Format: eARC

Mouthful of Birds by Samanta Schweblin

Posted March 25, 2019 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Short Stories / 4 Comments

Mouthful of Birds by Samanta SchweblinTitle: Mouthful of Birds (Goodreads)
Author: Samanta Schweblin
Translator: Megan McDowell
Published: Oneworld Publications, 2019
Pages: 240
Genres: Short Stories
My Copy: ARC from Netgalley

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Longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2019

Samanta Schweblin has almost become a household name. Her novella Fever Dreams has been one of the most talked about books in translation in recent years. It won so many awards, including the Shirley Jackson Award (2017), The Tournament of Books (2018), it made the Man Booker International Prize shortlist (2017) and the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation longlist (2017). Needless to say, when it was announced Mouthful of Birds was getting an English translation there was plenty of buzz surrounding it.

I first discovered Samanta Schweblin from the New York Review of Books podcast, they were talking about three Argentinean authors about to take the world by storm, Pola Oloixarac, Mariana Enríquez and Samanta Schweblin. Naturally I had to read the three books that came out around the same time. Random tangent, both Samanta Schweblin and Pola Oloixarac have books out this year, so where is the next Mariana Enríquez? Out of the three it was Fever Dreams that got all the attention, but for me Things We Lost In The Fire was the true highlight.

I feel like the buzz now for Mouthful of Birds is just people projecting their love for Fever Dreams onto it. There is something rugged and unfinished about this collection of short stories that did not sit right with me. I think a truly great short story collection have the stories complements each other and often share an overarching theme. Take Things We Lost In The Fire by Mariana Enríquez (also translated by Megan McDowell) for example. Each story delivers a powerful punch and complement the collection as a whole. Now looking at Mouthful of Birds, it does not have that same feeling, it is just a group of stories anthologised for the purpose of publishing.

I see so many people loving this book and it always seems to be referencing the same stories, like the one with the merman. My opinion is they liked the individual stories they reference but nothing is really said about the complete collection. I know what I like and fairytale retellings and mythological based stories are not for me, so this is the main reason Mouthful of Birds did not work for me. I know short story collections are hard to review as a whole collection, so people point out the stories they love. I prefer to read something where the stories all work together and offer so much more than a good tale.

Mouthful of Birds will serve well for the readers interested in the whole creative process. This is a collection of her earlier short stories. There are fragments of ideas that are being explored in Mouthful of Birds that could blossom into future novels. I see elements of Fever Dreams taking form in this collection and get the feeling this collection was only published because of all the hype surrounding Samanta Schweblin. While this was not the book for me, I know many people will enjoy reading more from Schweblin. I personally recommend picking up Things We Lost In The Fire by Mariana Enríquez instead.

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

Posted October 3, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 0 Comments

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny OffillTitle: Dept. of Speculation (Goodreads)
Author: Jenny Offill
Published: Knopf Doubleday, 2014
Pages: 182
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: ARC from Netgalley

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Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill tells the story of an unnamed narrator known only as The Wife. This novella charts the narrator through all her uncertainties, as she overanalyses everything in her head from the small things to big things like her marriage. The analysis can invoke anything from Kafka to doomed Russian cosmonauts. The title comes from the letters the wife exchanged with her husband which are postmarked as Dept. of Speculation; the letters were a way to voice her uncertainties. However as the two drifts further apart she starts to lose this outlet, which could be her inherit downfall.

This novella offers a very real look at a person’s life who overanalyses everything. Now I am not going to tell you whether or not this narrator is unreliable or anything like that. I think this is something the reader needs to determine for himself or herself. It doesn’t matter either way, this book takes something intensely real and, at times, this can be a little too real. The way Offill has captured this character’s thoughts and emotions is what makes this book both deep and meaningful.

There is however a huge flaw in this novel, something that was pointed out by a friend before I went into this book. In the edition I read there was a huge amount of italicised text and not all of it was referenced. There are times that the author states who said the quotes and then for the most part leaves quotes unreferenced. While normally I have no problem with no referencing within fiction, but when it takes up a large chunk of the writing, it starts to become a problem. Especially when you find text that speaks to you but it is italicised.  Was it a famous quote and was she trying to pass this off as her own words?

