Bikubesong by Frode Grytten (Song of the Beehive)

This is my review of Bikubesong (Song of the Beehive) by Frode Grytten.
The book
Bikubesong is a collection of short stories that are all focused around a collection of apartment blocks in a small town in western Norway, quite close to Bergen. It’s set mainly in the late 90s, but it also has references to other times. All the stories are about a person living in one of the buildings, and the worlds they create for themselves. They also have this thing where a person will be mentioned in one story and then the next story is based around them. All the stories are very different and these people clearly live very different lives. They all have very distinct voices and even though most are told the same way they feel very different. In some the names of the characters are very important, and in others the characters are just referred to by a title, like “the Party secretary” or something similar.
It feels very Norwegian, in a way I’m not sure how to explain. I think it’s because it’s mainly about a working class society, everyone in the apartment blocks are sort of low-level employees wherever they work, and they’re working class and sort of on the periphery of society. They don’t seem to fit in and people seem to think they have the right to comment on their lives, which is fascinating. It’s a very Norwegian kind of book. It’s hard to explain, I feel like it just has to be experienced.
I liked it very much. I really enjoy these types of books, and I don’t know why I don’t read them more often. I liked how different all the stories were and how different all the people were. Some were just struggling through their little lives and dealing with their mother dying, or losing a job, or whatever. Some people were just delusional, and I really enjoyed those stories. One is about a man who wasn’t accepted into the police force because he’s two centimeters too short. And he works as a security guard instead. He owns a police uniform though, and he pretends to be a cop, and he definitely thinks that he would be a better cop than anyone on the force, because he’s an obsessive psychopath. He carries a gun, which is not common in Norway, Norwegian cops don’t normally carry guns, at least they didn’t in 1999 when this book was written. He is so self-assured, and he is so cocky, and he’s better than anyone, and he’s delusional. And he keeps doing the Taxi Driver speech in his mirror, which is a sign of a balanced mind. The next is the story of a man in his 40s in a solid, but maybe boring marriage, and he sees this new girl working at the local grocery store. He imagines he’s in love with her, but it’s more of an obsessive lust. He keeps staring at her and imagines she’s just ignoring him, when really the 19-year-old girl is creeped out by a grown man incessantly ogling her and is trying to be professional. It sort of tells the story of how this crush very quickly spins out of control. Like it’s very innocent in that he always goes to her register, then he escalates it more and more. And he seems to think she owes him her attention, and how dare she not look at him and how dare she not smile to him, or whatever? He never vocalizes it and she definitely gets her revenge, but he still is basically like; “she looked at me, finally.” It was creepy as hell.
I liked the structure, of basically setting a book in an apartment and just telling the stories of the people there, because you have such a rich array of characters with such different lives. The book is very character driven, because there’s no over-arching plot. So the stories are very focused on the characters, what they’re thinking and doing and how they’ve screwed up their lives in different ways. It’s also interesting to see how living in a small, hidden away, place affects people. There were 7000 inhabitants in 2014 and there were probably only 500-1000 more in 1999, so it’s not a big place, and they seem to be sort of hidden away and cut off from the world. It looks at how it is to not fit in when you live in a small place. It’s probably easier to be weird and different when you live in a big city where you can find people like you. It’s hard to love the Smiths and dress like Morrissey every day when you’re the only one and everyone thinks you’re a weirdo.
So to sum up it’s a great look at people and characters and how living in a tiny place with few connections to the outside world sort of changes you and affects you. It looks at people who might be a bit different and strange and on the outside of society and I really liked it. 

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel

This is my review of Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel.
This book is about a young girl named Rose who is out biking on her new bike and falls into a sinkhole. She lands in a huge metal hand and is rescued by her parents and neighbors. 15-odd years later an adult Rose is working to figure out what the hell the big arm is, and why is there only an arm? Should it be attached to something like a torso? She is joined by two military pilots and some scientists to figure out how it works and where it came from. The whole thing seems to be funded by some sort of shady government organization.
The whole book is told through interviews and case files so everything you learn is filtered through people’s opinions and suspicions. And if something dramatic happens you don’t get to see it right away you get the after-the-fact interview. I liked that way of telling a story, I thought it was fun and while it isn’t like very original, it’s certainly something that’s been explored before, I thought Neuvel did it well. All the interviews and articles and everything are marked with case file numbers and some of the numbers are skipped, presumably indicating that there are files we don’t get to read so there is information we’re missing.
I enjoyed the characters. I feel like what we get from them is really interesting. Rose is dedicated and tough and a bit too dedicated at times. Kara is grumpy and sarcastic and that’s basically how I like them. I felt like both the main male characters were a bit annoying, but Mitchell more than Vincent. Mitchell is just too good and all-American and it sort of annoyed me. I enjoyed Vincent more, he’s unpleasant and rude and self-involved. I’m worried I have lost the ability to read about likeable characters. I also liked the person who interviews them all. He is referred to as ‘sir’ at some point so I assume it’s a man. He was snarky and rude and I liked him very much. He is completely relentless and ruthless, and he rationalizes it and gets people to think that what he did was good no matter how awful he is.
I found the story really fascinating. It’s basically an alien story, but there are no aliens. There’s just this perceived threat of them at all time. It’s also a look at how the world sort of shifts when one nation, in this case the States, has a weapon that no other nation has. It’s sort of like the whole atomic bomb race, except this weapon isn’t something every other nation can just make as well. This is a weapon they’ve discovered and taken ownership of, and even if they say it belongs to the world it is significant that it is in the US and that they are the ones who are researching it and who have control of it. It also looks at what can happen when the wrong person has control of a huge weapon. When someone takes over the project from Rose it really explicitly shows what goes wrong when the wrong person leads such a big project. And how bad it can be, because whoa.
I feel like even though I liked the format and the story and characters I would have liked more different types of media. There are interviews, and basically like three articles and a couple of diary entries. I wish there were more variations in format.
It was quite good. It wasn’t mindblowing, but as far as I know it is the first in a series and I think I will continue with the series. The story was good and I liked the concept. It was fun.

