurs fact and fiction and is dotted with clues hidden and dangled in front of your eyes.

Pessl deftly takes you on a journey that ebbs and flows from the rational and analytical to the disbelieving and magical until eventually breaking down your walls of resistance which only helps shroud everything in a more deeper mystery. Pessl confirms the deep talent she has and delivers a novel that you will first debate with yourself before engaging others to see what they thought. A true book to digest, discuss and deliberate upon by a writer like no other.

Buy the book here…