The Shock of the Fall – Nathan Filer

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The Shock of the Fall cover Nathan FilerMatthew is a nineteen year-old man writing directly to his reader, telling us his story in little pieces.  We soon learn that Matthew suffers from schizophrenia and he is writing this journal/book/set of letters as part of his self-appointed therapy.  Though Matthew attends a day centre where he gets mental health help, he constantly struggles to stay in the present and to find the need to keep seeking help.

The Shock of the Fall has won several awards and it is easy to see why.  Filer’s narrative style is engrossing and fast-paced, keeping you pulled into Matthew’s thoughts and struggles.  Perhaps the most incredible part of Filer’s writing is that he manages to present this schizophrenic mind in a way that is relatable even to those who do not suffer from the mental illness, evoking our sympathy when he starts to struggle, and keeping us cheering for him to get better.  In a world where mental illness and schizophrenia in particular are increasingly stereotype and stigmatized, Filer’s incredible novel can help to pave a pathway to understanding an incredibly difficult disease.

We learn in pieces of Matthew’s ill older brother and learn in snippets that his brother died and Matthew still blames himself ten years later.  It is Simon that Matthew hears when his schizophrenia gets bad and it is for Simon that Matthew begins his special project of which he writes so much about.  As the reader learns and is allowed into Matthew’s past and pain, you are given a window like no other into the mind of someone whose mind is twisted by disease.  Filer drips and dribbles information in slowly enough that you can easily believe in Matthew’s reticence to speak of his brother, especially because speaking of Simon can often lead to his illness getting worse.

If you read the book on an e-book, make sure to leave the publisher’s set fonts. The varying typefaces were particularly intriguing to me, helping to connect the parts of Matthew’s story and it allowed the reader to see exactly where he was mentally when he was recording that section.  I would highly recommend this book be read instead of listened to because the visual adds a vital dimension to Matthew’s story.

I found The Shock of the Fall truly compelling and in many ways cannot believe Filer is a debut novelist.  If this is the level of sophistication, deftness, and depth he can continue to grow throughout his career, I am truly excited to see what is next.

Rating: 9/10

Read The Shock of the Fall


Writing Tips from J.K. Rowling

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Did you check out last week’s post about our virtual writing groups? Don’t forget to sign up before Friday 15 March.

J.K Rowling Writing CafeToday’s featured author is none other than the creator of the boy wizard himself.  As everyone knows, Rowling got her start writing in a cafe in Edinburgh, hoping to turn her imaginings into something that could pay the rent.  What she gave the world was beyond magic, and it shaped millions of childhoods (and adulthoods, too).  While her adult novel may not have lived up to the hype, we can all agree that when it comes to crafting an enchanting story, Rowling knows how to do the job.  And it’s hard not to admire a woman who was once on benefits and now has influenced the lives of countless readers and encouraged many stubborn readers to pick up other books as well.  So, let’s check out J.K. Rowling’s 5 Writing Tips:


JK Rowling 5 Writing Tips

  1. Write in whatever time you have.
  2. Planning is essential.
  3. Rewriting is just as essential.
  4. Be aware of plot and pacing.
  5. Write your passion.

The First Book of Calamity Leek – Paula Lichtarowicz

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The First Book of Calamity LeekCalamity Leek is a young woman who knows how the world works.  All men are demons and she and her chosen sisters will bring the first wave of war against the demonmales and the sun.  But when Calamity’s sister Truly dies after trying to look over their protective wall, the sisters’ world begins to unravel.

In concept, this book felt a bit out there.  The official logline I got was this: “Books tell you what to believe.  Books explain the world around you.  What if a book had been written to explain a world constructed only for you?  What if that world suddenly fell apart?”  When I started reading, I thought I had stumbled onto a very strange, inventive novel.  I was right, but not in the way I thought. The First Book of Calamity Leek is a breath of fresh air in a world filled with the same stories retold.

The execution of the story (which I am going to try and not spoil, because Lichtarowicz is great at letting it unfold slowly) needed to be incredibly well done to work, and it did.  Pieces fall into place, and as Calamity writes, you pick up the tidbits that she is blind to.  The book is written by Calamity, from her own point of view of events.  She was a treasured daughter and niece, and knew everything about the way their world works; Aunty even made sure that Calamity disseminated information to her other sisters.  Calamity’s confidence in her unique place is almost unsettling.

