Justin Richards – Doctor Who: Apollo 23

Author: Justin Richards

Series: Doctor Who
Title: Apollo 23
Published: April 2010
Publisher: BBC Books
Length: 248 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Target age: All ages (maybe+10)
Why I picked it up: Doctor Who fan, couldn’t resist checking  
Rating: 3 stars
Buy: Chapters | Barnes and Noble | Check your local bookstore!

Normally I don’t purchase these kind of things: novelizations of movies, books based on television shows, etc. But I may have a tiny obsession with DW and there is such a long wait between July and the lone Christmas episode and then finally another season in April and I had a Chapters gift card and it was only $12 and I could just buy one to see what it’s like. The Doctor Who novels are not just book versions of the television series. DW is a big franchise, I suppose, comprised of three television series, audio dramas and novels that are all part of the official canon (I believe that’s how it works). So choosing to read one of these isn’t stretching the fandom tooo far…;P

There isn’t too much to say about this book. I enjoyed it, but that’s because I’m a fan and it was fun reading a story, hearing my favourite characters again. I especially liked this one because it was a ‘space base’ kind of story and I love those stories. Would you enjoy this if you aren’t already a DW fan? Probably not. But if you are, and you’re looking for more DW, I’d recommend giving this a shot.

Jose Saramago – The Gospel According to Jesus Christ

*The following information applies to the English hardcover edition. (the novel was originally published in Portuguese in 1991).*

Author: Jose Saramago
Translator: Giovanni Pontiero

Title: The Gospel According to Jesus Christ
Published: 1994
Publisher: Harcourt Brace and Company
Length: 377 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Target age: Adult
Why I picked it up: Heard about the author’s death, had book recommended by a friend
Rating: 4 stars
Buy: Chapters | Barnes and Noble | Check your local bookstore!

This book was much better than I expected it to be. I sought it out because the premise sounded interesting (fictionalized account of Jesus’ life as human), I did not expect the actual writing to be so impressive. Normally the type of authors who win Nobel Prizes aren’t my style, but I’ve already gone to the library and checked out two more books by Saramago.
Saramago’s style is fairly unique. He writes with very little punctuation. No quotations to indicate dialogue are found within this novel. Commas are greatly favoured in places of periods. An sample of dialogue between Mary and Joseph:
Mary looked at him in dismay, Are we leaving, she asked, Yes, this very minute, But you said, Be quiet and start packing while I harness the donkey. Aren’t we going to eat first. No, we’ll eat something on the way. But it will soon be dark and we might get lost, whereupon Joseph lost his temper.
The narration is also very different. The story is written as though told through the eyes of one narrator who takes on the view of different characters…it’s hard to describe exactly what it’s like so I marked this passage as an example.
These are cruel times indeed, when a pregnant woman comes knocking at our door and we deny her shelter in a corner of the yard and send her off to give birth in a cave, like the bears and wolves. Something pricked our conscience however, and, getting up from where we were sitting, we went to the door to see for ourselves this husband and wife who so desperately needed a roof over their heads. The sadness in that poor girl’s face was enough to arouse our maternal instinct, so we patiently explained why we could not possibly take them in, the house was already crowded with sons and daughters, grandchildren, in-laws. As you can see, there simply isn’t any room here, but our slave will take you to a cave we use as a stable.
This form of narration is not constant throughout the novel, but it does pop up from time to time.

My description of the writing style may make this novel sound like a tough read, but surprisingly I found it wasn’t at all difficult. The story flowed smoothly and felt very natural. I really enjoyed this style and I look forward to reading Saramago’s other novels.

The story itself was also beautifully crafted. The characters and relationships between them illustrated in the novel (especially those between Jesus, Mary, Joseph and Mary Magdalene) felt very real, emotional and believable. I felt something for each one of those characters.

This is a fairly hefty novel but not once did I find myself bored with it. Maybe that’s just me…but I found myself wanting to keep reading to experience more of the characters and the style.

My knowledge of the Bible is not as great as it probably should be, but I was able to pick up on two events that Saramago interpreted differently  than the Bible: the story of Lazarus and the story of Judas Iscariot. I found it impressive how easily Saramago was able to craft different interpretations of each of these characters and yet do so in such a believable way.

As you can tell, I was pretty impressed with this novel. Clearly I need to read more novels like this one…I’m very much looking forward to reading Blindness and Death With Interruptions, which are currently sitting in a book crate under my bed.

