Month: July 2013

Monthly Review – July 2013

Posted July 31, 2013 by Michael Kitto in Monthly Reading / 0 Comments

This month we looked at the satirical novel and read Kurt Vonnegut’s modern classic Cat’s Cradle. This was a lot of fun for me; even though I’ve read the novel, I’m becoming a big fan of Juvenalian satire. While it might have been a little difficult for others, it is always great to go out of our comfort zones and read something great. Next month we are dipping into some non-fiction when we read Death in the Afternoon by Ernest Hemingway, considered one of the best books ever written about bullfighting.

My wife has been away for almost three weeks and in that time I thought I might have gotten a lot of reading done, but sadly this was not the case. I’ve done pretty well for myself but nothing amazing, it seems like a regular month for me; reading wise. The biggest highlight for the month would have to be A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra but I did hit rock bottom as well and read Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. I would love to know what your highlights or lowlights of the month were and even what you read this month.

My Monthly Reading


Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

Posted July 30, 2013 by Michael Kitto in Book of the Month, Science Fiction / 0 Comments

Cat’s Cradle by Kurt VonnegutTitle: Cat's Cradle (Goodreads)
Author: Kurt Vonnegut
Published: Dial Press, 1963
Pages: 287
Genres: Science Fiction
My Copy: Personal Copy

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle
(or visit your local Indie bookstore)

John (Jonah) is an everyman, he tells us about the times he planned to write a book about America and the importance of what they did the day Hiroshima was bombed. He finds himself involved with the children of Felix Hoenikker (a fictional Nobel laureate physicist and known in the book as the father of the atomic bomb). The Hoenikkers lead him to discover a crystal known as Ice-Nine, which they have kept secret and is an alternative structure of water.

Like most of Kurt Vonnegut’s books that I’ve read (with the exception of Breakfast of Champions) Cat’s Cradle is this bizarre journey that isn’t necessarily enjoyable to read but when you finish the book and reflect you start to see the brilliance. I remember with Slaughterhouse-Five when I ended the book I gave it a 2 star rating; it was just plain weird but the book never left my thoughts. I digested what I had read and began to understand and slowly that rating grew and now I think it is a work of genius.

As Cat’s Cradle begins to twist and turn in true Vonnegut style you eventually end up in the bizarre and fictitious island of San Lorenzon. The book continues with more twists until it becomes apparent that Ice-Nine can be a very destructive material. The novel is laced in  laced with irony and parody, this is part of Vonnegut’s satirical humour and you have to except that he knows what he is doing and let him take you on this journey.

What I think Kurt Vonnegut and the narrator of Cat’s Cradle is trying to tell us as readers is the discovery of Ice-Nine can truly benefit mankind but then you find a military application for it and everything changes. This is a warning, with the amazing advances in technology without any growth in an ethical awareness human annihilation is a real possibility. Vonnegut was living in the Nuclear age when this book was written, the threats felt real and it was what had most people worried. The confrontation between technology and morality is ever present within this modern classic.

But there is a parallel (but similar) message running through Cat’s Cradle as well. John is often known as Jonah in the novel and you have to think biblical for this one. Jonah is a biblical prophet that goes to Nineveh (after much drama) and tells them of their destruction. The people repent and God takes pity on them and the city is spared. A symbolic message; a cautionary warning to the readers of Jonah’s (aka John) prophetic findings that could lead to the end of the world.

In true Vonnegut form, this book will take you on an interesting ride with no possible way of predicting the outcome. The book satirises science, technology, the arms race and even organised religion in this classic post-modern sci-fi novel. It is always hard to talk about a Vonnegut book or even try to explain his literary style, but if you like a dark comedy, science fiction or satire novel then Kurt Vonnegut is always a good choice. I would recommend starting with Slaughterhouse-Five as that is probably considered his magnum opus.  Although I wasn’t a fan of Breakfast of Champions, I feel like I’m a true fan of what Vonnegut does and Cat’s Cradle is a good example of that.


