Sunday, 11 October 2015

Book review: The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota

Refugee, migrant - two terms that are very politically charged, but how often do we think about the people behind these words?

Sunjeev Sahota's The Year of the Runaways is fiction, but its subject is something that hits the headlines in the real world with alarming regularity, although with little of the nuance displayed in Sahota's novel.

Tochi, Avtar and Randeep live in a cramped house in Sheffield. All are illegal immigrants from India, all spend their days working hard to make enough money to live, and all have very, very different stories, and reasons for seeking a better life in England. Born and brought up in London and seeking an escape of a different kind, Narinder finds her life tangled up with the three men in unexpected ways.

The Year of the Runaways very quickly identifies itself as one of those books that is going to grab you by your heart and not let go until the last page. It's emotional, heartbreaking, and about the best and worst of humanity. 

The book moves between present day Sheffield and the backgrounds of its three male protagonists, so we see what brought them to the city. In the present day the men work their fingers to the bone, live in horrendous conditions, and always have the fear of being caught by the authorities hanging over them. That they choose the existence they do shows how desperate they are, and makes you sympathise with them, and that's even before you learn about their lives in India.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Book review: A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

In Jamaica in 1976 a group of gunmen stormed Bob Marley's house, and although the singer survived, the men were never caught.

This incident forms the centre point of Marlon James' stunning A Brief History of Seven Killings. In the novel, James fictionalises the build up to the shooting, and its long reaching aftermath, as seen through the eyes of gangsters, journalists, politicians, the CIA and more.

A Brief History of Seven Killings isn't at all brief - my paperback edition is 686 pages - but it never feels like a long novel, and it was never a chore to read. It did take me a while, around 80 pages, to get used to the voices and the rhythms of the characters, especially the gang members who use words and phrases I was unfamiliar with but whose meaning I quickly guessed. Once I made a bit of headway with the book, it was easy going, and I flew through it, especially the last 300-400 pages.

James is brilliant at building to the shooting of Marley, who is referred to as The Singer throughout the book, giving him an almost mythical quality. The shooting is almost mythical as well. I knew it was coming, and I just wanted to get there, but I also really enjoyed the build up and spending time with all the different characters whose world I had never been exposed to before. A Brief History of Seven Killings is told in first person with chapters alternating through a roster of characters, all with extraordinary stories and opinions and motives for doing what they do.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Book review: Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Have you ever had to keep quiet about a book by an author you love? And when I say keep quiet, I mean you can't talk about its plot with anyone, or analyse the characters, or just gush about how amazing the author is.

It's difficult, let me tell you. In the weeks since I read Rainbow Rowell's Carry On, I've sent one email saying how fabulous it is (to the publicist, I didn't break an embargo) and that's it. But now, the time is finally here, and I can write to my heart's content about Rowell's first official foray into fantasy writing (she has written Harry Potter fanfiction before).

Simon Snow is a Mage. In fact, he's not just any Mage, he's the Mage who will save all other Mages, even if he can't control his magic all the time, and is a bit clumsy, and hates, hates, hates his roommate Baz. And Baz? Baz is a bit mysterious, and from an old magical family, and he hates, hates, hates his roommate Simon. When Baz doesn't return to school after the summer holidays for his final year, Simon becomes suspicious that he's planning something evil, and with the Insidious Humdrum to fight, and a headmaster who isn't really talking to and helping him, Simon is in a whole heap of trouble.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Book review: A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

I adore Sarah J. Maas' Throne of Glass series, which features a complex, kick-arse heroine, lots of action and smart writing.

Her new series, which kicks off with A Court of Thorns and Roses, contains many of the same good points, but wrapped up in a new, original fantasy story.

When Feyre kills a wolf in the woods one day, she thinks nothing of it, glad instead to have killed what she thinks is a threat to her family. But the wolf she killed was no ordinary wolf, he was a faerie, and one of his friends, Tamlin, is determined to punish Feyre for her transgression. Tamlin takes her to his enchanted court, where she is free to roam but where threats lie around every corner. And as Feyre gets to know Tamlin better, she discovers he is no threat to her, but that his life and hers are in grave danger.

Feyre is the kind of heroine I like - noble, flawed, brave, headstrong, with plenty of faults. Maas writes her as capable and self-sufficient, but she's not able to do everything and not willing to accept help without protest, which makes her realistic. That realism is important in a book that otherwise is almost pure fantasy - that the characters have believable characteristics and are relatable and likeable means I'm far more connected to the book.


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