The First Book of Calamity Leek is written in Calamity’s vernacular.  This aspect of the novel, while providing more character insight and depth, did not quite work for me.  Though set in North Wales, Calamity’s voice sounded almost Southern (American Southern), and it’s weird cadences turned me off of the book at first. [I should note here that I strongly dislike most dialectic-narrative books.  They are choppy and I always have a hard time adjusting to the voice, so it’s not really an indictment on Lichtarowicz but more of my own distaste for the style.]  Once I got used to it, however, I could not get enough of Calamity Leek and her sisters, or even of crazy Aunty who watches over them.

There were a few points that I felt did drag the novel down, though.  I could not at all tell you what age Calamity Leek or her same-age sisters were.  When I began the book, I would have said 8-10, based on the context and the naivete.  But later in the book, other hints suggested she is in her teens.  I felt the voice was really too young for a teen, and while I can understand an exact age not being given in this concept, Lichtarowicz could have narrowed it down for her readers better.  The dialect not sounding location-appropriate (North Wales), also bugged me.  There are a few things that might explain it in the book, but I didn’t feel any of that was enough.

Despite its flaws, The First Book of Calamity Leek is an inventive, unique debut novel that will either enrapture you or push you away.  I can easily see this as being one that divides readers; however, if you give it a chance and keep reading, Calamity and her confidence will get you in the end.

Rating: 7.5/10

Available now on Kindle. Buy The First Book of Calamity Leek.

New Adult Fiction – Marketable Category?

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New Adult FictionAs I have been reading and reviewing for this blog, I have noticed a gap in the book marketplace – college age fiction.  You could either have your book revolve around someone 17 or 18, or you skipped to the 30 year-old adult.  Plus, unless you’re reading fluffy romantic fiction, you’re more likely to find literary works with protagonists that are middle-aged.  Young adult fiction is finally gaining some great critical acclaim in the last few years, and is increasingly marketable to non-teens, but there hasn’t been a lot there for those in the 18-30 market.  Even with the few books released with older protagonists, they often got shoved in YA, perhaps because they were young characters and couldn’t quite be considered adults.

Publishing Crawl contributor Rachel Seigel wrote about this very same gap just the other day, with great news of an up and coming category – New Adult Fiction.  As Seigel puts it, New Adult fiction would encompass those “protagonists [who] are emerging adults who have a broader life experience than younger teens, but not enough experience to be living full adult lives.”  That’s great news for those that are 18-25, and those who read to find common experiences for their age. It could also be a very popular category with juniors and seniors in high school, who might want to find something to look forward to.

Rumor has it that Twilight was originally written with Bella in college, but the publishers had Meyer age it down so they could market it for the lucrative YA crowd.  While the characters’ ages is only a small problem in the popular-but-awful series, if authors are having to make characters younger, the stories can suffer.  The transition out of high school and into college also holds a great deal of possibilities for authors to mine from.  With so many Young Adult books featuring never-there parents (so that the characters can get into as much trouble as possible, thus driving forward plot points), turning the kids loose on college makes the absent parent far more believable.  How many young heroines in recent years have had one dead/out-of-state/absent parent and one parent who doesn’t seem to care that their daughter is in love with a creepy boy/werewolf/fighting to the death?  (Of course, Disney has done the dead-mother thing for over 50 years, and they’re still going.)

What could New Adult fiction mean then, for YA?  Well, for one, there might be some authors “trading up”, as it were.  But frankly, there are already a lot of books in this category, if it were to catch on.  Last summer I reviewed the great Code Name Verity, and wondered at its YA classification when it featured two adult women in their early 20’s.  One of my next reviews will be for The Office of Mercy, a soon-to-be-released YA dystopian that actually features a 24 year-old heroine.  The books are already being written, but there could be a lot of readers missing out on them because of their younger classifications.

I have already talked about on this blog my disdain for those who look down on genre fiction.  What makes little sense to me are those who might not pick up a book because it’s meant for the “teen audience”.  It’s actually something I covered in my review of Code Name Verity, and it still makes me sad that there are excellent books out there that might get overlooked by some readers because they feel they are “too old” for this or that novel.  The great thing about New Adult fiction would be to break down some of those barriers, get some excellent non-YA books out of the binding YA category, and it inspires authors to write those stories and editors to accept them.  Let’s hope that this time next year we will have a ton of new New Adult fiction books.

