February 18

City at the End of Time by Greg Bear

Years ago I read another scifi novel by Greg Bear. So when this book arrived, I knew it was going to be another quality book to read. But I also knew that it would not be a light, easy read purely for entertainment. Bear was going to challenge my thinking. And he did.

What is humanity going to be like at the very end of existence? Or for that matter, how is existence going to end? What would it be like to be a part of that process? What is going to cause the end of everything? Like I said big questions.

The blurb promotes this book as an adventure tale. Three modern humans are guarding stones that seem to have mystical powers. Two of these humans dream about another person living far in the future. In the future, these two humans are disturbed by the occasional voices in their mind, voices they have named their visitor. Confused yet? Well there is more…

Kalpa, the city of the title, is slowing being destroyed by Chaos. It’s binding force is weakening and it will not be long before Chaos consumes the city. But what is the future for the humans that live there? That depends on Tiadba and Jebrassy and their mysterious visitors. 

I liked the idea of the book, and as it reached the climax, everything made sense. However, I will admit that I found the book very difficult to read and I blame it’s structure. The book is 467 pages long with 129 chapters. That averages a little over 3 pages a chapter. Each chapter takes another character’s point of view, and at the start of the book there are 6 different points of view. I’m sorry, but I got dizzy changing point of view so often.

February 18

Just after Sunset by Stephen King

It is always so hard to review a collection of short stories. It is almost impossible to maintain the reader’s interest every time. And many modern authors depend on literary symbolism and other conventions to help them tell the story while reducing the word count.

But Stephen King is unashamedly a popular author. He will never win a literature prize. He is happy to write for his readers, meeting them at their own level and carrying them away in the story. This he does very successfully in this collection of 12 stories.

Picking my favourite from this collection is hard. I actually rationed my reading in this book. Only 1 story a day. And as a result, I thoroughly enjoyed every single story. Each one is very different, but all delicious.

Probably it would be best to compare this book to The Twilight Zone, not the silly 70s remake, but the original Rod Serling series. Each week a strange tale would be revealed, some scifi, some horror, and some just spooky. But each week you lined up for more.

This book is very much like that series. King’s tribute to 9/11, The Things They Left Behind, was warm and personal, but with generous lashings of the supernatural. Willa is really a love story, but with a twist that verges on the macabre. 

I am very glad that King has returned to writing short stories. I just hope he continues.

February 14

The Night of the Mi’raj by Zoe Ferraris

I know. You recently saw this book in your local bookshop, but it was over with the crime fiction. What kind of credibility can I expect if I don’t know a crime novel when I read one.

Well yes, there is a murder. And an investigation. But much like Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil the murder only provides a means of telling a much bigger and more important story.

Ferraris sets her novel in modern Saudi Arabia. Nouf a young woman from a wealthy family runs away before her arranged marriage. Najir, desert guide, devout Muslim, and trusted friend of the family, is asked to investigate what happened. It is not long before a body is found and it becomes a murder investigation. 

However, this book is not really about the murder. It is more a look at the way Saudi society works in the modern world. The medical examiner sympathetic to the investigation is a woman, and betrothed to the brother of the missing girl. Najir needs her help, but he is continually forced to cross the boundaries of proper behavior, according to the religious police. For a devout Muslim, this is frightfully difficult, but necessary in order to obtain justice for the poor girl.

In modern writing all too often the Muslim is the bad guy. Every one is obviously an evil terrorist out to destroy all civilisation. Ferraris provides her readers with an alternative view. Most Muslims are simply trying to find their way through the mass of rules and regulations strictly enforced in fundamentalist societies. Her characters are drawn strongly enough that they do not drown under the weight of these laws, and clever enough to find a way to achieve success in spite of them.

An important point of view in today’s world.

 

February 2

The Spell book of Listen Taylor by Jaclyn Moriarty

Jaclyn Moriarty is writes some of the most popular books in the library. So when this book came to the top of the reading list, I was most surprised to see that it have very few borrowings. Now that I have read it, I think I know why.

Listen Taylor has just started year 7. She and her father have just moved in with a woman called Marbie Zing when Listen finds a spell book with a series of very strange magic spells, including a ‘spell to make someone eat a piece of chocolate cake’. At about the same time, her friends dump her and life gets very difficult. And there is this strange Zing Family meeting every Friday night where the adults share the Zing Family Secret. 

Confused? I think that is the idea. However, very gradually the picture becomes clear and everything starts to make sense. It really is a lovely gentle book that has a delightful story to tell.

So why does it sit on the shelf? I suspect that the unclear target audience has a lot to do with it. Moriarty has a solid following in the young adult audience, but this story is told mostly by 12 year old Listen. Many older girls will lose patience with her innocence, especially regarding the spell book. But the story isn’t really for young tweens either. There is a significant amount of adultery contained within it’s pages, and I suspect the tweens won’t feel comfortable with that. 

Although I enjoyed reading the book, I simply have no idea who I would recommend it to.