There is great beauty within this novella and there is a lot to love about it. This large flow I found with the novel really caused a problem which is a shame. I love books that explore complex human emotions and thoughts, Julian Barnes does this really well and Jenny Offill is just as good. I wanted to love this book and jump on the bandwagon but I couldn’t. I try to wonder if I would have the same problem if it wasn’t pointed out to me before I started this novel, I like to think I would but this friend always puts me to shame when it comes to critical analysis.

Tigerman by Nick Harkaway

Posted August 7, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction, Thriller / 0 Comments

Tigerman by Nick HarkawayTitle: Tigerman (Goodreads)
Author: Nick Harkaway
Published: William Heinemann, 2014
Pages: 372
Genres: Literary Fiction, Thriller
My Copy: ARC from Edelweiss

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Nick Harkaway is fast becoming a favourite author of mine; Angelmaker was his take on the espionage novel while The Gone-Away World (I hate to admit this but still haven’t read this one) saw him take on the post-apocalyptic. His third novel Tigerman is his take on the superhero genre. While you might be surprised to see me speaking so highly on genre fiction, it is Harkaway’s approach that needs to be admired. His novels have a real focus on the genre but still manage to blend a high amount of literary fiction into the book and this is done so masterfully that you can read it without looking at the themes if you are so inclined (I don’t know why).

Lester Ferris is a sergeant in the British Army, serving in Afghanistan. That was until he was reassigned to the island of Mancreu, where he can serve out his remaining time before retirement without burning out. Mancreu is a former British colony on the verge of destruction. The island is described as the most toxic place on the planet; this is all thanks to the years of pollution and chemical dumping. The United Nations and the World Health Organisation has sent representatives to turn Mancreu into an “Interventional Sacrifice Zone”, which basically means everyone leaves so we can obliterate the island.

This island gives the novel an interesting background; on one hand it is home to a range of ethnicities, from Arabs, Africans, Asians and of course Europeans. Since this is a former British colony you can look at this novel through the lens of post-colonialism and get some great value out of it. Also, as the island is scheduled for destruction there is  a typical side effect; the lack of laws being enforced has led to a hotbed of unwanted criminals. Using the island to support their smuggling operations, a ring of illicit ships known as ‘the black fleet’ lurk in the bay.

Now you have a protagonist in Lester Ferris who is on the verge of burning out. He is nearly forty and has no family to speak of, his life seems to be the army and the horrors he would have seen serving in Afghanistan may have ruined him. His job is to try and keep the peace without stirring anything up; his position as a sergeant in the British Army on this former colony is purely decorative and he has been sent there to keep him out of the way.

On the island, he friends a street smart, comic obsessed kid which sparks a pseudo-paternal instinct within him. He doesn’t know how to look after a kid but the desire is there. He turns to a masked hero known as Tigerman in the effort to make the island a little better without causing a diplomatic incident. The concepts of being a vigilante and paternal instincts play a big part of Tigerman.

I find that Nick Harkaway often uses a great deal of wit, ambition and irony within his novels and I find Tigerman to be a much more mature offering. Harkaway has already proved his skills in the world of genre fiction but now his is flexing some serious literary muscle. Tigerman is proof that he should be taken seriously as a literary author for this emotionally touching and intellectually satisfying novel. For a fan of literary theories there is plenty to explore in Tigerman; I personally would put on my feminist, post-colonial or psycho-analytical hat if I was to approach this novel as a literary theorist, but I can see many different ways to go about analysing this novel. That is before considering all the intertextuality that runs wild within the novel.

This may be the fanboy within me speaking but I was yet again very impressed with Tigerman. I still hold a special place in my heart for Angelmaker and I think that will always remain my favourite but I have to wonder why I have not read The Gone-Away World yet. I have The Gone-Away World on my shelf and will make sure that I visit it in the not too distant future. What can I say, I’m impressed with Nick Harkaway and I love his unique and well balanced blend of wonderfully energetic genre fiction and smart, witty literary fiction.