Another five book wrap up

I’ve read five books, I will now talk about them and my thoughts and all of that malarkey. I am incredibly good at this.
The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Ta-Nehisi Coates might be more known as an author for writing Between the World and Me, but I couldn’t find that book when I was walking around bookstores, but I did find this. So I read the Beautiful Struggle. It’s a memoir about Coates’ childhood in Baltimore. He grew up with his mom, dad, and a slew of other siblings. His father had seven kids by four different women. Ta-Nehisi was the son of the last woman. Coates’ father was a Vietnam Vet and a former Black Panther and he formed a Black Classics Press, a publisher specializing in African-American titles. So Coates grew up with his younger brother Menelik, and then his half-siblings would stay with their moms, or with Coates and his parents. The memoir focuses on Coates and his older brother Bill, who is pretty close to him in age, but the son of a different woman. The book follows them growing up, and Coates looks at how they are quite similar, and also how they differ. It was an interesting look at growing up in the 80s in Maryland. It is not something I have any understanding of, being white and Norwegian. He writes about how he loved reading, learning and having discussions with his father, but how he had no interest in school and would fail again and again, and he couldn’t seem to help himself and didn’t know why. It was very interesting to see how music and literature was so important to Coates’ childhood. It was also interesting so see how he seemed to be aware that his life was very different from his peers. His friends would have absent fathers, and single mothers, and Coates might have a difficult father, but he was very much there and he was a massive presence. He was a presence in all his children’s lives, no matter if he lived with them or not. It was really fascinating and beautiful, and I definitely want to read Between the World and Me now.
How to be both by Ali Smith
This is my first Ali Smith novel, and I liked it, it was good. It’s split into two narratives, and half of the printings are published with the George story first, and the other half are published with the artist’s story first. My copy starts with George’s story. The story of George follows a young girl named Georgia who lives in England in the 2010s. She lives with her brother and dad and her mother just passed away, and they’re sort of coping, or not coping. The story is half the story of George trying to live her life and be normal, and half flash-backs to a time George, her brother Henry, and mother went to Italy to see a painting her mother likes. George seems to be the one who now takes care of the family, and her dad seems to be crashing. She also gets a new friend, H, who is a sort of scary girl at school, but exactly who George needs. The other story follows the painter who George’s mother likes, and it tells their story in Italy in the 1460s, and their story in the 2010s when they seem to be trapped in a sort of purgatory, following George around and trying to decipher what George is doing. I liked it. I liked George, because I like pedantic 16-year-olds. She tends to pick up on grammar and syntax and I found it adorable, because I’m weird. I also loved the painter’s story. It was great. I don’t know if it’s how Ali Smith does it, but she doesn’t mark dialogue with punctuation, and it flips between flashback and current time with no indication. I liked that, and I didn’t find it hard to follow. It was great.
Things fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Things fall apart is a sort of modern African classic and it’s about a man named Okonkwo. He is a “strong man” in his Ibo village in Nigeria. The book is set in the 1890s when Queen Victoria was expanding her empire and sending out her missionaries all over Africa. So Okonkwo was born to a man who had no work-ethic and who seemed to be very entitled and whiny, as in, he did the least possible work and kept asking why he failed. So Okonkwo works very hard to be different from his dad. He works hard, he has married three women, has lots of kids and a barn full of yams, so he’s sort of made big. Then something happens and Okonkwo has to leave his village and go to his mother’s village for seven years, and in the meanwhile missionaries arrive and try to scare Christianity into the African people. It was so incredible. Okonkwo is such a flawed and beautiful character, he is so terrified of being like his father and people assuming he is like his father he goes to the bad extreme. He works hard and seems to think people are always lazy if they don’t act exactly like him. Clearly he is a product of his time and environment, but a lot of the book happens inside his head and we get to hear his fears and discomfort, and he is so angry and flawed and I love him. The writing is so spare and it’s so perfect, and I love it. I will read the other two in the trilogy as soon as I can.
Fen by Daisy Johnson
Fen is a short story collection where all the stories are set in the Fen in England. Fen is like a type of wetland. It’s like marshland, but not a normal marsh. The stories are all connected to the fen.  It was good, I really loved some of the stories, they were all sort of bleak and creepy, they all felt sort of… dirty, I don’t know why I feel that. And I mean dirty in the original sense of the word, it feels muddy and grimy, I don’t know why. Anyway. I liked it, I liked the weird, dirty quality. And now trying to write something substantive. I think my favorite was the story about the girl who stops eating and becomes an eel, because that’s weird, and also the story of the three sisters who go and get men at a bar and then eat them. I don’t remember the titles, because I’m awful, but yes, I really liked those. I loved the story about Matilda, Marco and Arch, it’s the longest story and I loved that story, and the apathy and despair of that story. It was so beautiful. Anyway. I don’t know how to talk about short story collections, clearly, but I enjoyed it.
Peter Rollins is an Irish philosopher and religious scholar. He does a lot of talks about religion and the mistrust thereof. He talks about life after death, and also life before death. He looks at how we try to use religion to understand life. And how even though people don’t believe in God, or follow religion they still live in a world constrained with religion or at least the structures of religion. And maybe they sort of believe in God anyway. He talks about how important it is to look at your beliefs and your dogmas and everything you always thought was true. You need to examine them and break them down and rebuild, and all that good stuff. I liked it, it was a bit confusing at times, but he uses a lot of stories and parables as examples to make his ideas and thoughts easier to digest. I liked it. I think some of it went over my head, but I liked it. I want to read more of his works.
So those were the last five books I read. On and on to more reading.

