Review: Skippy Dies ~ Paul Murray

skippy diesISBN ~ 978-0141009957
Publisher ~Penguin Books Ltd
No. Of Pages ~660 pages
Links ~ Barnes & Noble, Amazon

Paul Murray’s Skippy Dies is a tragicomic masterpiece about a Dublin boarding school.  Long listed for the Man Booker Prize 2010 Ruprecht Van Doren is an overweight genius whose hobbies include very difficult maths and the Search of Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence. Daniel ‘Skippy’ Juster is his roommate. In the grand old Dublin institution that is Seabrook College for Boys, nobody pays either of them much attention. But when Skippy falls for Lori, the frisbee-playing siren from the girls’ school next door, suddenly all kinds of people take an interest – including Carl, part-time drug-dealer and official school psychopath. . . A tragic comedy of epic sweep and dimension, Skippy Dies scours the corners of the human heart and wrings every drop of pathos, humour and hopelessness out of life, love, Robert Graves, mermaids, M-theory, and everything in between.

4 Thumbs-UpThis is the first book I’ve read written by this Author and, I’ll say this upfront, I’ll probably be hunting down some more of his books to read.

The whole book is centred on a group of teenage boys, one of whom dies within the first few pages.  However, this is not the last we read about this character as the book covers events leading up to the moment of his death.  Teenage boys are a totally different species to any walking the earth and the Author manages to catch their peculiarities perfectly in his character building.  He covers all those one would meet at a boarding school from the bookish to priests to parents, bullies and beyond; he then brings them to life and throws them into a story that grabs the reader from the very first.  The Author is able to capture their adolescent humour, their obvious obsession with anything remotely female (this being an all boy’s school) and set it down in a way that appeals to all readers.  Each of the characters is written skilfully, pulling on the different personality and traits that can be found in a variety of guises in this age group.  As a parent myself I remember my own son going through his teenage years and I picked him out of the crowd with no difficulty, along with a bevy of his ‘associates’.  The Author has managed to capture the classroom antics, attitude towards the teachers and classmate banter so well that there is no character that stands out from the others as the main protagonist; not even ‘Skippy’

This is by no means a ‘Lord of the Flies’ type book, and I would defy anyone not to be caught up in the humour of everything in this easy read.  Despite there being a huge number of characters, major themes and plot points the Author is able to juggle them all seamlessly and well.  I would highly recommend this novel to anyone who is looking for a light and humourous read.

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Review: Clockwork Angels: The Novel ~ Kevin J. Anderson, Neil Peart

Clockwork AngelsIn a young man’s quest to follow his dreams, he is caught between the grandiose forces of order and chaos. He travels through a lavish and colourful world of steampunk and alchemy, with lost cities, pirates, anarchists, exotic carnivals, and a rigid Watchmaker who imposes precision on every aspect of daily life.

For more than two centuries, the land of Albion has been ruled by the supposedly benevolent Watchmaker, who imposes precision on every aspect of life. Young Owen Hardy from the village of Barrel Arbor dreams of seeing the big city and the breathtaking Clockwork Angels that dispense wisdom to the people, maybe even catching a glimpse of the Watchmaker himself.

He watched the steamliners drift by, powered by alchemical energy, as they head towards the Crown City — never dreaming that he is already caught between the grandiose forces of order and chaos, between the Watchmaker and his nemesis, the Anarchist. Owen’s journeys begin at a fabulous carnival with clockwork wonders beyond his imagination, and take him aboard airships, far into the Redrock Desert to seek lost cities, through storms at sea to encounters with pirates … and give him a chance at love

4 Thumbs-UpBefore I review this book, I need to point out that I haven’t heard the album of the same name by Rush, so this review is based solely on my thoughts about this book. This is a book that I may have picked up in a store because the cover intrigued me but may not have actually purchased, so it being a free gift from Emerald City ComicCon was a plus.