Skinjob by Bruce McCabe

Posted July 22, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Thriller / 0 Comments

Skinjob by Bruce McCabeTitle: Skinjob (Goodreads)
Author: Bruce McCabe
Published: Bantam Press, 2014
Pages: 384
Genres: Thriller
My Copy: ARC from Publisher

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Bruce McCabe joins a growing list of authors finding success from self-publishing his novel. I know I take a very cynical view on self-published books; I tend to treat a publishing house as the filter to sift through the slush piles and pulling out the best it has to offer. That isn’t to say there isn’t anything good coming from the self-publishing world but in my experience the pimping of books and desperation makes it hard to find the ones I’d like to read. My policy is to ignore the world of self-publishing, this probably isn’t the best way to go about it but it works for me.

Every now and then a self-published novel gets picked up by a publishing house; I’m thinking Hugh Howey, Andy Weir, and dare I say it, E.L. James. Bruce McCabe is the next self-published author to enjoy similar success, his debut novel Skinjob has been published by a Random House imprint Bantam Press. In the not-so-distant future sexdolls (or if you prefer, sexbots) will become a reality, allowing and even encouraging people to act out their dark and disturbing sexual fantasies; this is the world of Skinjob.

I want to diverse from the story line of Skinjob for a moment to look at the theme McCabe is trying to explore. The sex industry is often depicted as a dark and shady place and the invention of sexdolls is obviously going to be a difficult concept; the politics and ethical challenges are explored within the novel. What I find problematic about the use of sexdolls is this idea that using a doll to live out a dark, disturbing or violent fantasy isn’t going to be healthy. I would be concerned with the psychological damage they could cause of themselves and others around them, to assume the use of a sexdoll isn’t hurting others would be a naïve approach to the issue. There is also a very ethical issue to consider; making sexdolls in all shapes and sizes seems indicates the very real possibility of childlike sex dolls.

I enjoy how Bruce McCabe takes a crack at the thriller genre, using the tropes you expect from a novel like this to explore these ideas. While looking at the growing sex industry I was most impressed with how McCabe allowed the thriller genre to work with him in this exploration. I was interested in the approach he took by allowing militant religious and feminist groups blow up dollhouses (an obvious nod to Joss Whedon) full of sexdolls. This approach meant we have a violent act where real people are not the target. This allows the reader to explore all sides of the issue without forcing them to show unwanted sympathy. The reader can then look at issue of sexual politics within the book and society. The only thing that will get in the way of exploring the issue will come down to the readers and their preconceived notions.

Skinjob is a very issue heavy novel, if you want a straight thriller then this book is not for you. In fact I was less interested in the plot and characters than I was the issues being explored. All the characters felt very two dimensional and unmemorable, even the plot could have used a lot more work but I think this works in the books favour. In the end I was left not really remembering much of the plot and people with the novel but I was still thinking about the themes.

Sexual politics is a complicated and difficult subject; Bruce McCabe’s Skinjob did a great job exploring the topic. While it doesn’t cover everything, it will leave the reader pondering the issues; I’m very glad I picked up this book and hope it has as much of an impact on other readers as it did for me. This is a debut novel and I can’t help but feel excited at what McCabe does next; I hope he continues to explore hard-hitting themes in unique and interesting ways.

Cop Town by Karin Slaughter

Posted July 3, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Crime / 0 Comments

Cop Town by Karin SlaughterTitle: Cop Town (Goodreads)
, 2014
Pages: 416
Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Karin Slaughter is a prolific crime writer whose novels mainly are in the Will Trent or Grant County series. She is a writer I never thought about picking up, mainly because I avoid bestseller crime novels (they are too formulaic) and I don’t like the idea of starting a series that already has so many novels to catch up on. Can you imagine trying to catch up on something like Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone (currently on book 23) series? When I saw that Cop Town was a new standalone novel by Slaughter, I knew this was my chance to try her without making a huge investment.