Side note: I listened to Peter Gabriel’s Passion, an album I downloaded roughly a year ago and listen to from time to time, while reading this book. It created a very fitting atmosphere 🙂

Paolo Bacigalupi – Ship Breaker

Author: Paolo Bacigalupi
Title: Ship Breaker
Published: May 2010
Publisher: Little, Brown
Length: 323 pages
Genre: Dystopian scifi
Target age: Young adult
Why I picked it up: Hank Green
Rating: 3.5 stars

Buy: Chapters | Barnes and Noble | Check your local bookstore!

I enjoyed Ship Breaker much more than Marcus of Umbria. It has been a very long time since I’ve blown through a fiction book so quickly. Young adult novels may be below my ‘reading level’ but I can still enjoy a good one (and when would I ever read the bad ones? ;P). YA novels are usually much better written than so-called ‘adult fiction’ – once I find a good YA novel, it leaves more of an imprint on me than anything else does. I can enjoy it immensely and learn from it for my own writing.

Now that I’ve said all that about YA, I need to backtrack a bit…Ship Breaker was a good book but not one of the ones that has made a lasting impact on me. It was an enjoyable read, brought up some good ideas, had a few tense moments, but the characters didn’t make an emotional impact on me. That’s okay. Not every novel has to be made of John Green moments.

One of the things I liked best about this book was that it presented certain ideas well that I feel are usually presented awkwardly (like this sentence :P). One of the issues the book tackles is the morals of protecting the environment over making money (the novel is set in ‘Orleans’ where everything has been destroyed by impossibly strong hurricanes) and it actually presents both sides well, as in: you can see why somebody might take the money over the environment, which I usually have a hard time understanding. Another issue the book handles nicely is that of the morals of killing. Usually I find that after a character’s ‘first kill’ they’re overcome with guilt to an extreme that’s a little unbelievable. That didn’t happen as much in this book; it felt more natural.

A few more thoughts…The book is an action/adventure and that is exactly what it feels like. It’s not tickly  – emotional at all. I didn’t form any attachments to the characters, but they felt fairly well-developed and unique. No hero stereotypes here.The ending was a little abrupt, I like a fuller ending but it does wrap up the story. All in all, Ship Breakers was a fun and thoughtful read. I’d probably recommend it if you’re looking for something fast paced and gritty but enjoyable.

Justine van der Leun – Marcus of Umbria

Author: Justine van der Leun
Title: Marcus of Umbria
Published: June 2010
Publisher: Rodale Books
Length: 224 pages
Genre: Travel memoir
Target age: Adult
Why I picked it up: Sounded like light summer reading (it took awhile for the hold to come in)
Rating: 1 star
Buy: Chapters | Barnes and Noble | Check your local bookstore!

It’s been a long time since I’ve finished a book that left me feeling so frustrated and unsatisfied. Usually I can tell within the first 20 pages or so whether I’m going to enjoy a book or not, but I decided to stick it out with this one. Forgive me now while I rant about the shortcomings of this book.

This book was dreary, dull, negative. The author had nothing positive to say about her travels. The entire memoir consists of her complaining about everything she encounters within the culture she chose to place herself in. She finds it appalling that people treat dogs as work animals and not as companions. I was thoroughly disgusted at some of the comments she made. There was one statement (on page 136) that made me lose whatever hope I had that the author was going to redeem herself.  While complaining about how the locals never throw food out, the author says:

I’d seen her use brown bananas to bake a fluffy breakfast loaf.

Well, yeah, what the hell do you think breakfast loaf is made with? (Maybe that seems a little like overreacting, but after 136 pages of the author’s petty whining I couldn’t take it any more). Granted, some of the things that bother her are valid, but for the most it’s just her bitching about how she hates life in the Italian country. And yet she chooses to live there for months with a man she admits she’s not in love with.

That’s the other thing that was frustrating. The book is advertised as ‘What an Italian dog taught an American girl about love’, but the dog is mentioned on maybe 40 pages (and that sounds a bit generous). Barely at all. I expected the entire book to be about the author and her loving adventures with her dog but frankly, the dog could have been removed from the book and it would have been the same. Every now and then, the author mentions that she loves her dog and not her boyfriend, but you never see that or feel it. It’s like she just threw the dog in there so she could make a nice sounding book about it.

You never feel like you’re getting the whole story. You don’t feel sorry for her and her boyfriend (a page or two says ‘Yeah, we eventually realized it wasn’t going to work out but I stuck around anyhow), you don’t feel the love for the dog. When I finished this book, I was immensely to relieved to not have to read any more of the author’s shallow and selfish opinions.

Right, so that all sounds a little a harsh. As annoyed with the author as I was, I still managed to finish the book. It was not at all enjoyable, but I managed. I think I would feel a lot better about the whole thing if it wasn’t marketed as dog love story. Perhaps a better subtitle would be ‘Why I Hate Country Hicks of Italy’ (but I guess that wouldn’t sell as well…).