I’m even going to start tagging appropriate books in my reviews.  Every little bit helps the trend, right?

The Lighthouse – Alison Moore

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The Lighthouse Alison MooreFuth is middle-aged, recently divorced, and on a ferry for a walking holiday in Germany.  While he is away his ex-wife will pack up and move all of his possessions, and he’ll return back to England to a new apartment and a new life alone.  He has one talisman for comfort and that is a small silver lighthouse that never leaves his pocket.  Alongside Futh’s story is that of Esther, the inn keeper’s wife at Futh’s first and last stop.  Unhappily married, Esther has a penchant for affairs with guests in uncleaned rooms and stealing from other guests.  She also has a lighthouse, the wooden compliment to Futh’s more extravagant piece.  The Lighthouse follows the pair in their respective, tragic stories.

The Lighthouse was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize this year, and judging by the fury I saw on Twitter, many felt it should have won.  While I have not read the other nominees, I was drawn to this book primarily because of the backlash of its loss and the fact that it came from independent publisher Salt.  I wanted to love The Lighthouse.  I thought it was going to be an interesting, compelling story of loss and loneliness.  What I found instead was a boring novel with one-dimensional characters but excellent technical writing skills.

Where this book fell for me was within the first few pages.  I was bored out of my mind trying to slog my way into Futh’s story.  I found nothing about him compelling enough to keep reading; the only reason I did not stop at the beginning was because I try to always get about 25% through a book I’m reading to review.  One of the main problems I had with Moore’s writing was that she implemented something I could only call third-person stream of consciousness.  When you are in the present with Futh, you know every single little move he makes.  Esther’s portion of the story is slightly more interesting, but only if because she does more.  I can understand that Moore wanted to present Futh as floating in the present, unsure of what his life is.  There are, however, far better ways to do that without losing the interest of your reader.

I found a few things in the book to be a bit absurd as well.  Our first introduction to Esther she sits in the bar of her inn, watching a man eat a hard-boiled egg.  They barely speak, and yet he knows to follow her and that she will sleep with him.  This entire turn of events felt manufactured to show how daring and reckless Esther is, but not an act that made sense in the rest of the story.  Similarly, Futh makes a sort of friend on the ferry, and ends up driving the man to his mother’s house in Germany since it is on his way.  With no explanation, the man offers to let Futh stay at his mother’s house instead of him continuing on his journey.  There are other moments there in her house that are unexplained and feel more awkward than illuminating to the actual narrative.

I also hated the way the book presented each and every single female character.  Through the use of flashbacks, we learn that Futh’s mother abandoned him and his father when he was young, bored of her marriage and moves back to New York.  After his mother leaves, Futh begins to learn a bit about the neighbor who lives behind them.  Gloria cheated on her husband, who left her and took their son with him.  She starts a secret affair with Futh’s father, invites a young teenage Futh over to her house and gets him drunk, and then hits on him when he is an adult, in front of Futh’s father (and her live-in partner).  There is also Angela, Futh’s ex-wife, who cheated on Futh with Gloria’s son almost as soon as the marriage began.  She ignored Futh when they were in school together, and he met her again initially when she was driving back from spending time with her married boyfriend.  And then of course there’s Esther; she left her fiance for his brother, who now beats her.  She sleeps with and steals from guests.  Even the German mother of Futh’s ferry-found friend is rude and off-putting.  I can understand a couple of bad eggs, but when the women in a novel merely act in terrible ways on the victim men, it is hard for me to find much to like about the book.

I will say that I loved the flashback pieces.  I felt they were what drove the book, and the only reason I chose to finish.  I was hoping that through one of these flashbacks we would get some sort of twist reveal that made the entire slog worth it.  Did not happen, however.

I wish I had not wasted my time to read this forgettable novel.  I will look for other books by Moore because her overall style is intriguing and can develop into a real talent, but The Lighthouse fell completely flat for me.  A character-driven literary novel should at least offer a couple of characters you care about – whether you care to hate them or love them is irrelevant.  But with the cardboard cutouts we were offered, all of the beautiful imagery and symbolism offered wasted words.  After reading the book, I felt like The Lighthouse was trying to hard to be something artful and that took away from the promise it might have had.  When an author is too conscious of a specific aim, it seeps out in their words and drives away the audience they so want to entice.

