Book Review: The Ghost Writer by Damon Norko

Title: The Ghost Writer
Author: Damon Norko
Genre:
Literary fiction/SFF
Date Read:
05/02/2016 – 06/02/2016
Rating: ★★★

ghostwritercoverThis book ended up not being what I expected. I probably should have paid more attention to the fact that literary fiction was there alongside the SFF genre categorisation on NetGalley, but it wasn’t just that it wasn’t really my style of book. I found aspects of it confusing and inconsistent, plus the story was quite slow, all of which led to me enjoying it less than I might have.

After dying at age 64, Arnold Showalter becomes the world’s first “literary voice from beyond the grave”. He cannot feel emotions and has to rely on things like diving into volcanoes to get anything close to a thrill, but when he meets Clarisse, a ghost girl who died at age 15, and realises she can feel, he realises that the ghost-life he has been making do with isn’t how it has to be.

Arnold was the type of character you would expect to find in literary fiction, but as I mentioned, literary fiction is not really my thing, so I didn’t really care that much about his kind of crappy life. And even though age is probably not really an issue if you’re dead, I also felt a little bit weird about 64-year-old Arnold becoming as obsessed with 15-year-old Clarisse as he did.

The world-building was what confused me most in this book. Several ghosts seemed to have “jobs” that constituted haunting particular locations during business hours. They signed a contract, and were expected to punch in and out. But then there would be references to Arnold not really having set hours and being able to take off early if he wanted. It also seemed that as ghosts, the post-living could shoot off out of the Earth’s atmosphere, which made me wonder what kept them working. The punishment for breaking the Contract was disintegration, but they could clearly get far enough away that that wouldn’t be an issue. There was also some philosophical stuff at the end about Ghost Winds and this being the next stage of human evolution, but I felt like I missed something earlier in the book leading up to this, so it felt like it came out of nowhere and wasn’t very clear to me.

Overall, I feel like this was a definite case of “it’s not you, it’s me”, but I’m glad it was only short so that I could get all the way through it.

(Thanks to NetGalley and Black Rose Writing for a free copy of this book in exchange for a review)

The Ben and Jerry’s Book Tag

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I’m stealing this book tag from a couple of blogs I’ve recently discovered, Book Adventures and A Stranger’s Guide to Novels. The former posts book tags every Thursday, so if like me, you’re looking to get into doing them more regularly, I recommend checking out her blog. Now on with the show!

1. VANILLA CARAMEL FUDGE: PICK A LIGHT, FLUFFY CONTEMPORARY

cinnamongirlcoverThe Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl by Melissa Keil. This book was so sweet and so Australian. Contemporary is not usually my genre of choice, but these characters were all so great and the setting was perfect and I loved it.

2. MINT CHOCOLATE COOKIE: A NEW RELEASE THAT YOU WISH EVERYBODY WOULD READ

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This book is officially released on Monday and I recommend it highly. Great characters, cool setting and an awesome blend of different cultures’ mythology.

4. CHERRY GARCIA: AN ENDING THAT WAS BITTERSWEET

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At first, I thought the 50-year time jump to the end of the main character’s life was awful and abrupt, but it actually gave the character a chance to look back on the events that the book had gone through in a really sweet way. Even though I was already familiar with the story of the real-life lieutenant whose life this was based on and figured the book would probably mirror that, I was still very teary at the end.

5. STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE: A BOOK CONTAINING YOUR OTP OF OTPS

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This was hard because I don’t really have bookish OTPs; most of my fannish participation has been for TV shows (for those wondering, OTP is a fandom acronym for One True Pairing). But I squeed a lot over Cress and Thorne, so we’ll go with Cress.

6. MILK AND COOKIES: TWO AUTHORS THAT IF THEY COLLABORATED, THEY WOULD GO PERFECTLY TOGETHER

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Patrick Ness and Jonathan Stroud. I don’t know exactly what they’d write but I imagine it would be some kind of YA weird dystopian magical scary thing. I would love it.

7. BOSTON CREAM PIE: A BOOK THAT HAD YOU TURNING YOUR PAGES LATE INTO THE NIGHT

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Even though I had my issues with this book, it certainly kept me reading.

8. CHOCOLATE THERAPY: A BOOK THAT MAKES YOU FEEL BETTER AFTER A LONG DAY OF LIFE

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Any of the Winnie-the-Pooh novels by A. A. Milne. They are gorgeous in their simplicity and the illustrations are just adorable. The picture is of the same box set that I have, and it also includes the fifth, unofficial book written by someone else (can’t be bothered looking it up), which gets a gold star for trying, but isn’t quite the same as the originals.

