Book Review: Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuvel

Title: Waking Gods

Author: Sylvain Neuvel

Page numbers: 336

Rating: 5 stars out of stars

A remarkable sequel in truly fantastic series. I adored the second just as much as the first. From the get go, I was utterly absorbed. There is something special about the way Sylvain Neuvel writes, and about the way he creates and develops his characters. I fell in love with all of them, particularly Rose, Vincent, and Kara, and they more than live up to the expectations I’d had for them after the first book ended.

The first book begins with child Rose falling into a massive hole and landing in the palm of a truly enormous hand. The second book begins in a similar fashion – with a child, only this child has waking nightmares that come true. After a brief glimpse into her life that does nothing to tell us about who she truly is, we’re back with the Unnamed Man, one of the most complex characters in the whole book. The interviews from his point of view are fascinating, and I really enjoyed the mystery that surrounded him. The pace picks up from there, with the aliens who built the Themis robot sending more to Earth, and the series of events that occurs as a result of our heroes actions in the first novel is nothing short of terrifying. My heart raced and ached for the loss and devastation they felt along the way.

I love the unique formats these books take as well. From the more traditional prose style to the formal interview and the brief snippets of dialogue, the story is extrapolated from bits and bobs and told so many different ways and from so many view points. It never feels disjointed, but rather adds to the overall realism of the story. Which just goes to show the talent and thought that’s gone into these books.

Sylvain Neuvel has quickly become a must read author for me. Do yourself a favour and read them, and I’ll know he’ll become one for you, too.

The healing power of books

If you’re a bibliophile, there’s no doubt that in times of stress or sadness, you’ve turned to books for solace.

Of course, there’s that obvious bit of reassurance you’ll get from reading about someone who’s been through what you’re going through, but it’s so much more than that.

When you’ve had an extremely shitty day and your life sucks beyond the telling of it, revisiting an old favourite and living awhile in that world you’ve loved for years is the ultimate form of escapism. For that short time, your problems are put to one side. You almost forget about finding that job, or that you’ve been single since the dawn of time. You can forget about your boss giving you a hard time, or that idiotic thing you said in a professional setting. Life gets a tiny bit easier; you’re with old friends now, who won’t judge you, who’ve known you all your life. Your problems might still be there when the book is finished, but you’re stronger for having read it, and maybe you’ll be better equipped to deal with them now.

Books are the ultimate refuge when other humans just won’t cut it.

I have a rotation of refuge books that help me, right across a spectrum of emotions.  They live on the bookshelf closest to my bed, right near where I lay my head at night. I have no idea if I thought I’d absorb the goodness by osmosis as I slept, or if I just wanted them within easy reach, but they’re all there, nice and tidy. Going into all of them would take probably a full decade, so here’s just a tiny snippet of them, in no particular order.

The Harry Potter Series by J. K. Rowling.

I’m betting this one is on a lot of lists of books people read when they’re undergoing some kind of emotional issue. The world of Harry Potter is just pure escapism. The drudgery of everyday life can really wear a person down, especially when you’re the type who loves a bit of magic, and has been searching for a source of it their whole life. Hogwarts was there for me as a teenager, which on its own is difficult enough. It’s been there through breakups, the end of friendships, problems with uni or job seeking, and just plain awful days. It’s also been responsible for the development of some of the best friendships I’ve ever had. I know I’m going to continue to revisit Harry and his wonderful, beautiful world well into my dotage.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.

The Book Thief never fails to make me cry. It’s such a beautifully written book, full of gorgeous imagery and wonderful similes involving colour. Cloud-spat blue, for example, or the lemon of Rudy’s hair, or the silver-grey of Liesel’s papa’s eyes. You can lose yourself in the language, the unique perspective, or you can marvel at the bravery and resilience of a young girl who loves books and lives in Nazi Germany. That, or you can feel your heart break for the umpteenth time for Rudy, the best friend a girl could have. Plus, having a good cry sometimes can just be cathartic!

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy will forever hold the title of funniest book ever written for me. Douglas Adams had a truly wonderful sense of humour – his writing was whimsical and ridiculous, but also incredibly intelligent. If ever I needed a laugh, the Hitchhiker’s Guide was there to provide smiles or just a witty, hilarious escape.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.

The ultimate old favourite, about a plain girl who works hard and does actually get her happy ending. It’s a comforting book – there’s a lot of injustice to relate to and rile against, and a lot of insight into the life of a poor female in Victorian times. Jane herself is a wonderful character – despite her upbringing and her circumstances, she’s strong in the face of people of higher social standing who want to bring her down. She knows her own mind, and she has worked hard to better herself and put her mind to use. She knows her limitations and her strengths – she’s not beautiful, but she is smart, and she is willing to put in the work to make a decent life for herself. It’s admirable, and it definitely helps when inner strength is something you’re striving for yourself.

Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier.

Juliet Marillier is a writer of retold fairytales, and this version of Beauty and the Beast is one of my favourites. Caitrin is flawed but strong and smart, and running from her recent past when she meets Anulan, the supposed beast. He’s been isolated for so long due to a physical deformity and some supernatural goings on that he has no idea how to act around her, but the two form a friendship based on honesty and books, and eventually something more. It’s a powerful tale when you need to feel hope.

Which books do you feel the need to revisit when you’re sad, angry, or depressed? I’d love to know – I’m always after new recommendations!

Synesthesia: A New World of Colour

What colour appears in your mind when you think of the word mandible?

For most people, such a question has probably never occurred to them. Why would a word have a colour? Couldn’t mandible be any colour I wanted it to be?

The simple answer is no.

For 1 in 2000 people, this is just one of the many ways they process information and the world around them in general. It’s called Synesthesia, and it’s really quite fascinating.

What is it?

People who experience Synesthesia associate one type of stimulus (such as a number, a letter, a word, a musical note, or even a person) with something that may seem unrelated to everyone else (like a colour, a taste, or a scent).  They can’t explain why something has a certain colour or taste; it just does.

Interestingly, I’ve always noticed that I tend to associate people I know well with certain colours. That colour just appears in my mind when I think of them – my closest friend is a vivid purple, while another is a bright aqua blue. I’ve also done the same with my favourite words. For me, mandible is always red. Chocolate is purple. Magic is silver. Wonderful is a lime green. It’s not something I have to think about – whenever those words pop into my mind, the colour is there as well.

Why does this happen?

According to the University of California, Synesthesia is a result of cross-activitation between parallel centres of the brain that are involved with processing sensory information. Basically, two areas of the brain that lie closely together and that both work with sensory information get their wires crossed, producing a whole world of colour, scent, sound and taste. If, for example, a person with Synesthesia looks at the letter F and sees the colour green, it’s because the green colour perception area of their brain is being stimulated at the same time as their letter recognition area. They literally process one type of stimulus two ways. I think it’s amazing, since there are so many ways that people with Synesthesia experience the world around them.

Who has it?

There are actually a number of famous people, both living and dead, who have Synesthesia. A famous case is Franz Linszt, who would tell members of his orchestra to play notes ‘bluer’, or ‘deep violet, please!’ Geoffrey Rush, the Australian actor, sees numbers and days of the week as colours, while Billy Joel, Tori Amos, and Mary J. Blige see musical notes as colours just like Linszt did. Marilyn Monroe had a unique kind of Synesthesia, where she saw vibrations whenever she heard a sound. Finally, (and my favourite!) Vincent Van Gogh had a type of Synesthesia called Technique-timbre, where he associated the timbre of an instrument with colour or shape. He wrote letters to his brother Theo about this ability, and other artists with Synesthesia have been able to notice these shapes in his work.

It’s all wonderfully fascinating, especially since so many creative people seem to experience this, albeit in different ways. According to researcher Vilayanur Ramachandran, Synesthesia is 8 times more likely to occur among artists and other creative types of people than in other members of the population. Processes similar to blended sensory output might even underlie our general capacity for metaphor and creativity.

I’d love to hear more about other people who have Synesthesia, or at least think they might. How does it present itself for you?

 

 

Book Review: How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

Title: How to Stop Time

Author: Matt Haig

Page Number: 325

Rating: 5 stars out of 5

On the back of How to Stop Time, Jeanette Winterson is quoted as saying ‘Matt Haig uses words like a tin opener. We are the tin’. Never has a blurb sprouted more truth than that. Matt Haig’s beautiful book grabbed me by the heart.

In How to Stop Time, Tom Hazard lives a lonely, long existence. Every 8 years, he must give up the life he’s built and move on. He can’t fall in love, he can’t put down roots, and he can’t leave any evidence of his existence. This is because he’s 439 years old, and he’s aging so slowly, he only appears to be 40.

In essence, this story is about what it means to be human. About what shapes us, what helps us become who we are. It’s also about the things we’re willing to do to survive – even if we’re not really sure who we are anymore, or if we like it. There are some beautiful messages here, cleverly interwoven with history and famous characters that make reading it a joy. While most of it is sad, there is magic here, and hope. This is definitely a book worth savouring.