Rating: 3/10

Reached – Ally Condie

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Reached Matched TrilogyIn the conclusion to Matched and Crossed, Cassia thinks she will finally get everything she wants, but first she and Ky must do their part for the Rising.  While she lives in the Capital and waits for news, Ky works on the outskirts.  Xander, also in the Rising, helps the rebels usher in the one thing that will make those in the Society trust them.  With narration shifting between the three main characters, will the Rising accomplish its goals and will Ky and Cassia find each other again?

One of the things that I found most intriguing about the Matched trilogy was Condie’s narrative style.  In Matched, our only narrator is Cassia.  In Crossed, the narration is shared between Cassia and Ky.  And with Reached, Xander joins the other two in the story-telling.  It’s quite poetic, the 1, 2, 3, narrators in books 1, 2, and 3.  And while I was a bit hesitant about the narration, I found it easy to tell each three apart; they all had their own unique voice.  While Cassia’s voice remains poetic and involves more thinking and less action, Ky’s is antsy, almost pessimistic.  When Xander joined in I figured he would sound a lot like Ky, but instead he is grounded, easily led, and more matter-of-fact in his telling.  It’s tricky enough to balance one voice in a novel, especially across three books, and yet Condie is able to make it with three.

In the dystopian fiction trend, you often see Hunger Games style rebellions, with those same types of consequences and fallout.  I was expecting something similar from Reached, but was pleasantly surprised by the unexpected direction of the story.  It was honest about the implications of a rebellion, and so they went with a route that provided little violence and no grand overtures – just choices.  Considering Condie’s Matched trilogy is about the importance of choice, this rebellion that provides with the people a chance to choose it or not fits right in with the theme.  I also appreciated the theme of love as a choice; Cassia chose who she fell for, who she gave her all to.  She could have easily been happy with either Xander or Ky, but she makes the choice to be happy with one of them.  This mature approach also means there’s a lack of teen love-triangle melodrama.  That is really refreshing in any Young Adult novel, and with one as popular as Matched others might follow.

Over all, Reached was not what I expected, and I loved that.  Condie managed to draw me in within sentences (I picked up the book intending to read only the first chapter and ended up reading several).  It is an engrossing conclusion to a mature trilogy.  With great technical writing and different approaches to a similar problem, Condie and Cassia manage to make you believe in the human race and their ability to choose good when they have the option.

Rating: 8/10

America Pacifica – Anna North (DNF)

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After North America has succumbed to a second Ice Age,  a lucky few immigrate to the island of America Pacifica to escape the brutal cold.  Some decades later, the island inhabitants are crowded, have to get creative with their food supplies, and are experiencing an increasing divide between rich and poor.  Darcy lives with her mother, a pearl diver, and both work long hours to eek out a small living.  When Darcy’s mother goes missing, Darcy works with a well-known grifter to find her.

I have never not finished a book for this blog, and I think there are only about two other books that I have not finished before.  But, I just could not care about anything in this book.  I picked it up originally intrigued by the ice age angle, but it was not at all what I expected.

While the technical skills in the writing were fine, Anna North needs to work on continuity in a novel.  One minute Darcy’s leg was broken and she had to be carried, the next she’s walking fine and jumping out of a window into garbage. There were other instances in the first 100 pages that did not quite fit, but that was the instance that most stuck out to me.

The main problem I had with this novel was the lack of focus on the main character.  That makes no sense, right?  On the first page, we are given a long physical and interpretative description of a small character that you don’t see again within the first 100 pages.  But if you tried to ask me what Darcy looked like, or even a small question about her personality, I wouldn’t be able to tell you.  The lack of information on Darcy makes the whole emotion in the story fall flat.  You know nothing much about your main character, she has almost no personality, so how are you supposed to connect to the events in the story, care about her finding her mother, if you don’t even care about Darcy?

This was the main problem with the entire book, really, and it’s a trend I have noticed that disturbs me a bit.  Without actual character development, you are left with a bunch of empty statements about society, love, or simply a crappy story.  I know that this happens more often in the YA market, but I could not totally put America Pacifica into that market.  I think Anna North tried to make it an adult book and wanted to make some big societal statement, but for that to resonate you need to include actual humans in your book.

Have you read America Pacifica or a book with an incredibly shallow main character?  Do you find that makes the book unenjoyable or lacking?

Rating: 2/10 (DNF)