Review: Every Light in the House Burnin’ – Andrea Levy

Every Light in the House Burnin'
Every Light in the House Burnin’ by Andrea Levy

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Opening Passage: My dad once drank six cups of tea and ate six buttered rolls.Not in the course of a day, which would be nothing unusual. No, he drank six cups of tea and ate six buttered rolls one after the other to avoid them being wasted.

It’s hard to think of what to say about this book. It was emotional, sometimes, and then at times highly mundane. It feels like an ordinary memoir because of its essential banality. The writing lends itself to the normalcy of the everyday life of an everyday family.
The story is centered around a Jamaican family living in London and is partially about their struggles dealing with racism. But the essence of the tale lies in the protagonist and the family’s relationship with the father.
The chapters of the book are divided into ordinary subjects such as “The Cat” and “The Telly”, the later chapters that don’t have a name are the ones dealing with the father’s illness, and are all told from the point of view of the youngest child in the family, Angela.
Right off the bat the reader gets a sense of the old fashioned, slightly selfish and in-compassionate personality of the father.

“My dad was a man – most dads are. But my dad had been taught or was shown or picked up that a man was certain things and a woman was others.”

“A man did not have to be loving and affectionate. A man had to know everything and never be seen not to understand the world. A man would help around the house only when asked but a man always emptied the bins.
My dad was a man and he did what he thought was expected of him but couldn’t understand when more was demanded.”

The apparent injustice of the father is softened slightly by the fact that this book was written about a time when families weren’t expected to be as emotionally open and frank with one another. Father’s in general may not have been the compassionate parent especially in the lives of their daughters.
But that does not take away from the frustration in the protagonist who expressed on multiple occasions that she wished she belonged to another family. Very little of it had to do with being colored, a lot to do with family dynamics.

“How can you explain your family conventions – the secrecies, the codes, the quirks, to someone who’s never lived them?”

The father, who had a tendency to disregard his children’s wants and desires without a thought, made it normal for the family to not expect much of him. It was a way of life, so it never harbored any feelings of resentment.

“My dad would often spend whole weekends fiddling with the television. He would take the back off, remove valves, tinker with wires, take bits out and hold them up to the light. When we protested that we’d like to watch something, he’d look at us incredulously and say “That’s why people don’t like to have children.”

The story goes through this family’s life of unfairness borne in silence, spoken and unspoken grudges, wishes unfulfilled and helplessness in the face of ‘the way things are’. Or were in this case.
It brings to light the question of how these factors tarnish a family’s sense of wholesomeness, and whether giving up or giving in is really for the greater good.

I kept waiting for the part of the book where something so unbelievably unjust would take place that it would cause a blowup. But in a true-to-life kind of story, these things don’t come about and in a true-to-life kind of way, they didn’t. What did come about was the father’s illness that was painful and drawn out. I can’t tell if it was supposed to cause sympathy or just showcase that no matter how unfair the circumstances may be, families do not abandon you.
It was emotional and heart wrenching but only if you put yourself in the shoes of a person watching their father slowly die. Because the protagonist herself actually goes into very little emotional detail. The most satisfying passage in the book finally came:

“As I listened to him scream, I began to get angry with him. An anger I could hardly bear to feel. Why couldn’t he die gracefully, with dignity? Fading silently from life with a gentle smile and a touching last request. So his family could stand round his death bed and weep and mourn their loss.No, he had to die kicking and screaming, being pulled from life, being robbed. The loudest noise he had ever made in his life. The biggest protest. The first rail against injustice. Why now? Because he didn’t want to die and he didn’t want to go, he hadn’t finished yet. Why now? When the pain and embarrassment could rob me of my grief?”

The writing in this book prevents me from selecting any lines that stood out. I found it easier to select passages that as a whole would be more significant than lines. The book has its funny moments and it’s heart crunches but just like in life, they occur once every few mundane events later.