Another Five-book wrap up

These are five of the last seven books I read. It’s quite a weird mix, going from twee children’s book to creepy western. 

Sometimes when I’m bored I go through free classics on Amazon and get them, for no good reason. Anyway, that’s how I got this, and it’s been sitting on my Kindle for years. And I wanted something short and sweet so I read it. It is about a young girl named Dorothy who lives with her aunt and uncle in Kansas and one day she is in her house when a tornado hits it and she and her little dog Toto is transported to Oz, where her house lands on and kills the Wicked Witch of the East. She is hailed as a hero for this and when she says she wants to go home she is advised to go to the Emerald city and ask the Wizard to send her home. On the way she meets a Scarecrow without a brain, Tin Man without a heart and a cowardly lion. They go with her to Oz to ask for help. It’s very sweet and twee and Dorothy is a total badass. The wizard is a total idiot, and the world that Baum made was very wonderful. I think I might read more of the books, cause it’s a long series. It feels nice to have read it, because I’d seen the movie, read all the Wicked-books, and seen Wicked on stage before actually reading the source material.
This was my first McCarthy. I’m not sure it was a good place to start. I maybe should have started with another one, but what is done is done. This book is about this young boy, called the Kid, who lives in the West in the US, and he joins up with this band of soldier types who go around killing Natives and scalp them. There are named men, and there is one guy who is mostly referred to as the Judge. He has a name, but mostly people call him the Judge. He is just this incredible psychopath who talks about the beauty of killing Natives and aren’t Mexicans awful. The writing was really good. McCarthy doesn’t really use punctuation to indicate dialogue, but that didn’t bother me. I found it really easy to follow who was talking at any time. The Judge is really creepy, the Kid is really creepy, it’s always fun when tweens go around scalping people, right? Anyway. The Kid sort of has this moral compass, and whenever his cohorts do something completely fucked he seems to be almost apathetic, but disgusted. And I found it really fascinating, but I kept getting distracted, I’m not sure why. I want to try another McCarthy, though, even though I wasn’t completely convinced by this one.
The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave 
This is a middle grade book I guess. It’s about a young girl named Isabella, she lives on an island named Joya. She is the daughter of a cartographer and they’re quite poor. They live under the yoke of an almost sadistic governor who has managed to chase all the animals away and who has basically only built a school because his daughter wants to go to school. Isabella is friends with the governor’s daughter, Lupe, and when Lupe does something that leads to a poor girl’s death they have an argument and to prove that she isn’t rotten Lupe runs away and disappears into the Forgotten territories. Isabella decides she has to go and find her. So it was very sweet, and short, and it was nice. It didn’t blow my mind, but I clearly was not in the demographic. I feel like there was sometimes these moments where I didn’t know where they were, or what had happened, it felt like there were bits of text missing, and that annoyed me. It was however beautifully published. There are little drawings on all the pages, stars, animals, elements from maps, and that was incredibly beautiful. It was a very sweet and sad story about friendship though. And Lupe’s story was very beautiful in a way. I feel like it could have done with more padding. It felt a bit rushed somewhere and a bit too concise. Anyway. It was fun and sweet, but not like, mind blowing.
Slade House by David Mitchell
Slade House is a short sort of companion novel to The Bone Clocks. It is set somewhere in London, and in Slade Alley there is a house that people go to and never come out of. There are five stories all based around a different person or two going into the house. Every story builds on the previous stories, in the second story a cop is investigating the disappearance in story one. The disappearances are based around the main antagonists in the Bone Clocks, the Anchorites. They use the souls of certain people to power their house and every nine years they need a top-up. It was quite cool. It’s short and it’s sweet and I liked it. It’s very David Mitchell and even though it was short. Because it is a companion novel to the Bone Clocks there are quite a few references to the Bone Clocks, but there are also several references to Cloud Atlas and a couple to The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet and I am again in awe of David Mitchell’s self-references. I want to meet him once and ask how he plans them out. The ones in this were sort of obvious, but still, I love them. I loved it. It was great.
Irish Bitches Be Crazy by Emma Comerford
So I went to Ireland, and because I am the consummate tourist I thought I’d buy something Irish. So I chose a humorous book about Irish femininity, because that’s normal. So this is a humor book about being a woman in Ireland. It’s a sort of tongue-in-cheek sociological/historical study of Irish woman, how the Irish woman has changed over the decades, and how different developments have changed women, and the world. It talks about famine, family, catholic guilt, friendship, slut shaming, fashion and a weird obsession with death. I think it would probably have been more fun if I was Irish, or knew someone Irish. I think a fair few of the references went over my head. I still did chuckle now and then and I liked it, but it wasn’t great. It was fine.

Five book wrap up

The last five books I read. Ish. So I haven’t done this in a while, because I’m lazy and I went out of town, and a lot of just, not blogging happened. So I’m going to wrap up some recent books. So these are five of the last eleven books I read. Let’s go for it.