9. COFFEE, COFFEE, BUZZBUZZBUZZ!: A BOOK NOT YET RELEASED THAT YOU CAN’T WAIT TO GET YOUR HANDS ON

A Gathering of Shadows Final
This is the sequel to A Darker Shade of Magic, which I read last year and really loved. I’m really excited to see how this story continues.

And that’s it! I’m not really into book tags for tagging people, rather I just like having something else to fill the blog up with, so if you want to do it, feel free!

#WWW and #WIPpet Wednesday – 10 February, 2016

Hello! And Happy Hump Day! I’m pretty excited because I’ve actually been writing this week. As I mentioned in my Sunday Summary, I’m taking a break from Worlds Apart and trying to find a new project. I’ve hit on an idea for the MsLexia Women’s Short Story Competition, so I’ve started working on that. In theory, it will be funny, a bit of a new adult comedy, but I have been known to set out to write lighthearted and end up bittersweet at best, or dark and moody at worst. So I’ll write my 2000 words and see what it turns out like.

wednesdaybannerOn that note, it’s time for WIPpet Wednesday, a blog hop that I look after in which writers come together and share snippets from their WIP that somehow relate to the date. You can visit other participants or join in yourself by clicking the blue guy at the top of the sidebar. Today I’ve subtracted the month from the date and have eight lines from the beginning of my new story. Amy receives this text message from the university at the end of what should be her final semester of university. See if you can spot the bit that makes her stomach plummet to the floor.

MS AMY MORTON
STUDENT ID 4848154
SEMESTER TWO, 2015
COURSE RESULTS:

ARTH1209            MARK 60              GRADE CREDIT
ENGL4001            MARK 65              GRADE CREDIT
ENGL4023            MARK 70              GRADE DISTINCTION
HIST8018              MARK 48              GRADE FAIL

Yeaaaah. That happened. (Also, I’m really wishing I had saved the texts I got from uni at the end of last year so that I could mimic them, because this is not what they actually look like, but I figure it’ll do).

On now to WWW Wednesday, where we answer three questions about our reading over the past week. This is hosted by Sam over A World of Words. You can link up on today’s post on Sam’s blog to join in.
wwwwednesday

  • What are you currently reading?

I started The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson. I’ve followed Maureen on Twitter for ages so I felt it was about time I read one of her books. I’m not very far in yet, though, so I’m still waiting for the ghost/s to appear.

Also listening to the audio of The Secret River by Kate Grenville. I’m not loving it as much as I loved The Lieutenant but I’m going to try to get through the whole thing.

  • What did you recently finish reading?

I really loved The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig. There were a couple of things that annoyed me, like the fact that there was a love triangle (it was actually mostly okay, but now the three of them are traveling together so it has the potential to get annoying in the next book), and that the major conflict described in the blurb actually isn’t that huge in the story, but I still gave it 4.5 stars for the way it cleverly blended different cultures’ mythologies and history. My review will go up this Monday, which is its release day.

After that I read The Ghost Writer by Damon Norko, but it was a bit disappointing. I probably should have paid more attention to the fact that it listed literary fiction along with SFF as the genres on NetGalley. It was trying to be really ~meaningful~, but to be honest, I just found it dull. It’s less than 150 pages long and it took me three days to read. Three!

Yesterday I finished A Method Actor’s Guide to Jekyll & Hyde by Kevin MacNeil. It was… weird and I think trying for postmodern? I enjoyed a chunk around the middle but then the ending was pretty unsatisfying. I did pick it up at the library entirely based on the cover, though, so there was never a promise that I would love it.

Two reviews also went up this week, for Illuminae and The Gospel of Loki.

  • What do you think you’ll read next?

I got approved for Cogling by Jordan Elizabeth on NetGalley this morning, and I also have Dear Fatty by Dawn French and Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn sitting on my bedside chest. I picked those two up for free from a mysterious box that appeared at the back of my church with no explanation. So a few of us kind of just figured they were there to be taken.

Book Review: The Gospel of Loki by Joanne Harris

Title: The Gospel of Loki
Author: Joanne Harris
Genre:
Fantasy/mythology
Date Read:
28/01/2016 – 02/02/2016
Rating: ★★★

Review:

lokicoverHeh. For a long while I’ve wanted to read some novels based on Norse Mythology. While I enjoy Thor and the other Marvel movies, I knew they took a lot of liberties with the mythology to make their comics entertaining. I really wanted to read something that harked back to the original stories. This was… not the best choice to start with?

This book draws on the Prose Edda and Poetic Edda, but tells the stories from the point-of-view of Loki, the Trickster God. I recognised several of the stories, which begin with the birth of Loki and go right through to Ragnarok. While there were times when it was easy to sympathise with Loki and think, “Yeah, he’s getting a really bad rap here,” so much of the book was taken up with Loki being snarky and immature, so I never felt like I was really on his side.