Favorite Passages:

1. I put the stress on the word father>, which always sounded so grand and middle-class. It was hard to imagine my dad as a father. (pg.89)
2. After that present, I asked my dad if I could have money for Christmas. Money was a much safer option and it didn’t last as long. (pg. 106)
3. Traditions handed through the decades which were untouched by time or imagination. (pg.181)
4. In that building were experiences waiting to test me. There was pain there – not physical, not for me, but pain that you can’t see coming, that smacks you inside and pulls and rips at you. (pg. 239)
5. The loss of life that really happened weeks ago had finally ended. (pg. 246)

 

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Review: The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman

Review: The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman

The Graveyard Book
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Opening Sentence: There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife

What happens when a toddler whose family has just been killed gets adopted by an entire graveyard? Not something that crosses a lot of people’s minds but that doesn’t stop Neil Gaiman from taking a seemingly morbid situation and turning it into an adventure.
“It’s going to take more than just a couple of good-hearted souls to raise this child. It will” said Silas, “take a graveyard”

Something about Neil Gaiman’s style of writing makes me feel like Coraline inside. Brings out the adventurous child in me so to speak. While reading this book I was picturing the whole thing in 3D stop motion animated style just like the Coraline movie, and this was before I realized they both had the same author.

It has to be the mark of a great writer to be able to make you feel young again. Read a children’s book and feel like you’re the same age as the protagonist. Gaiman’s writing brings a depth into children’s literature that makes it interesting and engaging to adults.

I especially feel captivated by a story which has sub plots that have the potential to become stories all on their own which I have begun to feel is a Gaiman trademark. In the case of The Graveyard Book I saw potential for such spin offs around almost every corner. Starting with the Jacks of All Trades, the secret brotherhood with a sinister agenda, which is as vague as their humanity.
There was nothing official about the Jacks of All Trades, although there had been Jacks in governments and in police forces and in other places besides.
There is the interesting world under a ghoul gate, a grave which is a portal to another world, which holds the city of Ghulheim and a weird assortment of ghouls which, comically enough, were formerly prominent members of the human world such as presidents and kings and the like.
It was a city that had been built just to be abandoned, in which all the fears and madnesses and revulsions of the creatures who built it were made into stone
I was also intrigued by Silas, Bod’s unhuggable guardian, who was neither living nor dead but with the knowledge and sentiments of both.
He wanted to embrace his guardian, to hold him and tell him that he would never desert him, but the action was unthinkable. He could no more hug Silas than he could hold a moonbeam, not because his guardian was insubstantial, but because it would be wrong. There were people you could hug, and then there was Silas.
And finally the feisty little Scarlett Amber Perkins, Bod’s human friend that could have had the potential to be so much more in this story, but could probably do just as well in a story of her own.
She hated this town for being so different-nothing like Glasgow, where she had grown up- and she hated it because every now and again, she would turn a corner and see something and the world would all become achingly, horribly familiar.
There were also many other points of interest such as the Lady on the Grey
They knew her, the graveyard folk, for each of us encounters the Lady on the Grey at the end of our days, and there is no forgetting her .
and the crypt with the Sleer
THIS IS THE PLACE OF THE TREASURE. THIS IS THE PLACE OF POWER. THIS IS THE PLACE WHERE THE SLEER GUARDS AND WAITS FOR ITS MASTER TO RETURN
All of which add enough color to make the story come alive.

A book that revolves around the afterlives of dead people should and did have interesting concepts in it. Starting with the basics when the kid learns his alphabets from the headstones on graves, to when he is able to read the interesting, at times funny, engravings themselves
Miss Letitia Borrows. (Who Did No Harm To No Man all the Dais of Her Life. Reader, Can You Say LykeWise?)
Miss Liberty Roach (What she spent is lost what she gave remains with her always. Reader be Charitable.)

Not to overlook the interesting bits of wisdom offered by the ghost family in the graveyard that helped Bod go through his strange life as a child who understood the dead more clearly than the living. The most uplifting concept that I found in the book was that it made the concept of death seem less scary and somewhat less intimidating and that could be the biggest appealing factor to children looking for an explanation of life and afterlife.
Bod shrugged. “So?” he said. “It’s only death. I mean, all of my best friends are dead.”
“Yes.” Silas hesitated. “They are. And they are, for the most part, done with the world. You are not. You’re alive, Bod. That means you have infinite potential. You can do anything, make anything, dream anything. If you change the world, the world will change. Potential. Once you’re dead, it’s gone. Over. You’ve made what you’ve made dreamed your dream, written your name. You may be buried here, you may even walk. But that potential is finished.”