The Quick by Lauren Owen
The Quick is a historical fantasy novel about a young man named James Norbury who in 1892 moves to London from Oxford. He moves in with a friend of a friend, a young aristocrat. They become friends of a sort and James is pulled out of his shell by his new friend. He starts to discover the underbelly of London. Suddenly he vanishes without a trace and his sister Charlotte goes from their Yorkshire estate to London to find him. She meets a tightrope walker turned vigilante, an American tourist in over his head and discovers that the secret to James’ disappearance lies with the Aegolius club. The Aegolius club is basically a gentleman’s club for privileged dudes who run companies, industries and the UK government. They also seem to never really age, or eat normal food, and they don’t like the daytime, how curious. It was a fascinating book, it was a great take on vampire books and I thought it was creepy and weird. Charlotte was a badass character. She was a very sort of no-nonsense, sensible woman who will not let anything stand in her way. James was lovely and broken and his story was so painful and beautiful. The ending was a bit… why would you do that, but it was okay. I feel like Owen did a good job with London, and I think London is an excellent city for vampires, being cold and foggy, at least that’s what I assume Victorian London was like. No offense to queen Victoria, I’m full of pop culture knowledge and that’s what pop culture says.
American Elsewhere by Robert Jackson Bennett
This is about a little town in the Middle-of-Nowhere, America. Mona Bright, a former cop finds the deed to a house in her dead father’s storage locker. The mother she never really knew much about has left her a house in a little town called Wink, built to service a research facility. Mona has no idea where this is, or why there’s a house there for her, but she also doesn’t know her mother, so she goes there to discover more about her mom. This town turns out to be incredibly weird, it’s peopled by some very odd people, who haven’t really aged in 30 years, and when you look into their eyes it’s like something else is in there. They claim to not know Mona’s mother, but there’s photographic evidence that they’ve met her, and you shouldn’t really go out at night unless you want to disappear under mysterious circumstances. Mona falls deeper and deeper into the crazy that is Wink, New Mexico. I really liked it. This is my second Bennett novel, and it was so great. I don’t really have anything to compare it to, except maybe Welcome to Night Vale. Not overtly, but it has the same vibe. It’s this weird place where really creepy things happen and people just seem to go; yeah, that’s normal, right? And outsiders think; the fuck is wrong with you people? Bennett’s writing is so insidious and weird and creepy. And I can’t wait to read more of his books. Because both books of his I’ve read are great. So good.
This is an essay collection about geek culture and geek feminism. It’s full of essays about every aspect of being geek. So gaming, TV, books, film, and everything else you can be a geek about. It’s also a look at how women have sort of been ushered away through sexism, misogyny, threats of rape and violence, and through the assumption that they can’t be real nerds/geeks. That’s the assumption that I hate the most. I hate that some men assume that women pretend to like stuff to attract the attention of men, like, why would we do that? Ever. And why do we have to prove our geek credentials all the time? I have loved Star Wars since I was ten (my parents are weird). Leave me alone. Anyways. I thought it was great. Kameron Hurley is outspoken, and opinionated, and tough and takes no shit. And I also appreciated that she admitted that she had fallen into tropes herself, and not been aware of them, and felt defensive, but she had learned and changed, and that’s the least we can all do. I know I’ve done and said stupid and bigoted stuff, but I try to learn and change. Anyways. I loved this. I listened to it on audio, and I’m not sure it’s the best way of doing it because I felt like a lot of the essays bled into each other when I didn’t know where one ended and the next started. Also I had to listen on 2x speed, because the narrator read so slowly and e-n-u-n-c-i-a-t-e-d like she was getting a prize for it. I usually listen on 1.5x speed, but this was weird at 1.5x speed. That was a weird gripe, moving on. It was great and it warmed my geek girl heart. And it would have been lovely to give to ten-year-old me.
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
I finally finished this. It took me a long while, I’m not entirely sure why. Madame Bovary is about a young woman named Emma Bovary who marries a provincial country doctor, Charles Bovary. She is sure her life will now be perfect, but she is incredibly bored. She has a child, but it only works as a distraction for a while. And because she’s bored she finds a lover and basically just has a whale of a time. She showers him with gifts, because she’s his sugar mama, apparently. She basically leads her family to poverty through taking lovers and showering them in gifts. She also spends a lot of money travelling back and forth to meet them. Emma is an incredibly unlikeable person. She’s very much whiny and she feels sorry for herself, and she mistreats her husband basically just because she’s boring. I don’t mind unlikeable characters, and I sort of reveled in how awful she was to her husband. I’m not saying he didn’t deserve it. He was a wet blanket, and didn’t seem to really try to make his wife happy, he seemed to think happiness was just something that happened to you. Her lovers are both wankers. Especially the first one, he’s a complete piece of shit. I liked it. It was fun.
This is a Norwegian book, and it’s about a priest, named Lindemann, who goes back to his hometown, and is planning to travel to meet a girl he liked when he was a kid. He meets another man from his hometown and this guy offers to drive him. A young girl of about 16 comes with them to get a ride to her aunt’s house. The story then follows them over the mountain and into weird hotels, and weird little towns. Meanwhile there’s a second story that tells the life story of a guy who has been diagnosed with cancer. It’s told through diary entries. It was a really fascinating story. The story about Lindemann is told from his perspective and he doesn’t really talk a lot, preferring to just judge and instead lets the other guy, Thomas talk. He’s very introspective and thinks a lot about his own life and what he’s doing and what he should have done differently. It’s very weird to see it contrasted with the diary entries, which are these really mundane entries about the author himself going through cancer treatment, and just going through life before, during and after the treatment. And it really shows how scary and confusing and exhausting it is to have cancer when the health service is not perfect and just throwing you back and forth. It was really good. I want to read more by him.