From the first page the reader is introduced to the main protagonist, and it is through his journey into adulthood that we are introduced to the world he inhabits.  Initially I was under the impression that, because of his naiveté, this character could not possibly be the one who the storyline would centre around; I was sure he would be chewed up and spit out like so many broken watch parts, but this was not the case.  This character is not a complex or multifaceted one in anyway, but he is written with traits and questions in his mind that will make the reader think; order or chaos, life and death, freedom of choice and success or failure, are all covered and encountered by the main character as he journeys through this book.  I enjoyed travelling with this character and joining in his adventures so much that, by the time I finished this book I felt I would miss  our time together and I hoped his future would hold good things for him.  As much as I liked this character, I did feel that the Author would have done this book a great service by providing an equally despicable and thoroughly unlikeable villain as a counterpart but, despite there not being such a character it really did not pull away from my liking of this book as a whole.

Steampunk is always a great genre to find action and adventure set in semi-quasi historical settings, and this book was no different in this respect.  However, if you pick this up and read it purely as a steampunk fantasy you will, in my opinion be missing out on so much more and possibly some of the best pieces of this book.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in French literature (parts of it carry a strong resemblance to Voltaire’s work) and also those with an interest in philosophy.  This is a book that needs to be read slowly and savoured with time given over to the thinking it will provoke.

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Review: Left on the Edge (Woodmere #1) ~ Sarah Richards

left on the edgeJust after her seventeenth birthday during winter break, Autumn and her sister receive an announcement from their parents. They are moving back to the Midwest, to a Minnesota town not even large enough to earn a dot on the map. Woodmere is where people have grown up together for generations. It is a town full of gossips and busybodies making sure secrets don’t remain private for long. Memories from her stolen childhood are unlocked during what should have been a routine move. Autumn finds herself suddenly faced with a past she wishes could be forgotten again. A past filled with events she hasn’t told anyone. The man she fears is now only hours away. In an attempt to hide, Autumn becomes the person she didn’t know she could be. Finds the strength she didn’t know she had. In Woodmere, Autumn discovers she isn’t the only one with secrets.

Part of the ‘A Book from every State of the Union’ Reading Challenge – Minnesota.

4 Thumbs-UpThis is a debut novel from this Author, and is the first in the Woodmere Trilogy

For a first book, the Author has done a wonderful job in developing their characters.  The main protagonist is a 17 year old girl, but unlike many of this age group that readers encounter in their literature, this teenager is anything but full of angst.  The situations that this character encounters, and the feelings these situations invoke in her are, by the use of a skilful hand brought to life on the page for the reader; many young women experience these same feelings and knowing this makes this character all the more three dimensional and believable.  As we follow the main character through the novel, the reader can only be impressed by the ability in which the Author is able to catch the essence of what is like to be this age, whether male or female there is something that either gender will find likeable in them.  Not limiting their writing skill to the development of the characters contained within this book’s pages, the Author extends these to the interactions between other characters and also into the mains family itself.  It is almost as if the book is a biography rather than a piece of fiction.

A downside to this book, I found, was that it was a little slow for my liking and I’m not sure if this was intended to be the case and leave the reader wanting more.  Locations were written well but, as I’ve not been to this part of the US yet, I can’t say whether or not they give a true reflection of life in this part of the country.  I’m sure other readers who choose to pick this up, and live in MN may be able to judge this area of the book in a better light than I can.

This was a very good first novel, and I would highly recommend it to those readers who enjoy the’ coming of age’ genre.  Not my favourite genre by any means, reading this book has made me want to read more in this Trilogy and by this Author.

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Review: Paradise Squandered ~ Alex Stefansson

Paradise SquanderedParadise Squandered is the story of Andrew Banks, a recent graduate of Puget Sound Prep and quite possibly the most directionless member of his graduating class. Andrew returns home from a long-promised graduation trip to Hawaii and re-enters a bland, suburban landscape of privilege and indifference, feeling alone and empty.

Talented but uninspired, Andrew knows he wants to pursue his art, but he has no idea how. He resigns himself to going through the motions of his own life, until he overhears the disturbing truth of his father’s death. He instantly decides he has to leave his childhood home forever, and a darkly hilarious odyssey ensues.