This one is worth reading for people that are even beyond it’s targeted age group if they have still managed to hold on to the child within or want to try once again.

Favorite Lines:
1. You might not have seen a pale, plump woman, who walked the path near the front gates, and if you had seen her, with a second, more careful glance you would have realized that she was only moonlight, mist and shadow. (pg.7)
2. “Does it work? Are they happier dead?”
“Sometimes. Mostly, no. It’s like the people who believe they’ll be happy if they go live somewhere else, but who learn it doesn’t work that way. Wherever you go, you take yourself with you. If you see what I mean.” (pg.58)
3. “That’s the difference between the living and the dead ennit?” “The dead dun’t disappoint you. They’ve had their life, done what they done. We dun’t change. The living, they always disappoint you, dun’t they?” (pg.110)
4. “Of all the organs,” said Nehemiah Trot “the tongue is the most remarkable. For we use it both to taste our sweet wine and bitter poison, thus also do we utter words both sweet and sour with the same tongue.” (pg.128)
5. Really, he thought, if you couldn’t trust a poet to offer sensible advice, who could you trust? (pg.129)
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Review: Already Dead – Charlie Huston

Review: Already Dead – Charlie Huston

Already Dead
Already Dead by Charlie Huston

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Opening sentence: I smell them before I see them.

A vampire noir style detective mystery novel. Who knew they had these anymore?
I am a fan of vampyre(vampire) based supernatural fiction. If it feels true to the concept of vampires. No over the top romances and love struck teenagers. No sparkly skin. And an adequate amount of violence and sexual deviance. Huston did a good job on that count and I thank him for taking a hit at cliches with just the right shade of dark humor.

I was tickled by how the author made the Vampyre society’s Clans into pseudo vampyre cults with just more edgy variations of human agendas. The Coalition is a influential and powerful mafia style outfit that wants to control the vampyre community with a ‘carrot and stick’ method of attractive compensation in exchange for obedience or an old fashioned tanning session for the opposite. The Society is the group of vampyre anarchists/hippies that want to revolutionize the vampyre way of life to the effect that vampyres and human beings will co exist and hug trees together. Because they believe the living won’t mind living with the undead. The living that can’t even come to terms with the rest of the still-living yet. Then there’s the Enclave. A small dangerous clan of religious monk-like vampyres that have taken to starvation and meditation to achieve transcendence into a stronger and possibly divine form. Although they have no proof of their theory, they are dedicated to maintaining unwavering discipline and faith until proven otherwise. There are also mentions of other factions like The Hood and The Dusters but with less detail in this first book.

The story takes place around New York (where else?) where the protagonist Joe Pitt, a rogue vampyre trying to live out a normal vampyre’s existence, does his best to separate himself from the Clans, while still doing enough to maintain his peace with all sides.
I liked the main character right off the bat and not because he was presented as a “badass”, but because his ‘badness’ just seemed to be a way of life for a vampyre, even if he is really softhearted. Maybe I am just used to more shocking brutality in vampire protagonists. I felt strong undertones of a good guy who had to be bad, instead of a bad guy who did bad things for good reasons. This was helped furthermore by the guy’s real name turning out to be Simon. I did appreciate the healthy dose given of the character’s mistakes and personal flaws and weaknesses. I also appreciated that his ‘love interest’ or women in general played no part in it. I like protagonists that have better things to do with their time. Like stopping the zombie epidemic by killing the former-pornstar goth zombie. Or finding the connection between that goth zombie and the father of the missing girl you’re trying to locate. Healthy passtimes

I am hoping the other books in this series, which I will pick up hopefully soon, continue to be a unique blend from Huston’s noir colored palette of humor, brutality and vampyre-style realism.