So those were some books I read. And there should be another wrap up soon-ish.

The Quick by Lauren Owen

For the lovely Tome Topple I read The Quick by Lauren Owen, it was great.  
The book
The Quick is about a young man named James Norbury who moves to London after university in the late 1800s. He moves in with a friend, Christopher Paige, and tries to make it as a poet. They become closer and they basically lives life in London. Then James stops writing home to his sister Charlotte, doesn’t show up to their aunt’s funeral, and she has no idea where he is, so she goes to London to find him. She does find him and finds that something awful happened to him. Meanwhile there are these monsters roaming around London, who have their own gentleman’s club, and who seem to be sort of ruling London.
I really liked this. It’s good. It’s basically a historical fantasy story about privileged private school boys who grew up to become politicians and then were made into vampires and now rule the world. It was beautiful and weird.
I really liked James. He is sort of waifish and an upper class kid who was always full of imagination and fun and ideas. He has this very idealistic idea of the world and his sister had to be the adult when their parents died. And he is so soulful and beautiful and wants to be a poet and wants to be with the person he loves. And he’s so sweet. I love his relationship with Christopher and how it developed, and how different they were. It was so nice to see how they affected each other and they grew together. It was interesting to see how the times they lived in affected how James could talk about Christopher and how he censored himself. And his relationship with his sister changed. It also changed for Charlotte. She also started censoring herself to James because of the distance between them, which was really poignant.
It was fascinating to see how Charlotte was trapped by her gender. She is expected to care for their aunt just because she’s a woman. She carries around this guilt for something that she did to James when they were kids so she seems content to live like she does to make up for that. It seems a bit extreme, but I feel like I understand where she’s coming from, but it’s a bit intense. I like that even though she is a woman, and she’s sort of a traditional woman she has no qualms about going to London from her Yorkshire home, to find her brother and she is very tough and badass. She also has a lot of good growth which is good.
I really liked the vampire element. The monsters in this book are vampires and I think they’re done really well. I don’t like the trend of vampires being all sexy and glittery. I like vampires that are disgusting and scary, Dracula style. These vampires are cruel, and gross, and violent, and very other. They live sort of carefully in an attempt to stay concealed, but they kill without compunction and they seem to think they are doing humans (“the quick”) a favor by turning them. This is also shown when you see the world from a vampire’s perspective. They are physically repulsed by humans, how they smell and the sounds they make, which I thought was a great device. It’s also rooted strongly in gender stereotypes. There are two main factions of vampires in London in this story, one is this very strict gentleman’s club, only for men, the other is in a poor part of town and it’s led by a woman. And I thought that was interesting. The Club are not happy about her, they don’t like her, and seem to almost be disgusted by her, by her being a woman in control. And when they are confronted with the choice of bringing women into the club they’re repulsed by it, because they’re rich white dudes. I thought that was cool.
It was cool to see the story from a vampire’s perspective now and then. It is a multiple perspective story and it’s told from James and Charlotte’s perspectives and also from the perspectives of a lot of sort of ancillary characters, some of which are vampires. One of those are kind of broody, but still has the blood lust, and one is just great. She just relishes in eating people and it’s great to hear what the vampirism actually does to them, how it changes them. I thought that was interesting. I also found it interesting that these vampires were ambitious. In most vampire fiction it seems like they either want to fly under the radar, or kill and eat to survive. In the Quick they actually have like a plan of domination and how they’re going to take over the English government. I don’t know how sound the plan is, but they are sort of angling for upward mobility, which I like. It also includes this really creepy character who is a human with connections to the club. He basically researches the vampires, figures out what makes them tic, how they work. And I found his character really interesting. He has like morals, presumably, but he has no qualms about operating on an alive and awake vampire. I realize they’re bloodsucking fiends, but I imagine being operated on when you’re awake is horrifying no matter who you are. So I thought he was really creepy, and his justification and his motivation is also really suspect, which I liked.
My only criticism really is that I feel like it was really slow for a while, and then a lot of stuff was crammed into in the last 50-ish pages, which was a bit jarring.
I really liked it. I liked the characters and the vampire lore. I liked the creepy world. I think 1800s London is great for creepy vampire novels with the pea soup fog and everything. It was very enjoyable and I hope Lauren Owen writes another book.

Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brundt

I recently finished Tell the Wolves I’m Home, and this is my delightful review. It’s not delightful. I’m not a delightful person. Anyway, review anyone?
The book
Tell the Wolves I’m Home is about a young girl named June Elbus, who is 14 and who has just lost her best friend, her uncle Finn. Finn was a very acclaimed painter and with her sister June has spent a lot of Sundays being painted by Finn. When he dies of a disease people can barely talk about and her mother refuses to acknowledge June feels sort of unmoored and alone. She and her sister Greta aren’t getting along, and Greta seems to be so angry with her. Then June meets Toby, a young man who lived with Finn and who wasn’t allowed to go to Finn’s funeral. And Toby feels alone as well, and they bond over Finn and their shared interests and he tries to give June things that Finn would have wanted her to have.
I thought it was good. It was a little weird, and there was something about it I didn’t like, and I can’t really put my finger on it, but it just bugged me.
It was really interesting to read something set in the 80s that dealt with aids, which is what Finn is suffering from. To read about the stigma around it and how awful it was when it was pretty much only a gay disease, was really interesting. I was born in the late 80s, so I don’t really have any memory of this, I’ve only read about it or watched like movies. So I found that fascinating. It was also interesting to see how Toby had basically been cut completely out of the lives of Greta and June. They basically didn’t know who he was because June’s mother was angry and wanted to punish her brother. So when Toby shows up all June knows is that he wasn’t allowed into the funeral, and he “killed Finn.”
I like reading about sibling relationships and there are two really interesting ones in this book. The main one is the relationship between June and Greta, who are having problems and who have a very contentious relationship. Since the story is told from June’s perspective so it’s easier to feel sympathy with her, and find Greta’s behavior unpleasant and confusing. But the longer the novel went on I had more sympathy for Greta. Greta is 16, and this really talented and high achieving person. She’s basically skipped a year and is one of the main players in the school musical. And her parents have put quite a lot of pressure on her, on top of the pressure she puts on herself. She is sort of out of place in her class, and in her family, and she has sort of lost her sister as well. June is best friends with Finn, and without meaning to they have sort of pushed Greta out. She’s also feeling guilty because she is almost happy that Finn is dead, because she might get June back. I don’t think Greta’s attempts to get June back are particularly good, but she doesn’t seem to know exactly how else to do it. The other relationship is between June and Greta’s mother, and Finn. They seem to also have a sort of contentious relationship and it seems to be mainly about the fact that Finn is gay and has this unapproachable part of his life that she can’t understand. I really liked both of them. They are both so fraught and painful and at the same time they have so much love. I love sibling relationships when they’re done well. Because they’re people who have known each other forever, and they have so much history, and I think it can be hard to do them well. These were done well. Even though Greta and June are the main focus I liked Finn and his sister’s relationship more. Because it had this huge insurmountable thing that sort of broke them.
I thought Toby’s relationship to June was really weird. There wasn’t really anything creepy about it, he seems to genuinely just want a friend, and he doesn’t have any family in the States. It’s still strange that a grown man wants to hang out with a 14-year-old girl. It also shows how unfair it is that June’s mother has kept this man away from June and Greta, because he could have been another uncle.
I’m still not sure what I didn’t like about this book. It might just be the relationship between June and Toby, it seemed so unlikely. It was a bit strange for a grown man to not have any other people to talk about Finn with. Presumably they had friends. And I understand that June obviously had a similar relationship with Finn. They loved each other and were best friends, but still. It also annoys me when grown-ups are so overprotective of their children that they basically fuck them over and then have no regard for them in other ways. Their mother is so concerned about the girls meeting Toby and learning what Aids is and learning what she was like before she became their mother. So she forces Finn to hide part of his life. At the same time she doesn’t notice any of Greta’s issues, she doesn’t actually talk to her kids about Finn’s death and how it feels, she just does nothing but hide and cover up. And it really annoyed me.
So essentially, I liked it, it was fine. It dealt with some themes that I find interesting and I think it was done fairly well, but there were also things that annoyed me, and though I can’t put my finger on it, something annoyed me.

The last nine books

I sort of realized I hadn’t wrapped up any books in a while. Or blogged at all, in a while. So these are the last nine books I read.