Book Review: The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M. Harris

Title: The Gospel of Loki

Author: Joanne M. Harris

Page numbers: 302

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I really enjoyed the Gospel of Loki. I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting when I started this book – I loved Joanne M. Harris’ Chocolat books, but I guess I thought the prose would be similar in nature, with a kind of dreamy, mystical feel.

This book was nothing like that.

Basically, it was a first-person retelling of Norse mythology, revolving around Loki and his point of view. Therefore, we only see what Loki was present for, or what had been told to him by Odin or the other gods. The prose is rather matter-of-fact, despite the fantastic nature of the events that occur, and the story stays true to the original mythology. Joanne M. Harris doesn’t really stray at all from those original stories you may already be familiar with, so don’t expect any artistic liberty to be taken.

I’ve always had a fascination with Norse mythology and the Vikings in particular, so this book was right up my alley. I loved each adventure and felt angry at the way Loki was treated by the Aesir, despite the fact that he was often the instigator. He was definitely likeable, and I really enjoyed his voice.

Doctor Who Series 10 – A Review

Amidst all the insanity that surrounded the announcement that Jodie Whittaker would be the 13th Doctor (a woman! Shock! Horror!), I think a lot of people have forgotten about the astonishing Peter Capaldi and how amazing he was in his last series as the Doctor.

Doctor-Who-Series-10-promo.jpg

When he first regenerated, Peter’s Doctor was harsh, grumpy, uncaring, and seemingly cold-hearted. After the energy, warmth, humour and fun of the previous two Doctors, 12 was a bitter pill to swallow. I found the 8th series of Doctor Who pretty uninspiring – there was the odd shining star (Flatline and Mummy on the Orient Express) but the overwhelming feeling was one of apathy, disconnect, and a lack of the awe that the other incarnations of the Doctor all seemed to have for time and space travel. I definitely missed it.

Thankfully, this feeling improved in the 9th, and subsequently 10th series. No where is it more obvious than in Pilot and the next episode Thin Ice, where the Doctor actually has a reason to stay put on Earth, but he just can’t resist the call of his brilliant blue box and the adventures that await him in time and space. The awe was back, and so was the fun.

I think also this sense of fun had a lot to do with the new companion. Bill Potts was clever, intelligent, independent, and she didn’t let the Doctor pull one over on her. She was tough but she also knew her limitations. She reminded me so much of Donna Noble, my favourite companion. I also think Pearl Mackie and Peter had great chemistry together – they certainly felt like friends, which I think was missing with Peter and Jenna Coleman. Jenna’s character always felt more like a plot device than a fully fleshed person.

I think also the writing improved so much since the 8th series. Peter was finally given scripts that were worthy of his talent, and stories that allowed his Doctor to shine. He could make grand speeches and save the world from epic alien incursions without massive plot holes or magical sonic screwdriver waving.

Finally, the series finale two parter is definitely Stephen Moffat’s best. World Enough and Time was beautifully written sci fi; a supposedly deserted spaceship held in place by a black hole, with Bill stuck at the slow end, and the Doctor at the other. The ending was heartbreaking and perfectly set up the final episode.

Doctor-Who-Season-10-Finale-

The Doctor Falls was exactly what it promised, and Peter Capaldi was magnificent. From a character I had initially thought was cold and unfeeling, he was all heart. He stood tall amongst an army of cybermen and in the face of insurmountable odds. He cared about doing the right thing, about saving people, about fixing what Missy/The Master had broken. My Doctor was back!

All in all, I’m pretty happy to say that it was my favourite series since Matt Smith’s first series way back in 2010. I cannot wait to see how the 1st and 12th Doctors are going to be together in the Christmas episode – what an episode for a regeneration!

Book review: The Colour of White by Jaclyn Moriarty

Title: The Colour of White

Author: Jaclyn Moriarty

Page numbers: 375 pages

Rating: 5 stars out of 5

I’ve had this book sitting on my shelf for years, and after seeing so many amazing reviews for it, decided it was time to give it a go myself. This is book 1 of 3, and I can’t wait to find out how the story progresses.

I’ve previously read ‘I Have a Bed Made of Buttermilk Pancakes’ by Jaclyn Moriarty, and I have to say that all the elements I loved about that book were there in this one. The humour, the whimsy, the strangeness. The pure fun.

I loved the colour present in both worlds – through Madeline’s clothing, her friendships, her mother, and her teachers, and in Elliot’s crazy world where colours were physical beings that could evoke moods or even kill. It was magical, it was odd, and it was full of personality.

