The Quarry by Iain Banks: a review

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This was always going to be a difficult read. The Quarry is the final book to be written by Iain Banks before he died of Cancer. One of the main characters in the book is, yes, dying of cancer. Since the publication of The Wasp Factory Banks has dealt with extreme and dark situations. The Quarry isn’t as extreme and dark as that, but it does step from one shadow to the next.

The story revolves around a group of old university friends having a reunion one weekend about twenty years since their course. It is told through the eyes of Kit, the son of Guy, who is the man dying. The dialogue is gritty, earthy and hard-hitting. In one sense it explores the fact that all the characters, and perhaps us the reader, are all dying / failing / insignificant* (delete deepening which metaphor you want to explore). It doesn’t pull any punches but never dissolves into sentimentality or kitsch.

The Quarry is humanity in all its depravity and futility, yet also in all its fellowship and potential. This won’t bring you tears of joy, or indulge you in escapism. You may find yourself staring at the pages and seeing yourself in the words you read. Banks holds a mirror. As we look into it we see our lives… this was always going to be a difficult read.

Mine by Robert R McCammon: a review

I’m pushing myself to read a lot more this year. I was shocked to see the low number of books that I finished in 2013. I’m also trying to clear a pile of books that had been sitting around for a while. Mine by Robert R McCammon was one of those. I had begun to read it last year but had put it down after one and a half chapters not really getting into it. However, I picked it up again and…

… having got past the first couple of chapters, I was hooked. I will not use the cliché that I couldn’t put it down, but there were a couple of days when I read well over 100 pages in one sitting. For someone who struggles with attention at times, this is almost unheard of.

The psychological drama of the book is gripping. The two main characters are desperate to meet their needs and nothing will stop them. In a journey across the United States they leave a trail of death and destruction. The theme of child abduction is every parent’s nightmare and with a protagonist as warped and insane as Mary ‘Terror’, the nightmare is amplified.

If you want a thriller that will keep you gripped throughout, then Mine is a very good read.

Getting it right – Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey: A Review

Is it possible to always do the right thing?

What if the right thing is different depending on who you are?

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Doing the right thing is explored through the two central characters in James S.A.Corey’s Leviathan Wakes. This is the first novel in the series The Expanse. Miller, a detective in the asteroid belt, and Holden, the second in command of an ice tanker, are drawn into events that could change the very fabric of life itself. It’s space-opera time, and Leviathan Wakes ticks all the genre boxes.

Leviathan Wakes is well-paced and thankfully, as far as the space-opera genre goes, without too many characters. It covers standard ground: political divisions, company arrogance and alien life.

Each chapter is delivered, from the perspective of the two main characters, alternating between each. It isn’t just the chapter perspective that is different. Both Miller and Holden are very different characters. Their views on what is the best course of action vary throughout, although it doesn’t veer into buddy cop territory.

Leviathan Wakes comes to a satisfying conclusion, whilst leaving plenty to explore in the following books of The Expanse series. If you like a little space-opera sci-fi then Leviathan Wakes is well worth a read.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman: a review

Adults follow paths. Children explore

The Ocean at the End of the Lane cover

Exploration is what Neil Gaiman does in this wonderful story. He defies genre as you read through the eyes of a young seven year old boy. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is myth, metaphor, fairy tale, theoretical physics and a childhood memoir in equal parts. It’s about growing up and staying young. It’s about truth and truths, memories and happenstance.

Neil Gaiman captures the feelings and emotions of the seven year old perfectly. At the same time these emotions are filtered through the adult who is recalling, retelling and demythologising the events. The air of mystery and awe throughout, lures you into the magical, or should that be real, world that the young boy travels through.

The story explores the themes of personhood, self-worth and sacrifice. Traditional religious metaphors are conjured with and presented in fresh and unique perspectives. To look for a comparable work, one of the closest would probably be C.S.Lewis’ Narnia series, but Ocean isn’t a Judeo-christian reimagining.

This book should play with your feelings. As such, my truth would suggest the best review would tell you how I felt, well…

I smiled as I remembered, I felt awe as I was transported and I cried as I imagined who and what we could be.