Evelina by Frances Burney
Evelina is a sort of coming-of-age novel written in 1778. The main character, Evelina is the result of a sort of scandalous union. Her father refuses to acknowledge her and refuses to acknowledge his marriage to Evelina’s mother. Her mother then dies and Evelina is raised by her mother’s benefactor reverend Villars. He loves her deeply, and raises her with love and compassion. She’s sort of sheltered, living out in the country. She is then invited to the local Lady’s home. She’s friends with Villars. Evelina goes to London with friends of Lady Howard, and is introduced to society. It was really funny. Evelina was raised in very sheltered circumstances and has no idea how to act in polite society, so she does a bunch of stuff that is considered faux pas. She laughs at people because they’re silly, then realizes that it’s impolite when people look scandalized. Evelina also meets her grandmother, who has this great plan to get her legitimized by essentially shaming her dad. Evelina was spunky and funny and sharp, and I loved her. I also loved how the other characters were written. Some of the men were hilariously idiotic and annoying and I feel like I was rolling my eyes with Evelina. So I really liked this. It was fun.
Assassination vacation by Sarah Vowell
Sarah Vowell is a historian/journalist who is really fascinated by American presidents and in particular the presidents who have been assassinated. So the premise of this book is her taking a vacation where she visits the sites related to the first three presidential assassinations, Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley. It’s so fascinating to read about how America reacted to the different assassinations. About how much politics went into Lincoln’s memorial. I also learned that Lincoln’s son Robert Todd Lincoln was present at all three assassinations, which is so weird. It feels like a book about presidential assassinations should be sad and dry, but she has put in so much fun stuff. Her travels take her everywhere and she talks about getting seasick, mummies, bits of victims and murderers, show-tunes and biblical sex cults. I listened to this on audiobook and Sarah reads it herself. She was very good and it made it very personal and cool. She also has some actors with her, who fill the roles of Lincoln, Booth, Garfield, McKinley, and a lot of others. And I really enjoyed that too.
Ghostwritten by David Mitchell
Ghostwritten is David Mitchell’s first novel. It is very much a David Mitchell novel in that it’s broken into nine stories that seem sort of random, but are connected to each other. I liked it. It wasn’t amazing, I could tell it was his first novel and he wasn’t entirely sure how he was going to do this whole writing thing. On the other hand it’s very impressive. In the beginning the two first stories seem sort of tangential and the connection seemed sort of incidental, but the more stories you read the more complex the connections got, which I really enjoyed. I also again was impressed with, and sort of curious about how much he plans out his novels. Mitchell tends to populate his books with people who have appeared in other novels. It’s like they all exist in the same universe. And I don’t know how much he plans it out, and it’s driving me slowly mad. I have to meet him one day so I can ask him. It was fun, but not his best. I really want to read his last two books published to date.
Amtmannens Døtre by Camilla Collett
This is a Norwegian classic about the two youngest daughters of a District governor somewhere in Norway. It’s mainly focused on Sofie, who is like 14 in the beginning. She has just gotten a new teacher, along with her brother. The teacher is quite frustrated with her, because she is so mercurial. She loves to learn some things and has no interest in other things. Sofie has this idea that she’d rather not get married, she has seen her two oldest sisters be forced into their marriages and being miserable. She later sees her last sister, Amalie, marry someone she loves and still be miserable. The book is a serious critique of arranged marriages and the station of women in 19thcentury Norway. I liked it. There were things that annoyed me. Kold, the teacher, was annoying as hell. And the way it was ordered bugged me, no chapters. I liked Sofie, I like how annoyed she is with her life and how she tries to make the best of it. Yeah. It was lovely.
Eternally Yours by Cate Tiernan
This is the last book in the Immortal Beloved trilogy. It’s about a young lady named Nastasya, who is an Immortal. Basically what it says on the tin, she has been alive since the Viking age in Iceland, and is currently still alive in 2014. She spent about 100 years boozing and acing like a teenager, then she moves to River’s Edge, this place in the North East of the US where she tries to become a better person. Now River’s Edge is under threat by this big, black, awful thing that wants to take their magical power. It seems like a lot of the people at River’s Edge think it’s Nas’ fault. So she’s trying to get her life on track, trying to be with her hunky Viking boyfriend, and trying to save the world. It’s fun. It’s YA, and it’s obviously not a masterpiece, but I like Nastasya’s surly, snarky attitude, and I like imagining her hunky boyfriend. It was fun, and I’m done with this trilogy. So go team.
A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
This is Virginia Woolf’s extended essay on writing and women. On men writing about women, on women writing about men and women. And what women need if they’re going to write. She sort of acknowledges that her privilege of having 500 a year and a room where she can sit in private and write. And that women need this if they want to write. It was fascinating to read. I liked it.
Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
Tell the Wolves I’m Home is about June Elbus. It’s 1987 and she’s 14 years old and her favourite person in the world, Finn Weiss, her uncle and godfather, has just died. And they can’t talk about how he died. And they can’t talk about him, because he died of Aids, and he had a boyfriend, and it’s the 80s and people don’t talk about aids. Before Finn died he painted June and Greta, June’s sister. After he dies June feels unmoored. Finn was the only person she felt like she could be herself around. Then she meets this man, Toby, who was Finn’s boyfriend, and they find their way back to normalcy together. Or at least something like it. Meanwhile Greta is in the school play and she and her and June’s relationship becomes more and more fraught and destructive. I liked it. I found the relationship between Toby and June a bit weird. It was a bit odd. I did love the way that June and Greta’s relationship was written. It was so angsty and angry and weird and it made me cry. It was weird, and I sort of liked it.
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
Bryan Stevenson is a lawyer who runs the Equal Justice Initiative. It’s a pro-bono law firm that work with people on Death Row to try to overthrow their executions. The book tells the story of Stevenson finishing law school, going back south, and starting the EJI, and how his life goes. The book also tells the story of Walter McMillan, a Death row inmate who has been wrongly accused, tried, and sentenced to death. He was put on death row right when he was arrested, which is insane. Bryan and the other lawyers at his firm try to overturn his conviction and exonerate him. And it’s amazing. It’s incredible. Bryan Stevenson is fantastic, and the writing is beautiful. And the stories are incredible. McMillan’s story is a big part of it, but there are also other stories of other people they represented. There are stories of them working to overthrow the laws that let southern states execute children, and let states put children in adult prisons, and let states put children in jail to die there. And it’s so sad, and it’s so inspiring to read what Bryan and his colleagues have managed, with the help of other lawyers obviously. And it’s so incredible. And so sad. And so great. And how does someone work as much as Bryan Stevenson? I think he’s a robot. A kind, fierce, wonderful robot.
Bålet by Bergjlot Hobæk Haff
So the title of this novel translates as ”the Bonfire” and it was written in the 1960s and is about a young woman who works as a teacher in a little town in Norway. She is never referred to by name, she’s always called the teacher, and she’s this peripheral person in town, but the children like her, and she’s a good teacher. A man moves to town and becomes the cobbler and they start this sort of relationship that people talk about, and don’t talk about. It’s very cool. Then another man comes to town, and he’s just this man, who seems to be an artist, and he just hints about things, and mentions things, and sends these looks at people, and the people in town start to wonder why they even let this cobbler move in, and isn’t he a bit weird and creepy? And the book is so weird, and so creepy and weird and odd. And it’s so insidious and it’s so grotesque and amazing. I’ve been trying to read more Norwegian books, and my first foray was a success. More now please.

So those were the last nine books I read. And weren’t they glorious? I’m going to try to get it together and not be such a lazy blogger. Anyways. This has been that.