Cop Town is a police procedural focusing on two female officers working for the Atlanta PD in 1974. Kate Murphy is a beautiful new recruit that comes from a wealthy family; she is determined to make it on her own. Maggie Lawson is a hardened no-nonsense type officer from a cop family that has been on the force for a while now. Right off the bat you can pretty much guess the themes within this book; sexism, racism, police corruption/brutality and that is before even understanding what type of crime is involved in the book. However, the central mystery within this novel revolves around the search for a cop killer, but for me this plot took a backseat to the themes.

I feel like Cop Town mainly focused on the gender imbalance in society, though set in 1974 the reader can still see just how far we have come toward sexual equality (not far at all). I want to focus on two little incidences that happen in the book that highlight this and don’t give away any spoilers. Firstly there was an incident in the novel were Kate was basically told by a married man that ‘wives are for babies and women like you are for fun’. Lines like that are not just a feminist issue but it also shows a fundamental flaw in our social thinking. The idea that sexual satisfaction can’t happen in a marriage is still a very real problem nowadays and too often portrayed in the media.

The second issue involved Maggie, with a cop killer on the loose her uncle forcefully asks her to quit the force to keep safe. This scene made me think that the biggest risk to Maggie’s safety was her family more than the cop killer. The idea of wanting a woman to quit the force while you plan to remain and do something about this issue is problematic and raises many questions about equality. I’m not going to go into too much detail about my thoughts with these two scenes but I thought it would be nice to just highlight what this book is dealing with while avoiding spoilers.

Normally when I read a crime novel, I read it for plot and I tend to stick to the ones that dive into the dark and twisted. The exception is obviously hard-boiled and noir but I will admit that even if Cop Town doesn’t fit my preferences in crime novels I was glad to read it. The themes that this novel explores made this both an enjoyable and compelling read, even if I didn’t think much of the plot. Can’t say I will revisit Karin Slaughter again, however if another standalone novel offers a similar experience I may reconsider.

The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe by Romain Puértolas

Posted June 22, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 6 Comments

The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe by Romain PuértolasTitle: The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe (Goodreads)
Author: Romain Puértolas
Translator: Sam Taylor
Published: Harvill Secker, 2014
Pages: 320
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: ARC from Netgalley

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“A heart is a little bit like a large wardrobe” — Ajatashatru Oghash Rathod

The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe (or L’extraordinaire voyage du fakir qui était resté coincé dans une armoire Ikea) is the debut novel by Romain Puértolas that has been marketed to fans of The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared (or Hundraåringen som klev ut genom fönstret och försvann) by Jonas Jonasson. For the purpose of making things easier (and to avoid the insanely long titles) I’ll refer to these two books as The Fakir and The Hundred-Year-Old Man (I hope you can work out which is which. I picked up The Fakir simply because I need to read more translated fiction, with that logic I probably should read The Hundred-Year-Old Man. While the writing styles might not be similar, if you enjoyed The Hundred-Year-Old Man because it was a quirky, fun novel then The Fakir is a book you’ll need to go out and buy.

The novel reminds me of something David Niven (The Pink Panther) or The Marx Brothers would adapt to screen. You know the type of movies I’m talking about; the comedies full of misfortunes and stupidity but everything somehow works out in the end. The novel tells the story of a fakir named Ajatashatru Oghash Rathod flown to Paris for the purpose of visiting Ikea and buying a new bed of nails. Dressed in a fine silk suit to pass himself off as a wealthy Indian business man, the con man had nothing but a counterfeit 100-Euro note (printed on one side only) in his pocket. This trip to Paris sends him off on an adventure that finds him in places like London, Barcelona and Rome and not one sight was seen. No Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, Sagrada Família (unfortunately) or Colosseum.