2013 – The Year of the Story

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At the beginning of this year, I chose a word, a phrase, to be my focus. The idea was to keep that clear in my mind as I went about my day, pursuing my goals, hopes and dreams. My word for the year was ‘story’ and to help unpack that a little, I intended to ‘write it’, ‘sing it’ and ‘live it’. That left quite a lot of scope for what exactly I could do and perhaps, in hindsight I could have been a bit more focused with my words.

So how have I done? The year seems to have gone very quick, but at the same time some events have been agonisingly slow.

My Story – write it.

When it comes to writing my story, I have certainly been doing that. Most of the work I have done this year is written. I have had some wonderful part time work that has kept me busy. It’s improved my writing and has helped me develop with regard to targeting different types of writing to different types of people.

I have also developed a writing course for complete beginners, so if you are thinking of writing your story, or your novel, in 2014, then I may have just the right thing. You can sign-up for information as soon as it is available here. I can promise you that it will be practical, easy to follow and a lot of fun!

I took part in NaNoWriMo but then other events took over. November became an interesting month for me, with a lot going on and I kind of lost focus. I was keeping up with the daily writing but there were other things I wanted and needed to do, so I stopped. It does mean I have another half-finished novel. That’s four now that I intend to self-publish in the future.

I haven’t been as consistent as I would have liked on the blogging front. I have been intermittent here, and !maginality has been in constant hiatus. However, !maginality is poised to return in the very near future, and I am very excited about it.

Other pieces of writing have been done. Every so often the muse turns up and produces a poem and I have begun to write some short stories.

Overall I have been writing my story, but like life, so much is left unfinished. Part of 2014’s word / phrase will be to enable me to finish a lot more.

My Story – sing it.

One of my long term goals was to release a collection of my songs. This has been on my list for years. Then one day in early September I set myself a challenge. Inspired by both The Magnetic Fields’ 69 Love Songs and Gal Musette’s reply to write and record 70 love songs. I stepped up to the challenge to write, record and release however many love songs I could during the month of September. The one caveat for the love songs was that they had to have been originally written on the ukulele. I pretty much kept to that, and I added a couple of old songs into the mix too. I missed the deadline of September, because the recording took a little longer, thanks to an upgrade to Logic Pro X.

However, at the end of October, I made available, as a FREE download, You Can Love Me, a collection of 10 love songs. You can download the collection and even make a donation if you like. Just follow the link, You Can Love Me. And once again a big thank you to Suzi Blu, for supplying the art work for the cover.

One big negative when it came to singing my story was that my acoustic guitar died. Rumours that a replacement is on its way are greatly under-exaggerated.

In addition I have continued to write and record other music. I have certainly been singing my story, but there is plenty more melody to come next year.

My Story – live it.

Life has flown by. I find myself certainly living my story. I made a couple of decisions early in the year. If you know how long it normally takes me to decide something you will be very proud of me. Much has changed in my story this year. I find myself living hundreds of miles away from where I started in January.

I have had the opportunity, through family, to be able to reassess things and begin to rebuild. In essence, story has been the ideal word, as I plot and plan potential futures. I have at times been a little reactive in my living my story. It has been far too easy for doubts and fears to take control. However, considering the major life changes this year has brought, those thoughts can be expected. But, I won’t dwell on them.

My Story – 2013

I have achieved a lot, but, as the politicians so often say, there is still a long way to go. I hope and pray that my story continues for many years to come. I have written, sung and lived my way through a good year. Despite the hurdles that I have jumped, crashed into and fallen over, I am still running, or at least moving. 2013 brought joy and sadness, awesome changes and frustrating stagnation. But through it all I have been telling my story, in word, in song and above all, in the life I have lived.

For those who read these words and have shared some of the story through this blog, thank you for being there. I pray your 2013 has been good. If you’ve written similar reviews of the year, I’d love to read them, just pop a link in the comments. I’m now looking for my 2014 words, so again, I’d love to hear what you’re doing, let’s inspire one another to great things.