An Open Letter to my TBR

Posted July 29, 2013 by Michael Kitto in Literature / 0 Comments

tbrDear TBR Shelves,

Why do you insist on growing faster than I can read? You seem to have a way of collecting more and more books and I am never sure what to read next, is there a system? Or do I need to cull some of you? I’ve noticed that you get me reading new releases and classic but what happens to all the books in the middle? Sooner or later those new releases will just be lost in the void forever, I don’t know what kind of black magic this is but I need answers.

While I’m still talking to you can you tell me how I manage to be excited about books that I want to read but never get around to reading? You know those books, they get put onto your shelves with excitement and desire but you work some kind of voodoo and I never read them. It’s not like the desire to read them is just gone, you have me distracted with a shiny new book. You don’t believe me? Here is a quick list;

  • Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson
  • Ask the Dust by John Fante
  • Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
  • Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins
  • Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
  • Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
  • Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross
  • The Book of Emmett by Deborah Forster
  • The Guilty One by Lisa Ballantyne
  • The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson

You can’t claim you have nothing to do with me not reading these books; I do try really hard to fight your evil ways but you are just too powerful. Always adding more books and distracting me with the shiny new ones. You are just too powerful and I’m losing the battle but rest assured that I will keep looking for ways to defeat you, there must be a way and if there is I will find it.

With all my love

Michael @ Literary Exploration


Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks

Posted July 28, 2013 by Michael Kitto in Science Fiction / 0 Comments

Consider Phlebas by Iain M. BanksTitle: Consider Phlebas (Goodreads)
Author: Iain M. Banks
Series: Culture #1
Narrator: Peter Kenny
Published: Orbit, 1987
Pages: 471
Genres: Science Fiction
My Copy: Personal Copy

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle
(or visit your local Indie bookstore)

The Culture war rages across the galaxy. Billions have died, and just as many are doomed. Planets, moons and even stars are at risk of destruction. The Idirans fought for their faith and the Culture for their moral right to exist. For Horza and his crew land, they are stuck somewhere in the middle of this conflict. Both the Culture and the Idirans are after one thing, but when Horza finds, it his motley crew of unpredictable mercenaries, human and machine may have sealed their own destruction.

Prolific author Iain Banks is known for his literary novels but when he writes his seminal space opera series he uses the pseudonym Iain M. Banks. Sadly Banks lost his battle with cancer on the 9th of June 2013. I realised that I’ve never read anything by this author and since I had Consider Phlebas, I thought this was the place to start; Book One in the Culture series.

I will admit I haven’t read much space opera in the past and I feel like I’ve gone off Science Fiction, well the modern ones at least. I love the old Sci-Fi novels of the 1950’s-1970’s; they blend these futuristic stories with some really interesting philosophical ideas and I miss that type of stuff. When I started reading Consider Phlebas I thought just maybe this will be the series that returns me to those awesome philosophical sci-fi novels. There was some slight philosophical ideas in the novel but that got drowned out by the fast paced plot.

The Culture is a post-scarcity society. A symbiotic society of artificial intelligences (AIs) (Minds and drones), humanoids and other alien species all sharing equal status. We know what aliens and humanoids are but let me quickly explain Minds; these are powerful and intelligent AIs so advance they are self-aware. Almost like a futuristic Skynet but with designs to be treated as equals with the rest of the universe. The Idirans are a major galactic race; they have all the control and want to supress everyone else. They are a deeply religious group who believe in a ‘rational’ God who wants a better existence for his creation. Now that we have explained both sides of the war, feel free to draw the symbolism out of it. Example: The Idirans are Americans, or the Church in medieval times and the Culture are anyone that stands against them. It really is up to you on how you want to interpret this.

The thing I often find hard about these type of Science Fiction and Fantasy novels, is you have to spend so much time trying to work out who each race is and if they represent something relevant to our own history. Once you spent all your time working that out, then you have to write it all down because there are so many you need to reference back to as you go along. Having done that, now you have a slightly better chance at understanding just what the hell is going on with the books. Some people pick this up really easily and just fly through these books fully understanding or just thinking of them as race a, race b and so on. I can’t do that, I want to pull interesting information out of a book and I know that there can be a lot of symbolism in these novels but there is a lot of work involved with working that out before you can even start to read the book.