For a book describing events that took place many centuries ago, the language was incredibly modern, and that was what threw me the most as I was reading. I understand that this is supposed to be Loki looking back on events, rather than describing them as they happen, but it made the whole thing feel very detached. I could have dealt with that when he was giving commentary on events, but when there are lines like “I flipped Odin the bird,” I can’t help but think “Did you actually? Did that gesture exist 1200 years ago? Are you being metaphorical? I don’t understand.” I was thinking similar things about a lot of the dialogue.

There were some good moments, like when Loki offered his head as the prize if he lost a bet. He did lose the bet, but as the man he lost to was about to cut off his head, he pointed out that the bet had said nothing about his neck. Since the head could not be cut off without also damaging the neck, Loki got to keep his head. However, I’m not sure how much credit Joanne Harris gets for these ideas, given how much of the book drew on traditional stories. I also gather that she changed up some parts of the myth to better suit the narrative she wants to tell.

All in all, this was fairly underwhelming. If you have any suggestions for novels based on Norse mythology that I might enjoy more, please recommend them!

Sunday Summary – 07 February, 2016

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Welcome to the Sunday Summary, where I check over my progress for the past week and set goals for the coming one. I’ve done pretty well this week, though I’m still somewhat stuck on my writing. I’m going to take a break with that, as you’ll see below. Here’s the breakdown of last week’s goals:

  • Write reviews for Illuminae and The Gospel of Loki before the weekend.

Done and done! Illuminae’s review is posted here. I’ve changed up my blogging schedule again, and The Gospel of Loki will go up tomorrow.

  • Try to brainstorm or write a page a day for the new version of Worlds Apart

I think I managed this at least 3 days out of 5 (I give myself weekends off from writing). But I’m still really stuck on it. As I talked about on Wednesday’s post, one of my major problems is I’m not actually that adept at developing a consistent magic system, but this plot relies on magic existing in order to work. So. I’ve decided I probably need to take a break from this and come at it fresh in a week or so, so this coming week I’m just going to write whatever comes to mind.

  • Reply to comments on Wednesday’s post

I did all of that. Finally. Today.

  • Reciprocate comments on Wednesday posts and try to make it around to others if time permits

I got around to nearly all the WIPpeteers, but only managed to return comments to the WWW participants who visited my post first.

  • Ride bike to work at least 3 times, and go for a 30 minute walk on the other days

I actually did this! I slept in on Monday and was catching quite a late bus (late for me is anything past 8am). Seeing how crowded it got reminded me how much better it is to ride my bike, so I rode it every day. It felt good! My partner also ordered DDR for the Wii, so I played that a bit, too.

My goals for this week will be very similar. Uni starts back on the 15th, so then I’ll start adding in goals about that, but for the moment, I will take advantage of my last week of freedom.

  • Write reviews for The Girl From Everywhere and The Ghost Writer before the weekend.
  • Try to write 200 or so words every day, on any subject, and if possible, come up with something to use for the MsLexia Women’s Short Story Competition.
  • Reply to comments on Wednesday posts
  • Reciprocate comments on Wednesday posts and try to make it around to others if time permits
  • Ride bike to work at least 3 times, and go for a 30 minute walk on the other days

And now, I’m going to head off and settle in with a new book for the rest of the evening. Ciao!

~ Emily

Book Review: Illuminae by Amie Kaufmann and Jay Kristoff

Title: Illuminae (The Illuminae Files #1)
Author: Amie Kaufmann and Jay Kristoff
Genre: YA/sci-fi
Date Read:
25/01/2016 – 27/01/2016
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

illuminae I’m probably going to forget half the things I wanted to mention in this review, but I’ll try my best to make it a good one anyway. Reading Illuminae was a bit of a roller-coaster ride. For the first 200 pages, I didn’t think it would get more than 3 stars, then for a while it went up to 5 stars, but there were enough things to annoy me that I brought it back down a little.

Kady and Ezra just broke up this morning, and then their planet was invaded. Evacuated and on a six-month journey towards safety, they have to deal not only with being separated (because maybe they didn’t actually want to break up), but also with a deadly virus, a psychopathic AI, and moral quandaries that most 17-year-olds would much rather avoid.

This book is written in a very unique format. The text is basically the book equivalent of a “found footage” movie. It’s a dossier of emails, IMs, security footage analysis, computer logs, etc. It was very clever, though it did leave little room for really good character development. It also got hard to read at times. There were literally pages I skipped because I had no idea which direction the text went in. Thankfully, those pages were more philosophical than plot-related, so I didn’t miss much.  (Also, I pity those of you reading it on a Kindle; I was reading the paperback and it was difficult enough!)