I’m not sure if it is a problem with the translation but I expected a little more from The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe and I can’t tell if it didn’t translate or a deep seeded desire for something more complex. I enjoy that light read but found nothing funny about the novel and thought it was too inconsequential; I wanted more meat to the story. There were opportunities to explore themes of immigration, friendships, celebrities, travel and Europe but all these were just background and the focus remained on trying to write a quirky comedy. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, sometimes a light palate cleanser is all you need, and I was just ready for something with substance. It doesn’t take much effort to read The Fakir and the book did explore the concept of a culture clash but this was to the extent of something like The Gods Must Be Crazy.

Sam Taylor was the translator for this novel and he has worked on a number of great French novels that are all still sitting on my TBR pile. He has translations include A Meal in Winter by Hubert Mingarelli, The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair by Joël Dicker and HHhH by Laurent Binet. This leads me to believe that my issues with The Fakir are not with the translation but with the book itself. One other concern I have is not with this book per say but with this need to add real people into the story. I’m not entirely comfortable with basing a novel around a person who is deceased, so it feels a little weird when you have a character named Sophie Marceau in this novel. The Fakir actually refers to Sophie Marceau as the French actress from the James Bond film The World Is Not Enough so we know the author is referring to the celebrity. I often wonder how these people feel about being put into a novel and if they are being portrayed accurately. It doesn’t sit right with me and I’m not sure if I’m the only one that wonders about something as small as using celebrities in a novel; I am sure some novels call for it but it this one didn’t.

I know it sounds like I didn’t enjoy this novel but I tend to pick out the parts of a book that didn’t work for me. I think it is freeing to express all my problems with a book and it may come across as a little negative, but in all honesty, this was a fun, short read. I normally gravitate to books with more substance but something light is a nice change. In all honesty I would have liked the novel to explore at least one of the issues that it presented rather than use them as plot points. Even going deeper into the concept of culture clash could have improved my enjoyment of the novel but I have come to expect that not everyone likes to read complex novels. I suspect The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe to be a runaway success and to be adapted into a film; I wonder who they would get to play Sophie Marceau.

My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff

Posted May 17, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Non-Fiction / 4 Comments

My Salinger Year by Joanna RakoffTitle: My Salinger Year (Goodreads)
Author: Joanna Rakoff
Published: Bloomsbury Circus, 2014
Pages: 272
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: ARC from Publisher

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When Joanna Rakoff takes her first bookish job for a New York literary agency in 1996 it was like stepping back in time. As an office girl, her job was to type up correspondences, answer the phones and whatever else needed to be done. However there was one strict rule, ‘never give out Jerry’s address or phone number’. Given the time she automatically thought Jerry Seinfeld but soon learned that the Jerry they were referring to was J.D. Salinger.

This memoir is a unique look at not only at how old-fashion the publishing world can be but at J.D. Salinger himself. Joanna Rakoff takes an almost outside view at Salinger as she spends time responding to all of the iconic author’s correspondences. Salinger is an author that has cut himself off from the world and Joanna had to inform all correspondences that their requests cannot be fulfilled; J.D. doesn’t give interviews and doesn’t want to read any of the mail.

My Salinger Year reminded me of Mad Men; while this was a memoir, the whole literary agency was like stepping into the past. The publishing world was running like they are still in the 1960’s, which gave this memoir both a quirky feel to it and exposes the reality of just how old-fashioned this industry can be. Then you have Joanna’s life outside her job, which reminds me very much of the New York literary scene that I love to read about, full of intellectuals, pseudo intellectuals and bohemian socialists. This scene is a lot of fun to read about; these are my kind of people and one of the reasons I read books about this literary scene.

Not only is there the memoir but also there is an element of literary criticism as a selection of books are analysed and discussed within the pages of this book. This changes things up slightly and I found it interesting to explore the works of Salinger in this kind of detail. I never really enjoyed The Catcher in the Rye when I read it but I struggle to find a reason for that. Holden was an unlikeable character that is always complaining about everything but this is not a reason to dislike the book. I’m always standing up for books with unlikeable characters, I feel like I may have misjudged the novel. Now that I have some more experience in critical reading I may need to pick up The Catcher in the Rye one more time.