I feel like I have hit the wall with Science Fiction (I’m not talking about dystopian or post-apocalyptic novels but the Sci-Fi set in space) and maybe I need to read a classic just to get myself out of this rut. As a literary explorer I try these newer Sci-Fi novels in the hopes to find a new and interesting author but most of the time it’s in vain. Don’t get me wrong, once I worked out my own analogy for The Idirans and The Culture I was able to enjoy this book but it feels like too much work. I like working for it while reading but in the cases like Consider Phlebas I think all the work needs to be done before you really start to get into the book and that just doesn’t really appeal to me. Now I’ve worked out a basic idea of this world, I might continue the series. The imagery and the pacing of this book is great and I think Iain M Banks did a great job with it, but I think I might try an Iain Banks book instead; did someone say The Wasp Factory?


First Steps: Russian Literature

Posted July 27, 2013 by Michael Kitto in First Steps / 0 Comments

literary stepsFirst Steps is a new segment that was inspired by the Literary Exploration Reading Challenge. Each week or two we look at what books from different themes, genres or maybe authors and suggest some that are worth trying. Not necessarily all easy to read books but the ones that are worth the time and effort. My goal is to have First Steps guide you to some great books in places you don’t normally venture to.

I’ve been reading this amazing book called A Constellation of Vital Phenomena which is set in Chechnya and it got me thinking about Russian literature. I love reading books set in Russia and written by Russians, I don’t know why there is something about the books that draws me to them. They are often epic, slightly odd and the prose and character development are well worth reading, don’t get me started on symbolism and motifs. But it’s sad to think a lot of people are scared of reading Russian literature and while there are so many I haven’t read yet, including War and Peace, The Brothers Karamazov, Doctor Zhivago and anything by Anton Chekhov I thought I’d share five Russian novels I would recommend. I have left out Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov and Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart simply because they are Russian Americans and it’s hard to work out which country can truly claim them.

Day of the Oprichnik by Vladimir Sorokin

This weird and wonderful postmodern novel is quite frankly so bizarre you just have to check it out. I wanted to add something contemporary to this list and thought this was the perfect choice. Set in a futuristic Russia where the Russian Empire has been restored back to the draconian codes of Ivan the Terrible.

 
 
 

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin

If you are fans of the dystopian genre and you haven’t read We, you really need to get onto it. This book is often considered as the first truly dystopian novel and has inspired authors such as Aldous Huxley, George Orwell and Kurt Vonnegut. Zamyantin bases this future on his personal experiences during the two Russian revolutions (1905 and 1917) and the First World War.

 
 

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

Yet another weird and wonderful Russian novel, this time in the genre of Magical Realism. The whole book is based around a visit by the Devil to two passionately atheistic Russians. While this is an overly simplified synopsis it really is the basis of the entire book; if I really want to write a fully detailed overview of this book it would include a black cat, an assassin, a naked witch, Jesus and Pontius Pilate in one bizarre novel.

 

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Don’t let the size of this book scare you, this isn’t necessarily a hard book, just long and like most Russian classics it is worth the effort. The story of love, infidelity as well as a battle of classes and the fading out of an old society to make room for modern one. If you are a patient reader and love a story with well written characters that is beautifully written then this book is worth reading, it simply is a masterpiece.

 

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

I love this book so much. Before there were psychological thrillers and books like the Dexter series, there was Crime and Punishment. Raskolnikov is a conflicted character; he is showing a lot of interest in the classes and thinks he is of a higher class than others believe. But when he commits murders, guilt, remorse or regret plague him. This is a novel that focuses on the inner turmoil as well as the impact on his intellect and emotions. Beyond perfect and the type of book that you just want to read over and over again.

I know a lot of people avoid the Russian books but I’m drawn to them, I would love to know what people think and if they do avoid them, why. If you have read some great Russian novels, let me know as well because there are so many out there, I would love to know which ones are well worth reading.