1 Thumbs-UpThere comes a point in most readers lives when they hope that the much touted topic of ‘coming of age’ is finally going to be presented to them in a new and interesting way; unfortunately this novel is not the one you are looking for.

Whether it was the characters or the locations, this book lacked the traction that would have made it an interesting read.  Whole new sets of characters were introduced suddenly and the fact that the main protagonist didn’t even care to get to know them and the lack of back story made this book one that I wasn’t in a hurry to pick up in a spare moment.  There are only so many internal reflections one book can contain before it becomes a chore to read, and this novel hit its quota very early on it its pages.  There is so little back story to any of the characters, the main lead included, that it is very hard to connect with them or feel any compassion for their plight.  This book lacks substance and, at times, doesn’t even read like a ‘real’ story but rather a projection of something else.  As to the ‘hilarious odyssey’ mentioned in the synopsis, I have a feeling this may have been overlooked in the actual writing.

Unfortunately, I doubt very much I would read another novel by this Author, unless he changes his writing style and subject matter dramatically.  We have all been through the teenage years and all is accompanying angst, but do we want to read about it time and again in a manner that portrays it as the most depressing times of our lives; because of this I am unable to recommend this read to anyone.

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Banned Books Awareness Week: The Alice Series ~ Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

Alice

THE BOOK:  Alice McKinley is about to become a teenager, but she doesn’t know how. Her mother has been dead for years, and what do her father and her nineteen-year-old brother, Lester, know about being a teenage girl? If only she had a role model, like the beautiful sixth-grade teacher Miss Cole. But instead Alice gets assigned to plain, pear-shaped Mrs. Plotkin’s class. Is Alice doomed to a life of one embarrassment after another?

THE AUTHOR:  
21893_naylor_phyllis_reynoldsPhyllis Reynolds Naylor was born in Anderson, Indiana in 1933. She grew up during the Great Depression. Money was so scarce that Naylor used the backs of paper she took from the trash can to write her first stories on.  When Naylor turned 16 she published her first story in a church magazine. Naylor paid her way through college at the American University in Washington, D. C. by selling her stories. After receiving a bachelor’s degree, Naylor decided to devote her life to writing. She has written over one hundred books.

THE CHALLENGES (courtesy of Marshall University):

2012Banned and/or challenged for nudity, using offensive language, and religious viewpoint.

2007Banned for sexual content and using offensive language.

2004Banned for sexual content, using offensive language and being unsuited to age group.

2003Banned for being sexually explicit, using offensive language and being unsuited to age group.

2002Banned for sexual content and being unsuited to age group

2001Banned for sexual content and being unsuited to age group

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Review: Junk Man ~ Erec Stebbins

Junk Man

A young boy from the Trail comes to the city. He is an outsider. Ignorant. Alone. Until he finds the Junk Man. Then, what was broken might be made new.

3 Thumbs-Up

This novella is written in a first person narrative style, with the narrator being a teenage boy.  It has been written in such as manner that I felt as if I were sat there with him while he related his tale to me, along with all its asides.  The boy ‘speaks’ to the reader with a deep southern or hill country accent and, as I read I could hear his voice in my head with all the twists and nuances his accent provided.  I did find the way the narrative was written to be a little daunting at first, and found myself having to reread portions of it to make sure I had truly understood what my teenage story-teller was trying to get across.  However, this did not detract from the novella as a whole, just made it a little bit more than an easy quick read.

Because of the way in which it is written, there does not need to be any deep character developments or plots; we are just being offered a slice of this boy’s life, and all it contains, with no frills.  Having said that though, as the reader progresses through the novella, they are made to actually think and re-evaluate the things they come across in their everyday lives, and also the way in which they interact with the people in their lives.

This is a hard little book to write a review on as so much that could be said about it, would just be spoiling the whole experience for readers that pick it up.  It is a special little book and, if I were more familiar with the vernacular used by the narrator, I would most likely have said it was an outstanding read but, unfortunately for me, the having to backtrack over some of the narration really interrupted the flow.

This is a book I would recommend to readers from teens up to adults.  The only thing they may need to be aware of is the narration style, but other than that this novella is not offensive in any way and is worth your time to read.

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