Even if I don’t reread The Catcher in the Rye, I’m interested in the life of J.D. Salinger and will pick up a biography of this iconic author. I know there was a biopic/documentary about Salinger as well; I might have to check it out. He has really peaked my interest; the reclusiveness and introversion makes for a fascinating person. My Salinger Year is an interesting journey into the publishing world, the New York City literary scene and J.D. Salinger; I enjoyed reading this memoir and recommend anyone interested in these topics to check it out.

Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch

Posted May 16, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 8 Comments

Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman KochTitle: Summer House with Swimming Pool (Goodreads)
Author: Herman Koch
Translator: Sam Garrett
Published: Hogarth, 2014
Pages: 304
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: ARC from Netgalley

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

Herman Koch has a unique ability for taking something that seems so normal and turning it into something much darker. If you’ve read his amazing novel The Dinner then you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about; that book sets up a style that I was hoping continued for this Dutch author. Luckily I wasn’t disappointed; Koch’s second novel to be translated into English is Summer House with Swimming Pool. The novel tells the story of Dr Marc Schlosser who is forced to conceal a medical mistake that costs Ralph Meier, a famous actor, his life. The only problem with that is the truth doesn’t stay hidden for too long.

Fear not, much like The Dinner, Summer House with Swimming Pool is much more complex than it appears on the surface. Herman Koch likes to take a dark and graphic look at the world and raise the questions of morality, this is something seems to pull off effortlessly, but I will try to avoid giving spoilers. We spend most of the book following around the general practitioner who seems like an unsympathetic character and rather unlikeable. Koch likes to play with the idea that everything is not as it seems and this novel does this really well.

I can’t remember if I went into The Dinner with the same expectations as I did for Summer House with Swimming Pool but I suspect I might have had a similar reading experience. It is hard to review a novel like this because you want to talk about it but there is a voice in the back of your mind telling you not to spoil it for everyone else.

One thing that I find interesting with Koch’s novels is the number of characters and scenery. I thought this about The Dinner as well, these novels are perfect for a small stage production; they have just the right blend of dark satirical plot and moral questions to make for a thrilling stage play. I wonder if these books have been converted to the stage, I would love to see a production of The Dinner.

I’m rather annoyed with this review, there is so much I want to say but everything will say too much. You will all have to read this book so we can discuss it. Herman Koch’s books are perfect choices for a book club; there is just so much to discuss. I wonder if I can convince my local book club to do this book as well; they normally don’t like to do the same author too many times but Koch is too good to resist.

The Fever by Megan Abbott

Posted May 15, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary, Pulp / 12 Comments

The Fever by Megan AbbottTitle: The Fever (Goodreads)
Author: Megan Abbott
Published: Little Brown and Company, 2014
Pages: 320
Genres: Contemporary, Pulp
My Copy: ARC from Netgalley

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

If you have not read Megan Abbott before then you need to do so as soon as possible. Originally working in the noir genre she has recently switched and become the Queen of suburban noir. Combining the elements we all know and love about noir and adding it to a modern back drop. Dare Me was a dark glimpse into the world of competitive cheerleading; think Mean Girls but meaner. Now Megan Abbott is back with The Fever, set in a small community, a mysterious contagion is threating their suburban utopia.

I may have said this before; just because a book has a teenage cast does not make this a YA novel. Dare Me may look like chick lit or YA but it is not; don’t let the cover fool you. I’ve seen on Goodreads that The Fever has been shelved as YA and horror and I can’t help but shake my head in disgust. While I’m sure plenty of young adults may enjoy this novel, I see nothing that connects The Fever with the YA genre. There are no horror elements within this novel either, a little suspense and I’m guessing this genre tag came from the cover. Now that my rant is out of the way, time to look at the novel.