The Love Song of Jonny Valentine by Teddy Wayne

Posted July 26, 2013 by Michael Kitto in Humour / 0 Comments

The Love Song of Jonny Valentine by Teddy WayneTitle: The Love Song of Jonny Valentine (Goodreads)
Author: Teddy Wayne
Published: Free Press, 2013
Pages: 304
Genres: Humour
My Copy: Library Book

Buy: AmazonBook Depository
(or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Eleven year old pop sensation Jonny Valentine knows that people love him. The singer’s voice, hairdo and image, carefully packaged together by his LA label and manager/mother are what they really love. But within this mass marketing machine, the real Jonny is hidden somewhere. This is the story of Jonny Valentine, a vulnerable boy perplexed but his budding sexuality, his celebrity heartthrob status, the tight control his mother has over him and his absent father.

This book has been on my radar for a while now and I’m not really sure how it got there, I didn’t know many people who had read it. In fact I only discovered two people in my book blogger RSS that had read this book (Jennifer from The Relentless Reader & Kristin from My Little Heart Melodies) when I added the novel to Goodreads as ‘Currently Reading’. Having said I knew that this was a satirical look at Justin Beiber and that was enough to convince me to read it. While this is in fact true, I didn’t expect what I got; not only was it a humorous look at celebrity heartthrobs, it also has some really interesting things to say about growing up in that position.

The Love Song of Jonny Valentine follows the pop star on a tour for his second album, everything part of his professional career has been carefully planned out by his label and his manager, Jane, who is also his mother. The label and his mother don’t often see eye to eye, most of the time you get the impression that Jane is looking out for her son but then you also think she is too controlling. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; I wouldn’t want an eleven year old celebrity looking at what has been said about them on the internet. The label works to slowly push Jonny’s mother out and replace her with someone more experience (I say that loosely) in the hopes to have more control of his image and career. Sex sells, the label knows this but Jane does not want to resort to that method until Jonny has at least gone through puberty.

Then you have Jonny’s life outside of performing, his tutoring, vocal lessons, exercise and meal plans and video games. Constantly in a bus with other members of his crew (manager, vocal coach, tutor, bodyguard, and road crew) you get a sense of a lonely boy without any real friends his own age. His new support act are closer to his age and when he hangs out with them he soon finds himself getting into trouble. His hormones are starting to take over his body and this also leads him astray; since his mother is too busy being his manager he often spends his nights and afternoons alone playing video games and thinking about sex.

There is also the absent father, one night while sneaking some internet time, Jonny Valentine finds his father searching from him on a few of his fan forums. Feeling reluctant Jonny sets up a Gmail account and emails him asking for proof that he is really is his father. Without going into too much about what happens in the novel there are so many incredibly funny moments within this book. The fact that a newly setup Gmail account gets so much spam made me chuckle, since Google claim to have strong protection against spammers. This is one of many things that just tickled my fancy in the novel, it kind of reminds me of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk with the comedic look at celebrity life (again I say that loosely) and in the style.

One of the most entertaining books I’ve read so far this year, I’m surprised that this novel hasn’t received more coverage. The cover alone makes this book worth buying, look at it; it’s so shiny and distracting. Not only is this novel jammed with humour and entertainment, its thought provoking and will get you thinking about celebrities in ways you’ve never expected. I hope more people go out and read The Love Song of Jonny Valentine because it’s well worth it, I really need to find some more books like this, if you have any suggestions.


The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

Posted July 25, 2013 by Michael Kitto in Science Fiction, Thriller / 0 Comments

The Shining Girls by Lauren BeukesTitle: The Shining Girls (Goodreads)
Author: Lauren Beukes
Published: Harper Collins, 2013
Pages: 389
Genres: Science Fiction, Thriller
My Copy: Personal Copy

Buy: AmazonBook Depository
(or visit your local Indie bookstore)

During the depression era, Harper Curtis finds a key to a house that opens onto other times. But it comes at a cost, he has to hunt down and kill all the shining girls; those bright girls burning with potential. He stalks them through the different ages, leaving clues on their bodies. But when one of the girls doesn’t die she starts to hunt him. Can Kirby Mazrachi track down this time-traveling serial killer before it’s too late?

