May 2016 Reads

May has been a disjointed month, and so I have not been able to get in as much reading time as I would have liked.

cover75680-mediumFirst, a week away visiting my partner’s family, which was lovely and relaxing.  Lots of food, and a little sunshine.  I took an advance copy of Rob Ewing’s ‘The Last of Us’ with me.  Wow.  I loved this book.  You can read my review of it here.

 

 

26144670Then, after a conversation with my partner about having another string to one’s bow (I work in Theatre, and often feel as though I don’t know how to do anything else), he found me a copy of ‘Starting Out With Python’ by Tony Gaddis.  I’ve been working my way through it, and it turns out that coding is actually kind of fun!  The book is very well structured, taking you through the basics and slowly building upon them at a pace that allows you to fully understand what you are doing before moving onto the next step.

The rest of the month has been consumed with staging a new musical at a performing arts academy.  Fit-up and tech week (bringing all the equipment and set into the theatre, setting it up, and programming it to do all the things required for the show) ate up almost all the hours in the day for the last couple of weeks.  Nevertheless, I have managed to start another book.

26150770So now I am contemplating the ultimate question (for which Douglas Adams fans will know the answer is “42”) with the help of an advance copy of ‘The Big Picture’ by Sean Carroll.  This is a 480-page beast, so I’m anticipating that it will take me a couple of weeks to read.  Still, as someone who has an interest in reading popular science books, especially those on the mind-bending concepts of quantum physics, I am looking forward to exploring Sean Carroll’s ideas and philosophies.

Next month sees me start another theatre production, so I’m fulling expecting my reading time to contract for a few weeks.  On the plus side, I will be part of bringing another storytelling experience to life.

In April I read an advance copy of ‘My Name is Leon’ by Kit de Waal.  It will be published on 2nd June, and my review of it will be posted the same day.

What have you read this month?

Book Review: The Last of Us by Rob Ewing

cover75680-mediumThe Last of Us by Rob Ewing
Publication date:
  21 April 2016
Genre: Literary Fiction, General Ficiton (Adult)
Approximate reading time*:  4 hours, 40 mins
Published by:  HarperCollins UK, HarperFiction
Available at:  Amazon.co.uk, Goodreads

(*Reading time is based on the time it took me to read it.)

Description:

The island is quiet now.

On a remote Scottish island, five children are the only ones left. Since the Last Adult died, sensible Elizabeth has been the group leader, testing for a radio signal, playing teacher and keeping an eye on Alex, the littlest, whose insulin can only last so long.

There is ‘shopping’ to do in the houses they haven’t yet searched and wrong smells to avoid. For eight-year-old Rona each day brings fresh hope that someone will come back for them, tempered by the reality of their dwindling supplies.

With no adults to rebel against, squabbles threaten the fragile family they have formed. And when brothers Calum Ian and Duncan attempt to thwart Elizabeth’s leadership, it prompts a chain of events that will endanger Alex’s life and test them all in unimaginable ways.

Reminiscent of The Lord of the Flies and The Cement Garden, The Last of Us is a powerful and heartbreaking novel of aftershock, courage and survival.

My Thoughts:

This book is wonderfully unsettling.

I have seen a couple of reviews that complain that nothing really happens, or that the pace is slow and boring.  For me, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

This post-apocolyptic-style story is played out through diary-like accounts told by Rona. They jump around the timeline of events in a way that feels consistent with her loss of a sense of time, and her perception of the reality as she faces. Her eight-year-old comprehension is endearing, insightful, and never unrelatable.

All of the characters are vividly portrayed.  They are not a group that would chose each other under normal circumstances, and their backgrounds and vastly different personalities cause immense friction.

As the story unfolded, I couldn’t help thinking that this group of kids, whilst behaving exactly as you would expect of children of their age, handle their bleak situation with much more civility and sense than many adults would.  Perhaps this was part of the author’s decision to tell a disaster story through the eyes of children.  (I think here of The Stand by Stephen King, and recall the violence, fear, and hatred that stood between the survivors and their future.)