Favorite Lines:
1. “So my advice is use a gun with a lot of bullets, just like if you were trying to kill your wife or husband.” (pg. 26)
2. “Nothing more dangerous to the life of a child than a house full of firearms. Nothing more dangerous except maybe a parent.” (pg.26)
3. “Word gets around.” “Yeah That’s what word does” (pg. 73)
4. “After all, the killer’s hand is holding the cigarette I’m smoking” (pg. 109)

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Review: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – Philip K. Dick

Review: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – Philip K. Dick

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Opening Sentence: A merry little surge of electricity piped by automatic alarm from the mood organ beside his bed awakened Rick Deckard.

This book is written in a way that has the smell of the era it was written in all over it.

The story is placed in a post apocalyptic, kipple infested (book lingo for junk and rubble), radioactive dust infused world, where status is symbolized by the animals you own, and mood controlling devices, hallucinogenic machines and android robot servants are household appliances. In this setup the protagonist Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter assigned to kill rogue androids, struggles to hold on to the morality of his job as increasingly advanced robot brains make it harder to distinguish between androids and human beings. The only discerning quality left exclusively to human beings is their empathy which is artificially imitated so accurately as to be almost indistinguishable from the real thing,unless subjected to complex tests.

Initially when I started reading this book I found it hard to follow the writer’s train of thought. His wording had a way of going off on little tangents and then coming back to the original track in a way I found a little disconcerting. But to really get this book you have to read more into what the writer doesn’t say than what he actually does.

The surface story of the book is lukewarm, especially by today’s standards of bounty hunters and rogue robots. This isn’t a book of action packed man/robot hunts and witty jibes and sarcastic humor. There is none of the flash over substance that someone reading it today might be expecting. What I liked most was how there were moments when I was doubting the sanity of every character and uncertain as to where the lines of reality and delusion started to blur. By the end of it I felt like I had been taken for a ride and not sure where I had been dropped off.

Which is why this is not a book for readers who don’t read between the lines. The crux of this book lies in it’s commentary on humanity, religion, empathy, morality and the emotions involved in relationships, imaginary or real, that will completely escape surface readers. The sooner the reader realizes that the easier they will come to terms with the messages in the scenarios and how their importance overrides that of the story as a whole. The story has philosophies sprinkled in it that come as a surprise to someone not looking for them.

“You will be required to do wrong no matter where you go. It is the basic condition of life, to be required to violate your own identity. At some time, every creature which lives must do so. It is the ultimate shadow, the defeat of creation; this is the curse at work, the curse that feeds on all life. Everywhere in the universe.” (pg. 112)

As well as sudden appearances of dark/dry humor thrown in so casually that it can only be a credit to the writer’s mastery.

“I can’t stand TV before breakfast.”
“Dial 888,” Rick said as the set warmed. “The desire to watch TV, no matter what’s on it.”
“I don’t feel like dialing anything at all now,” Iran said.
“Then dial 3,” he said.
(pg. 4)

To say, “Is your sheep genuine?” would be a worse breach of manners than to inquire whether a citizen’s teeth, hair, or internal organs would test out authentic. (pg. 5)

The only reason I gave the book 3 stars instead of 4 is because I thought the plot itself could also have had more to it than it did. But overall a book to be remembered in what I feel is the unique category of philosophical science fiction novels.

Favorite Lines:
1. “Hence it assailed not only his ears but his eyes; as he stood by the inert TV set he experienced the silence visible and, in it’s own way, alive. Alive! He had often felt its austere approach before; when it came it burst in without subtlety, evidently unable to wait. The silence of the world could not rein back its greed. Not any longer. Not when it had virtually won.” (pg. 13)
2. “Fear made her seem ill; it distorted her body lines, made er appear as if someone had broken her and then, with malice, patched her together badly.” (pg. 41)
3. “He entered the elevator and together they moved nearer to god.” (pg. 107)
4. “You will be required to do wrong no matter where you go. It is the basic condition of life, to be required to violate your own identity. At some time, every creature which lives must do so. It is the ultimate shadow, the defeat of creation; this is the curse at work, the curse that feeds on all life. Everywhere in the universe.” (pg. 112)

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