Right off the bat, a time traveling serial killer was enough to sell me on this book, it sounded unique and familiar all at the same time. I started reading this book instead of reading the novel I needed to read for book club (which is And the Mountains Echoed) as a way of procrastinating and simply because I wanted something light and entertaining while I wasn’t feeling too well. I flew through this novel and while it was dark, twisted and often graphic, I still felt like it missed something.

I like my serial killers to have an inner conflict; the inner turmoil of Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment, the dark passenger of Dexter in the Dexter series (and TV show) and if you’ve seen Mr Brooks, the guy in the back seat (played by William Hunt). I love the psychological elements that are found in these examples and this is what I look for in a novel about serial killers. I want to know their motivations, their convictions, the struggle between good and evil within each one of them and when I didn’t get that in The Shinning Girls, I was disappointed by that.

Then again I love how graphic this book is; there is a real thrill to read the macabre and Lauren Beukes doesn’t hold back in the book. While the author doesn’t go into too much detail about the time travelling mechanics, when someone asked me if the time travelling elements were believable in the book I had to stop and think. Firstly can time traveling be believable? Then I spent time thinking about the different theories around time traveling and going back and forth in time, never really seemed to alter the future at all. Why didn’t Harper just go back to the same day and finish Kirby off? Or even a different day? There are so many questions that are left to the imagination and nothing about time travelling was ever be truly explored. You know what? I think I prefer it that way, there are too many theories regarding time travel, I think it was best to leave it up the reader to draw their own conclusions about some of the plot. I don’t like it when everything is wrapped up neatly and every thread within a novel is covered off. I want something left to my imagination, I want to form my own ideas and I want to question the book in the end.

I think Lauren Beukes made a conscious effort not to fill in all the gaps; there are so many questions, backstory and motivations that could have been filled in but leaving that all up to the imagination of the reader just worked better for this book. It also can set up for possible sequels and spin offs. This means when Leonardo DiCaprio’s production company, Appian Way and MRC brought the rights to make this into a TV series (even before the book was released in America) I think Beukes decision paid off. With all those lose threads, it give the TV adaptation room to move and vary from the book if needed (in order to set up a few seasons). Adaptations are tricky and I’m often against them but with a book like The Shining Girls, I think they have a good foundation to work with and expand without upsetting too many of the diehard fans.

The Shinning Girls is far from perfect; there are things I would have liked to see done differently but this was pure entertainment and the fact that there are a slight literary quality about it helped as well. I’m curious to see what happens with the TV show and I’ll be sure to watch it if it ever makes it to air but in the meantime, this is a Science Fiction/Thriller that I’m happy to recommend to people. There is a lot to think about and it is one hell of a read.


Top Ten Tuesday: Words/Topics that will make you NOT pick up a book

Posted July 23, 2013 by Michael Kitto in Top Ten Tuesday / 0 Comments

I think I might be addicted to Top Ten Tuesday, I like joining in and having a set topic to work with. Top Ten Tuesday is a book blogger meme that is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish and this week the theme is: Top Ten Words/Topics that will make you not pick up a book. Being a literary explorer I try to explore all books (I’ve even started reading Twilight, help!) so I have to force myself in genres and topics I would normally avoid. But I thought I might list ten examples of where I would have to force myself.

10. Non-Fiction – I don’t know why but I really need to force myself to read more.

9. Fantasy – I just can’t get into Fantasy, I find them drown out and it difficult to remember all the names, yet I’m ok with most Urban Fantasy.

8. YA/NA – I just not drawn to these books, I like John Green’s style but mostly I think they lack depth.

7. Dystopia – I’m over them, there are just too many out there.

6. Blockbuster Crime Novels – they are all the same and formulaic.

5. Long Series – I don’t want to commit to that many books.

4. Chick Lit – I don’t fit the demographic.

3. Romance – As above.

2. Erotica – As above, again.

1. Paranormal – These are normally romance titles and I’ve never seen one do anything interesting.


Reading Twilight

Posted July 23, 2013 by Michael Kitto in Book Reviews / 0 Comments

So, I might have gone completely insane in the absence of my wife. Somehow I find myself reading Twilight by Stephenie Meyer so I can critically analyse the book (I say that loosely) and write a review of my findings (it won’t be positive). This all started when I watched Liberal Art; the scene where Jesse (Josh Radnor’s character) decided to read an unnamed popular vampire novel (Twilight) just so he can see what is wrong with it.