Like Dare Me (and I’m sorry to keep mentioning this novel, I really need to read more Abbott) The Fever is a compelling noir that exposes the secrets that might be hiding in a suburban community. The Fever is a dark and chilling story that explores the ideas of desire, guilt and secrets. The mysterious contagion that is causing seizures to a group of girls is also promoting mass hysteria in the community. In an effort to make sense of this mystery, the community focus their blame on anything they can think of, from HPV, vaccinations, toxic algae and whatever else might make sense of the situation.

At the heart of this novel, I found an interesting exploration into sexuality, especially between the groups of teenage friends. These girls are in the midst of blossoming into women; their emotions are running wild and boys are become a popular source conversation. In the darkness and confusion they are dealing with these changes all alone. Abbott is putting the focus of the community on the contagion and this really amplifies that feeling of being alone and dealing with a budding sexual awaking without any help or guidance.

The Fever has everything you expect from a Megan Abbott novel; it is deliciously dark and sinister, it packs a huge punch and in the end you are left contemplating life. She has once again got the voice of the teenage generation perfect, not only the way they talk and interact but their thoughts as well. I like how Abbott integrates mobile phones and social media into her novels so effortlessly, I’ve seen it down poorly far too many times.

I know I’ve only read two novels to judge Megan Abbott on but she continues to impress, I know The End of Everything will be consumed pretty soon before moving onto her old school noir novels. I love her modern suburban noir style, she has really found her voice and style and it is working well for her. Don’t go in expecting a nice coming of age story; this is gritty and this is what Megan Abbott does better than anyone else.

Shovel Ready by Adam Sternbergh

Posted May 13, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Dystopia, Science Fiction / 0 Comments

Shovel Ready by Adam SternberghTitle: Shovel Ready (Goodreads)
Author: Adam Sternbergh
Published: Hachette, 2014
Pages: 256
Genres: Dystopia
My Copy: ARC from Netgalley

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

He is only known as Spademan, former garbage man in New York City – that was until a terrorist attack on Times Square killed his wife. Now he is taking out more than trash; a gun for hire, he will do your bidding as long as you are willing to pay. “I don’t want to know your reasons. I don’t care. Think of me as a bullet. Just point.” Shovel Ready is a fast paced science fiction thriller set in the wasteland, which use to be known as New York City.

Adam Sternbergh combines his favourite parts of neo-noir, cyberpunk and science fiction and mashes them all together to make an action novel that is crying out for a movie adaptation. Shovel Ready is so dialogue heavy that one might think it is written in a way that could be converted into a screenplay without any effort. Only problem with this is the publisher’s choice to leave out quotation marks. I hate when they do this and in a book with so much dialogue it really can be a deterrent.

Spademan is a strong protagonist, an anti-hero with strength, wit and his own set of morels. “I kill men and I kill women because I don’t discriminate. I don’t kill children because that’s a different kind of psycho.” I understand why he turns from killer to protector of his target, the runaway daughter of a wealthy US televangelist. However something didn’t sit right; a hitman is often an unemotional, uncompromising character but Spademan wasn’t. He reads like a psychopath but then every so often his actions feel uncharacteristic and that really throws me out of the novel.

Take out Spademan and just look at the world Sternbergh has created and you won’t be left wondering where he drew inspiration from. This world feels like Bladerunner and the virtual reality world know as the limnosphere reminds me of The Matrix mixed with Surrogates. In fact, it feels like the author borrowed so much from different science fiction movies and novels it is hard to pick an original thought.

When reading Shovel Ready everything whisks along and the reader never has time to stop and think about anything. I really enjoyed the novel but once I finished reading it I noticed just how much was borrowed from other mediums. I do, however, wonder if Shovel Ready was really trying to explore the issue of social disengagement that our world is heading towards but during the reading of this novel I never picked up anything so in depth.

For a fast paced science fiction/action novel, then Shovel Ready is the book for you. I do believe the film rights have already been acquired and we may see an adaptation. Adam Sternbergh is also working on a second Spademan novel and I’ll probably read it. Despite all the flaws, it was a fun, quick read and I did enjoy the experience; it was only after I got mad. Don’t expect anything deep or life altering in Shovel Ready but sometimes you just need some light entertainment.