Amtmannens Døtre by Camilla Collett

This is my review of the classic Amtmannens Døtre by Camilla Collett. 
The book
Amtmannens døtre, or The District Governor’s Daughters, is a Norwegian classic. It was written in 1854, and it is about the two youngest daughters of a District Governor. The main character is Sofie, who is the youngest daughter. She’s sort of wilful and upset that she is expected to do what her parents tell her. That she has to marry the man they decide on, that she can’t behave like a man, and do what she wants, sort of. A young man, Georg Kold, goes to their house to be their teacher. He tutors mainly the son, Edvard, and Sofie, and he gets along well with Edvard, but he cannot figure out Sofie, who doesn’t really want to learn, and then suddenly wants to learn everything. They have a sort of tempestuous relationship. Meanwhile Sofie is surrounded by other suitors and her parents are trying to push her in the direction they want her to go. And it’s a look at arranged marriages, and the unfairness of them.
So I have a gripe, but it isn’t necessarily specific to this book, but a lot of 1800s love stories, if people just TALK to each other, they can solve their stupid issues. Jesus Christ.
Anyway, gripe over. So I liked the story. It sort of dipped in the middle, but I liked it. I really liked Sofie, the main character. She’s very spunky and annoyed and tough. And she’s sweet and kind and just this lovely young woman who also feels very trapped in the life that she has been born into and tries hard to be dutiful, but also follow her own passion.
I was really annoyed with Kold. He is such a fucking idiot. I feel like you can tell that the book was written by a woman by how dramatic and ridiculous Kold was. He was very impressionable and he was very scared of how he was perceived, which basically created problems for himself. He and Sofie eventually fall for each other, but his anxiety of looking young and foolish to his friend basically sabotages the relationship. And when he can’t get his way he turns into a dramatic and foolish child.
I feel like the ending was just what the book needed. Sofie has basically seen that her oldest sisters were forced into marriages that make them unhappy, and Amalie has married for love, but that also makes her unhappy. So Sofie makes a choice that might not be very romantic or dramatic, but it is the best choice for her and it might even make her happy. I think she realizes that she is indeed trapped in her situation, and she has to make the best of it, and the best choice she can. So she’s a very mature and clever, and I loved her for that.
It annoyed me that it wasn’t split into chapters. I don’t know why it was structured that way, I don’t feel like splitting it into chapters would have ruined it, and it just annoyed me so much.

It was quite good. I’m glad I’ve read it. I loved Sofie. I loved her mother, who is a complete piece of work. I really liked how Collett had written Kold, as a spoiled little shit. Anyway, I’m glad I’ve read this. I feel like I should sort of tick off a list or something. And if you want to read Norway’s first feminist novel I think it is translated to English.

Ghostwritten by David Mitchell

This is my review of David Mitchell’s Ghostwritten.

The book
Ghostwritten is David Mitchell’s debut novel and it is a very David Mitchell-novel. He quite often writes short stories that he links together somehow. This one has nine stories and they are sort of vaguely connected to each other. Some only with like a phone call, some with more of a substantial connection. It follows a cult member responsible for the mustard gas attacks on the Japanese subway, one is a jazz-enthusiast in Tokyo, one is a crooked British lawyer in Hong Kong, one is an elderly woman running a tea shack in China, one is a transmigrating spirit in Mongolia, a gallery attendant in Russia, a musician and ghostwriter in London, an Irish physicist, and a late night radio DJ in Manhattan.
I liked it. I feel like it showed that it was Mitchell’s first novel. He has as I mentioned done the same type of story telling later, in both Cloud Atlas and the Bone Clocks. I feel like he does it more successfully in the later books, some of the connections in this novel were a bit more tenuous, although not all of them, some were very deep and really well fleshed out. I feel like he might have been experimenting slightly and wasn’t completely sure of how to do it properly. They become more and more connected throughout the novel though, which I liked.
Mitchell has this thing where he puts characters from one book as a minor character into another book. In this book adult Neal Brose is a corrupt lawyer, and in Black Swan Green young Neal Brose is one of the kids sort of bullying the main character. Mitchell also mentions a book editor who is a main character in Cloud Atlas. Again I am sort of struck by that and I wonder how he plans it out. It can’t just be that he just picks a random name, he must have planned these things out pretty seriously. I really like it, and I like it when I notice them. I like when they mention a name, and I’m like, hang on, he’s in Cloud Atlas. I’m a total nerd by the way, if that wasn’t clear.
I like the way he structures his stories, and how different the voices are. He writes completely different people and as they should, their voices are different and they are just, wow. It’s really impressive, and he must really sketch out his novels and ideas. He also sort of writes in different genres, which is very cool.
I think the Mongolian spirit flying around was my favourite story. It was so weird and out there. I also enjoyed the first story, which is the cult member who has carried out the saran gas attack on the Tokyo underground. He was just so creepy and so weird. I don’t know how cult members are, but it felt like he managed to really put himself into the head of a cult member. The arrogance, and the hatred he has for other people, and his absolute assurance that he has done the right thing by killing all these people, was so disturbing. He was so awful. Gah.
I also really liked the way Mitchell wrote the gallery attendant in the Russian story. I can’t remember her name. She was so naïve and so dumb, and she was so annoyingly sure of her shitty boyfriend. Like, he might be a violent, controlling, psychotic drug addict, but he loves her, so he is perfect. She infuriated me so much. It was great.

I really enjoyed it, it wasn’t my favourite Mitchell book. It’s very him, but he has really grown since then, and it was interesting to see where he started the way he writes.