In essence, it’s a book about growing up and developing a sense of self. The story is told in two parts, one in each world, and while the letters that Elliot and Madeleine write each other link them, so do the similarities between the two of them.

Finally, I have to say that I just love odd stories like this. I’d like to form a group for people who adored this story – I’m sure we’d all get along famously.

Irish Fairy Trees and the Art of Storytelling

Ireland is a land nourished by stories.

Whether those stories were Gaelic myths or Christian bible stories, the Ireland we know today has been carved and shaped from storytelling, and they’re still prevalent to this day.

On a recent trip to Ireland, I heard first hand one of these brilliant stories, and how their meaning still holds true.

Irish Fairy Trees or Hawthorn trees rise out of the brilliant emerald landscape, like lone hands reaching for the sky. The white colouring of their flowers is stark in comparison with the green of the vegetation and the soft rolling hills in the distance. And yet, even when farmland has been cleared of all other trees, the Fairy Tree remains. This is because Fairy Trees are protected, and to cut one down is extremely bad luck. This belief is held so strongly that a recent upgrade of one of Ireland’s airports was halted so that a road could be built around a Fairy Tree, costing the Irish government an extra few million euros.

Their importance lies with a myth dating back to the original inhabitants of Ireland, who believed that these trees were gateways between the world of human beings, and the world of the Tuatha Dé Danann, or the fairy folk. Such portals were often protected by magic, or supernatural beings like Leprechauns or Pookas. Today, you might even find them with a stone circle around the base of the trunk. Due to the fantastical nature of the trees and the gateways they protect, a host of superstitution surrounds them. It’s still a commonly held belief that if you happened to chop down one of these trees, you’d be in for a world of bad luck.

So, it stands to reason that cutting down one of these trees would be taken incredibly seriously. The airport story is just one of thousands of instances of Irish workers refusing to remove a Fairy Tree in case they invoke some kind of fairy wrath. There’s another famous story about the car manufacturer DeLorean, who chopped down a Fairy Tree in Belfast when they were building their factory in the 80s. Many Irish people believe that DeLorean failed to become a success because they refused to heed warnings about saving the tree.

No matter what you believe, it’s a fascinating story. Ireland is still a very Catholic country, but they also hold fast to the old beliefs, evoking magic and fairies to explain the inexplicable. It’s beautiful and one of those amazing parts of the human story that stays with you long after you’ve returned home.

Book Review: The Girl of Ink and Stars

Title: The Girl of Ink and Stars

Author: Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Page numbers: 228 pages

Rating: 5 stars out of 5

The Girl of Ink and Stars is an amazing story, told with skill and creativity.

I read it one sitting, on the train ride home from work. It’s a gorgeous coming of age story, full of courage and cartography. The world Isabella lives in is beautifully imagined and colourfully brought to life. I was surprised that it was so short – so much happened, and the characters were so well written.

Isabella is a 13 year old who lives on what was once an island that floated around the world. Since the Governor arrived, the village has been cut off from the rest of the island, the ports have closed, and no one can leave. What used to be a magical world is now full of fear and drudgery. Isabella has a father who keeps the magic alive for her through story and through the maps he created when he was free to travel. The story itself starts when Isabella learns that one of her friends from school is missing after a trip to the forbidden orchids belonging to the Governor. What follows is an adventure told just like a fable. The writing is beautiful and lyrical, and everything a good fable should be. I adored every second of it.

Book Review: The Just City by Jo Walton

Title: The Just City

Author: Jo Walton

Page count: 368 pages

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Brilliantly written and based on the philosophies of Plato, I really enjoyed reading this thoroughly unique novel. Essentially, it involves the Greek goddess Athene travelling through time to collect people who had prayed to her to rescue them from situations they deemed unjust. She had developed a city on an island we now know as Atlantis and set up an experiment – to create Plato’s Republic in the flesh, to test out whether his theories on justice, love, and the human condition could make for a peaceful, just, and completely successful society.

I found the discussions between characters plucked straight from history (like Socrates!) utterly engrossing, and the idea that Greek mythology is just one ring of gods from many that were no more true than any other religion fascinating. I found myself increasingly uncomfortable with the rules enforced on the children – apparently free will and equality really weren’t key parts of Plato’s philosophy – and the ideas on child raising and marriage were truly horrifying. All in all, it was a fantasy, disturbing, interesting, and totally different to anything else I have ever read. Very much looking forward to reading more in the series to see how it plays out, but ultimately, I’m fairly certain Plato’s philosophy won’t be a success.