It is hard to talk in much depth about the contents of the book without spoiling the plot. So, I will finish by saying that The Last of Us was a gripping read that lingered in my mind for days after I finished reading it.

Thank you to Netgalley and HarperCollins UK for supplying me with a copy of this title.

5 of 5

 

Book review: Stormwalker by Mike Revell

cover86951-mediumStormwalker by Mike Revell
Publication date:
  19 May 2016
Genre:  Children’s Fiction, Sci Fi & Fantasy
Approximate reading time*:  2 hours, 15 mins
Published by:  Hachette Children’s Group, Quercus Children’s Books
Available at:  Amazon.co.uk, Goodreads

(*Reading time is based on the time it took me to read it.)

Description:

Something strange is happening to Owen.

One minute, he’s living a perfectly ordinary life: school, football, video games, hanging out with best friend Danny.

The next, he finds himself sucked into a terrifying dream world, a wasteland where a terrible Darkness plagues his hometown, threatening the lives of everyone in it.

Owen can’t control when he enters this world, or when he gets to leave. All he knows is that he has to help fight this terrible Darkness.

But what is this world?

Why is he here?

And what if he never gets to go back home?

My Thoughts:

**Contains some spoilers**

At first, I was bothered by the subtitle on the cover of the book “the hero is a lot like you”.  It seemed an unnecessary telling to any prospective reader that they will be able to relate to the book, because they can be the hero of their own story.  Yuck.  That sentiment might be true, but I find it unnecessary to blazon it on the cover of a book.  It was only when I began reading, and the dad says this line to his son (the main character, Owen) as part of a teasing description of the story he has begun writing, that I understood the subtitle in a different light.

Owen’s dad hasn’t been himself since Owen’s mother died of leukaemia the year before.  Writing used to be the activity that lit him up and made him sparkle, so it’s no surprise that Owen wants to find a way to get his dad writing again.  When Owen’s dad does start writing, and starts to seem like his own self again, Owen is delighted.  But then something strange happens; it seems as though Owen is literally being written into the story.

The world which his dad creates is haunted by the Darkness.  It is a post-apocalyptic place where (at least in the world that extends as far as Greater London) the human race has all-but been wiped out.  The survivors valiantly battle with the Darkness to gather supplies, and build upon their camp, until they can make contact with the City, and the two other known teams of survivors.

Owen is different from his comrades in that he can access both the thoughts of his character (a boy named Jack), and his own thoughts and memories.  This could have come across as schizophrenic, but is presented in a way that felt plausible, and I readily accepted.

Owen has an important football game coming up, which will likely be attended by a talent scout.  He worries that getting dragged into his dad’s story will lead him to miss the game.  But when Owen starts fighting against being dragged into his dad’s story, his dad gets writer’s block and starts regressing to his depressed self.  Owen finds himself torn between what he sees at the biggest opportunity in his life, and helping his dad finish the story.  Owen thinks that if his dad can finish the story, his dad will be “fixed”, that life will be ok again, and they will both be able to stop grieving and start living.

The Darkness is clearly a metaphor of depression, and the Dreamless (those souls who are lost to the Darkness) are described as being beyond help.  Ultimately, it is facing the Darkness and facing the fears that it tortures with, that enables Owen to defeat the Darkness.  This seems to be the message of the book:  that by facing your fears, you can start beating depression, and that your rescue is in your hands.

There is a moment in the book where Owen persuades his dad to attend a parent’s evening, and conspires with his teacher to get his dad talking about the story in order to give him the confidence to keep writing.  It is here that the true purpose of the book is openly stated.  I found this, too, to be jarring and unnecessary.

Overall, it is a pleasant read, and an interesting representation of grief, depression and the effect it has on the sufferer and their family.  I didn’t care much for the sub-plot following Owen’s football ambitions, but perhaps this is because I don’t care much for football.

There are some lovely moments, and even a couple that elicited an emotional response.

Thank you to NetGalley.com and Hachette Children’s Group for providing me with an advanced copy of this book.

3 of 5