Saturday, 28 June 2008

Review: Prismatic by Edwina Grey

I quite enjoyed Prismatic - it's an interesting book from a number of different viewpoints. Firstly there's the 'author', Edwina Grey, who is actually three different authors (David Carroll, Kyla Ward and Evan Paliatseas), who each wrote one of three narratives which have been braided together to form the whole. The narratives each take place in Sydney, but in a different time, in 1789 with the first settlers, in 1919 after the first great War and during an influenza pandemic, and finally 'Now'. In each time a disease, 'Prism' which causes carriers to see prisms of light, be prone to extremes of anger and violence and, er, eating brains. While Prism was contained in the earlier periods, it poses much more of a threat in modern Sydney - not only because of its larger population and the ability to travel almost anywhere in hours - but also because of a (ancient??) evil who is trying to use Prism for their own advantage. Each section of the story was well written and I really enjoyed the historical aspects of the 1798 and 1919 sections. I'm not sure how much Prism is supposed to echo zombism, though it certainly did for me. Jacqueline, protagonist of 'Now' and I guess the overall hero of the tale is not a stereotypical one. Covered in tatts, peircings and self doubt, she fumbles to the final ending, which did actually surprise me, although looking back it wasn't *that* an original twist. While the action did seem a little random at time, particular in the 'now', overall I felt the story did well in striving for something original and readable.

Monday, 2 June 2008

Review: The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards

I read 'The Memory Keeper's Daughter' for my bookclub. I found it a real chore - it's the first of our book club books to make me feel this way. 'The Memory Keeper's Daughter' is a twist on the age old 'twins separated at birth'. In this case an unexpected blizzard forces a doctor, David Henry, to deliver his wife's twins. The first twin, a boy named Paul, is fine. However, the second, a girl called Phoebe, has Down's syndrome. In 1964, Down's syndrome was an early death sentence and so David tells his wife that Phoebe has died to spare her inevitable heartache. Caroline Gill, a nurse and the only other witness to the birth, is persuaded to take Phoebe to a home, but instead takes Phoebe and raises her as her own. From this the book continues in duel narrative, David and Norah Henry with Paul, and Caroline with Phoebe.

This book shouldn't have been as tedious as I found it. It spans from 1964 to 1989, explores women's lib, and rights for disabled children. It show brief interludes of each family's life over the 25 year period, demonstrating pivotal moments in each. I think one of the main problems I had with this book, though, was how it is told. Because it is just that - *told*, not shown. There is reams of description and very little dialogue. I found the narrative deathly slow and lifeless. Much of the book relies on probing psychological effect of Phoebe's 'death' on the Henry's marriage and family life, but all these characters felt wooden to me and I just didn't care. Perhaps even worse, characters think the same thoughts over and over, particularly Norah Henry as she ruminates over her lost daughter. Perhaps this is realistic, but it didn't make for an interesting book. In summary: great cover, a good title (although the way Edward's shoehorned the title's meaning into the book was pretty eyerolling - ambiguity would have been better), *terrible* story!!!

Review: The Last Days by Scott Westerfeld

'The Last Days' is a follow up to Westerfeld's earlier book 'Peeps', which posits vampirism as an infection with an insidious parasite that makes victims stronger, gives them excellent night vision and smell, an almost debilitating libido, but also an anathema to everything they once loved. 'The Last Days' is very different to 'Peeps', however. While Peeps was really about exploring the idea of parasitism (with real life scientific excerpts in between chapters), 'The Last Days' is really about music and the formation of a band. A band that just happens to form at the same time as the apocalypse that was looming in the final chapters of 'Peeps'.

Moz and Zahler have been jamming for 6 years, but their rock star dreams only start to become real when Moz meets Pearl while rescuing a 1975 Strat with gold pickups (that's a guitar, dudes) that some Peep-infected woman is throwing out her window (the anathema, dude). Pearl is a music whiz and highly organised. She rejigs Moz and Zahler's winding rifs and, after recruiting drummer Alana Ray and singer Minerva, the band is on it's way to fame. But what if the world ends before they can make it big???

I'd heard that 'The Last Days' wasn't as good as 'Peeps'. However, I think I actually enjoyed 'The Last Days' more than 'Peeps', which is saying something because I did really like Peeps. Perhaps it was that I was expecting it to be bad and was pleasantly surprised that it wasn't. However, I also really liked the fact that, in this apocalyptic book, the main characters are only peripherally aware of what is going on. (Of course, once a giant worm thing erupts in their first gig, it becomes hard to ignore). Normality has a strong pull and it was great to see an apocalypse written about this way.

While the main characters from Peeps do make an entrance in the book, the story is told by Moz, Pearl. Zahler Minerva and Alana Ray in alternating chapters. I really enjoyed the changing point of views, and oddly enough, I found the book to be a bit 'younger' than 'Peeps'. The characters are younger (though only marginally - by a couple of years) and there's less of an emphasis on the sexual transmission of the parasites. Perhaps the band is a bit more naive, a bit less serious, as relfected by their relative lack of interest in the apocalypse.

Once again, Westerfeld has shown and understanding of the young people's language, a feat he pulled off so excellently the 'Uglies trilogy'. In this case, random words had a random 'f' in front of them: fool, fexcellent - totally fawesome! Finally I *loved* the fact that each chapter is named after a real band. I didn't notice until I got to Westerfeld's explanation at the end, but it was cool to look through and see who I could identify after the fact.