Maybe I’m just being cynical and nit-picky but I also felt that the book used its format to disguise the fact that the story itself wasn’t quite as original as it pretended to be. I mean, sure, there’s probably not a huge amount left you can do with self-aware AIs that hasn’t been done in some form before, but I literally had the voice of HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey in my head for that character; they just felt so alike. Having said that, AIDAN was actually one of my favourite characters.

I never felt Kady had much development beyond kick-ass teenage girl. She had reason to be all hardened and cynical, but I would have liked some nuance in there somewhere. She made some choices that I really questioned, and it wasn’t because she wanted to save the 1000 people over on that other ship, it was because she wanted to save her boyfriend. If the other 1000 people got saved, that was a bonus. I also got tripped up by inconsistencies like “her hazmat suit is too big for her” including the sleeves and presumably the gloves as well, but she is managing to type IMs on a tablet just fine.

Ezra was a bit better because he seemed to actually have some friends, so we got a bit more depth out of him through his relationships with these other soldiers.  But still, there were so many occasions of them IMing each and just being lovesick at each other (despite the fact that Kady is having to hack the official systems just to get in touch with Ezra) that I didn’t really warm to either of them very much. There were some good side characters, but they never really played huge parts, unfortunately.

This is the first in a series, but I’m not 100% sure I’d be up to reading a second book in the same format. Still, I’ll wait and see.

#WWW and #WIPpet Wednesday – 03 February, 2016

First up on today’s post is WWW Wednesday. All you have to do is answer three questions about what you’ve been reading. Then link up with others in the comments on Sam’s post.

  • wwwwednesdayWhat are you currently reading?

The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig. This is my first proper ARC from NetGalley, as the few things I’ve had previously have been published prior to me requesting them. This one is released in a few weeks, so I’m hoping that I’ll get it read quickly. It’s a quite inventive time travel story. Heilig said in answer to one of the questions on her GoodReads profile that she had just figured she’d throw it up on Wattpad, but her mum persuaded her to look for an agent. I’m glad she did!

  • What did you recently finish reading?

The Gospel of Loki by Joanne Harris. It was… mostly okay? The idea is that Loki is looking back over his time with the Norse Gods prior to Ragnarok and telling his side of the story. Except he sounded like an immature, 21st century teenager as he told it. And when he says things like “I flipped Odin the bird” I was just like, “… really? Are you being metaphorical or are you saying that gesture existed a thousand or so years ago?”

  • What do you think you’ll read next?

I have a couple of things from the library and another NetGalley item still waiting. The Ghost Writer by Damon Norko is quite short so I might read that to make up for the time I lost by taking a whole week to read Gospel of Loki.

Now onto WIPpet Wednesday. For those unfamiliar, WIPpet Wednesday is a weekly blog hop where a group of writers share a snippet from the current WIP (work in progress) that somehow relates to the date. You can join in by clicking the little blue guy to the right and leaving your link there.

wednesdaybannerYou may have to indulge me over the next few weeks as I try to work out what I’m going to do with Worlds Apart. I reached 9.5k with it in its current form and realised I was biting off more than I could chew, mostly in terms of world-building, as well as how much I would need to return to and fact-check. Yes, I had an outline, but an outline does not a fully-fleshed-out-world make. A More Complicated Fairytale has two main characters, perhaps six major side characters and four locations. Also, there’s no magic. A consistent magic system doesn’t get developed overnight, and it’s not something that comes to me easily, but unfortunately, the entire plot of Worlds Apart relies on magic being a thing. Unless I turned into sci-fi, but then that would present its own problems.

So anyway, all this is to say that at least today’s, and possibly future weeks’, WIPpets will basically be bits of scene I’ve scrawled down in the hopes I can use it later. Two of the things I’ve done in an attempt to scale everything down is to modernise the setting, and instead of being a princess, Adelyn just has a wealthy father. Oh, and I swapped the names of Adelyn and another character, Carrie Cortain. So now Carrie is the daughter of the wealthy businessman, and Adelyn is from a slightly rougher part of town.

Goodness me, this has gone on longer than the WIPpet is going to be. Okay, five lines (adding the day plus the month) from my handwritten notebook. So it’s very short. Rougher-part-of-town!Adelyn is waiting at the gates of Carrie’s fancy private school for Carrie to appear. She understandably feels a bit out of place there.

She pulled the cap further down over her eyes and continued to watch. Some of the other students glanced across at her, but she was out of their minds again by the time they passed her.

I’m not even 100% sure that phrasing works. I’m trying to go for an “out of sight, out of mind” thing. Anyway. I promised myself I would do some house cleaning tonight and it is already 8pm, so I should get this post finished and go do that.

~ Emily