This is an exercise in literary criticism but I’ve been live tweeting the whole. I have to admit, if it wasn’t for the tweets and the conversations on Twitter, I would of quit this book after chapter one. If you want to join in on the conversation, follow my personal Twitter account @knowledgelost or wait till I add it to Storify.

Read More


Joyland by Stephen King

Posted July 22, 2013 by Michael Kitto in Crime / 0 Comments

Joyland by Stephen KingTitle: Joyland (Goodreads)
Author: Stephen King
Series: Hard Case Crime #112
Published: Hard Case Crime, 2013
Pages: 283
Genres: Crime
My Copy: Hardcover

Buy: AmazonBook Depository
(or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Devin Jones has gotten a job working as a ‘carnie’ in a small North Carolinian town. The amusement park Joyland was a site of the legendary unsolved murder. The house of Horrors was where this murder took place, half way through the ride a man cut the throat of his date and threw the body out of the carriage. It wasn’t until the end of the night that they found the dead body (most people thought it was part of the house of horrors) but by then the man was long gone.

Stephen King is best known for his fantastical and horror elements but since this was a Hard-Case Crime novel, I expected more of a pulp novel rather than what I got. There was that pulp and gritty whodunit element but true to King style there was some supernatural components within the novel as well which for me seemed unnecessary; I felt like King sets up the novel in his normal horror fashion and then completely forgets about it. It wasn’t till right near the end that he returned to this plot arc, almost like he needed to wrap everything up in a nice neat bow so he had to finish off that arc as quickly as possible. Without these supernatural elements the novel would remain just the same and maybe even more realistic. There is the fortune teller who gets more air time but then that could be just a character that is really good at reading people and wouldn’t need to be explained.

Both the whodunit and horror genre styles don’t really fit this book anyway; this is a coming of age novel, dealing with Devin’s first real job, his first heart break, first sexual experience, as well as friendship and loss. The story feels like a noir or pulp novel by the way it is written but that all takes a backseat to the building of characters. Not that there is anything wrong with that but in pulp novels it’s all about the minimalism and jamming the novel with a fast paced plot. Joyland didn’t do this and I struggle to find a reason why this book was added to the Hard-Case Crime series.

So once I got past my initial expectations, Joyland does turn out to be a fairly enjoyable novel. It’s not what I wanted but it was still good. I’ve not read much of King in the past (The Gunslinger and 11/22/63) and both those novels really were not what I would have expected from a Stephen King novel. I must remember to read some of his classic novels like The Shining, The Stand or It just to see if what I expect from this author is different. I never expected so much character development and I never expected his books to focus more on the relationship with other characters, but it seems I might be misinformed about his works.

Joyland mainly focuses on Devin’s heartbreak, the girl he thought was the one and everything was perfect. You know your typical young adult, love struck thinking that never seems to be correct. This heartbreak really affects Devin, as all first heartbreaks do, but then he meets single mum Annie and her son Mike. Mike is such a great character and probably the only one I actually liked within the book and the relationship between the three blossoms in a somewhat awkward way. I felt like King had a good handle on the difficult relationship but some of the directions he took left me perplexed. This plot arc took up about two hundred pages and that only left 80 pages to really return to the mystery of Joyland.

As much as I enjoyed this book, I feel this book wasn’t marketed properly, this is not a noir style mystery and I don’t think it deserved to be put in the Hard-Case Crime series. As a standalone Stephen King novel I probably wouldn’t have picked it up if it wasn’t marketed the way it was. Interestingly King didn’t release this book in eBook format, he wanted everyone to go into their local bookstore and buy the book. Yet he didn’t restrict the sales of the book on those online bookselling websites; so really his attempt to get people into bookstores failed. Don’t go into this novel expecting pulp, this is a coming of age story, with a dash of attempt at the pulp genre.