Category Archives: Joyce Graham

August Retrospective

A thin month this time, for various reasons!  Still, here is a summary of my August reading, with links to reviews:

The Blue Book by A.L.Kennedy – 4/5

Although the style grated in parts, the story was ultimately really good, and well worth wading through the bits I wasn’t so keen on.

How to Forget by Marius Brill – 3.5/5

Not at all what I expected from the jacket blurb, but turned out to be an enjoyable comedy/action romp that would make a great film!

The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier – 4.5/5

A re-read from my teenage years, this is still a powerful read for any age, that will give you lots to think about.

BOOK OF THE MONTH:
The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing – 4.5/5

An intensely disturbing read that is horrific on many levels – how the introduction of one child leads a family idyll to self-destruction. Very keen to read the sequel which gives more insight from the child’s point of view (this one focuses more on the mother).

 

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The Waterproof Bible by Andrew Kaufman

DATE FINISHED: July 30th, 2012 

RATED: **** 

SYNOPSIS:  Rebecca has suffered since the day she was born with an overwhelming and uncontrollable ability to project her emotions – an issue she has finally resolved with a handy storage unit containing boxes of mementos, which keeps her excess emotions in check.  On the day of her sister Lisa’s funeral she suddenly realises she has lost touch with some of her feelings which she desperately needs and she realises it is time to deal with her issues – but how?  Aby is a little green around the gills.  Raised as a staunch Aquatic (the religion of an underwater civilisation which evolved following the Flood) she is breathing air for the first time as she crosses the country in a stolen car, on a mission to ‘rescue’ her landlocked, heretical mother Elizabeth before the opportunity is gone.  Elizabeth is running a little-visited hotel in the mountains aided only by Stewart, who in his spare time is building a boat and taking phonecalls from his troubled ex, Rebecca.  Oh, and Lisa’s husband Lewis has met a woman who tells him she is God, but God’s voice is not quite what he might have expected, and has some unforeseen effects…

THOUGHTS:

Stewart got out of the truck and walked into the wheat field he’d parked beside.  The stalks grew higher the deeper into the field he went. He continued walking. The stalks were slightly taller than his waist, but he still didn’t know what to say.

While overwhelming emotions is a problem most of us can already empathise with, it takes a little more suspension of belief to take at face value an Aquatic race living alongside our own Read more of this post

July Retrospective

(Posted early due to leaving for ‘holiday’ but updated retrospectively with the month’s final books.)

A summary of the books I read in July, with links to reviews:

BOOK OF THE MONTH:
A Summer of Drowning by John Burnside – 4.5/5

Although I wasn’t immediately captivated by Burnside’s style of writing, by the time I finished reading I was reeling, and my head was so steeped in the atmosphere that I couldn’t settle into reading anything else for a good while longer than usual.  I really want to read this again, already, and discover everything I missed first time around.

Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce – 4/5

Although not a sequel to The Tooth Fairy, it bears a lot of similarities, both in location, ‘type’ of characters and story.  Joyce’s strength is the portrayal of an ambiguity between supernatural and psychological realities, and this particular novel is one of his best.

Bereft by Chris Womersley – 3/5

This story of a man accused of murder as a boy, then returning to the scene of the crime after years away at war, had lots of potential but was ultimately disappointing.

In a Dark Wood by Amanda Craig – 4/5

The first in a phase of re-reads, this month.  Although I found the structure a little televisual, I was ultimately impressed by Craig’s ability to cast an intensely unlikeable man in her lead role but create enough psychological intrigue to keep the reader reading regardless.  Very interesting use of fairy tales as a means of exposition.

A True Story Based on Lies by Jennifer Clement – 4.5/5 

A beautifully dark and simple tale, told with a timeless, storybook feel.  Suffused with magic, lyricism, and disquieting undertones.

Eucalyptus by Murray Bail – 4/5 

An earthy fairy tale and unexpected love story, with the landscape exuding as much character as the people.  I enjoyed this more than on my first reading, about 12 years ago.

The Book of Colour by Julia Blackburn – 4/5 

A carefully exposed story of inherited madness, juxtaposing luscious landscapes of exotic island life with interior dreams and nightmares.

Pobby & Dingan by Ben Rice – 4/5

A short and sweet fable about the power of the imagination.

Snake by Kate Jennings – 4.5/5

An intense, stifling, poetic portrait of two lives trapped in the wrong marriage, and the sweeping, poisonous landscape around them.  Beautifully visual prose creates a story of startling clarity and power.

All My Friends Are Superheroes by Andrew Kaufman – 4.5/5

A wonderful novella about the powers, pigeonholes and pitfalls of everyday life but also a love story as sweet as they come.

Dreamland by Tom Gilling – 3/5

I sought this one out as I love the author’s previous novel (a light historical story, Miles McGinty), but sadly it turned out to be a very forgettable mystery thriller entirely lacking in personality and plot.

The Little Hammer by John Kelly – 4.5/5

Witty, wordy, wandering & playful prose dances around a story of murder, memories and misdirection.

The Waterproof Bible by Andrew Kaufman – 4/5

Lots of overwhelming emotions being dealt with in this successor to All My Friends Are Superheroes – just as likeable and ‘quirky’ and some interesting allusions to spirituality, but ultimately did not throw me any curve balls or make me think twice.

Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce

DATE FINISHED: July 6th, 2012 

RATED: **** 

SYNOPSIS:  On Christmas Day, a young woman returns home after being missing without a trace for 20 years, but barely seems to have aged. Her only explanation is that she was taken by a stranger to a world just beyond ours, and 20 years passed in the real world while she spent only 6 months there. Her family cannot believe she has finally returned, but send her to a psychiatrist in an attempt to find out what really happened in the missing years. Is there a trauma her mind has blocked out, and constructed a fantasy so that she can deal with it – or has she really been ‘away with the fairies’?

THOUGHTS:  As ever, Joyce creates a faultlessly recognisable, comfortable middle class suburbia then overpaints the corners with shades of unreality. Read more of this post

out of these fumes

“In the deepest heart of England there is a place where everything is at fault. That is to say that the land rests upon a fault; and there, ancient rocks are sent hurtling from the deep to the surface of the earth with such force that they break free like oceanic waves, or like monstrous sea-creatures coming up for air. Some say that the land still has to settle and that it continues to roil and breathe fumes, and that out of these fumes pour stories. Others are confident that the old volcanoes are long dead, and that all its tales are told.

Of course, everything depends on who is telling the story. It always does.”

from Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce

A Summer of Drowning by John Burnside

DATE FINISHED: July 2nd, 2012 

RATED: **** (4.5)

SYNOPSIS:  Liv is raised by her extraordinarily self-contained artist mother on a tiny Norwegian island, where the summer nights are white and haunting, and her neighbour’s folk tales of trolls and huldra do not seem out of place. When two boys Liv has known from school drown within weeks of each other, the landscape of her eighteenth summer becomes laced with a heightened intensity, compounded by the appearance of an English man with secrets who is staying nearby, and the wild girl Maia who Liv knows spent time with the drowned boys before their death and seems to have a malevolent influence on those around her. Can she really be the huldra?

THOUGHTS:  This is an intensely dark and brooding story, simmering with suspense and seeped in rich imagery of the Norwegian landscape. Read more of this post

June Retrospective

A summary of the books I read in June, with links to reviews:

The Taint of Midas by Anne Zouroudi  – 3/5

I have discovered that I don’t find the Mysteries of the Greek Detective series especially mysterious… You might like it for the Greek characters and location but it didn’t do much for me.

Candlemoth by R. J. Elloryunfinished

I honestly gave this my best shot (I got over halfway), but I found I was wading through it so slowly that I was beginning to resent the time it was taking away from the reading of potentially more enjoyable books. I did find the coming-of-age story of the two friends quite readable, but the interspersed primer of American history of the period and the conspiracy theories were not very interesting. It just didn’t hang together for me, and I found the prose to be very generic.

The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedmanunfinished but 2/5 

I couldn’t face reading beyond the halfway mark. The prose was so-so but the sense of history was non-existent, with dialogue that didn’t fit the period at all. Mostly, though, I think it was just the story itself that was too sentimental for my taste.

After Such Kindness by Gaynor Arnold – 3.5/5

Based upon the relationship between Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), and his child-muse Alice Liddell, Arnold offers an interesting perspective and a good story. I was a bit put off by her attempted ‘Carrollisms’, though.

The Tooth Fairy by Graham Joyce – 3.5/5

Joyce is brilliant at portraying ordinary people in the real world, and this is a really good coming-of-age story of growing up in the 60s. Don’t be put off by the fantasy aspect of the Tooth Fairy as the reality versus the psychological origins of the tooth fairy is very much a part of the story. I highly recommend Joyce, if you haven’t tried him before…

The Silent Land by Graham Joyce – 3/5

…but don’t start with this one! I was very disappointed with it – really cliched, I’ve-seen-this-a-thousand-times-before Sunday afternoon fare. And the ‘banter’ between the couple became very grating, very quickly.

On Loving Josiah by Olivia Fane – 4/5

A well-written story, with challenging ideas but – for me more importantly – great characters. The style reminded me of Barbara Trapido (or a less-caustic Fay Weldon). I’m very interested to see what she writes next.

BOOK OF THE MONTH:
The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt – 5/5

Although this was a re-read, I think I enjoyed it even more this time around. DeWitt’s style is a sprawling stream-of-consciousness, a witty and wonderful adventure through words, but with appealing characters and great story, too. It’s ages since I enjoyed a book so much!

Lighthousekeeping by Jeanette Winterson – 4/5

This is a very fable-ish story told in lyrical, lilting prose – very enjoyable to read but ultimately a little insubstantial.

Girl Meets Boy by Ali Smith – 4/5

A wonderful, joyful love story that captures the happiness of Ovid’s original version of the Iphis myth (from Metamorphoses) whilst relating it to utterly contemporary themes. The prose is playful, witty and rhythmic stream-of-conscious style which will not appeal to everyone but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Burning Bright by Helen Dunmore – 3.5/5

A quite disappointing. With the exception of Enid, the characters are never really fleshed out, and although smoothly written and interesting in parts, it has neither the glittering crispness of A Spell of Winter, nor the taut and highly-charged atmosphere of Talking to the Dead.

The Silent Land by Graham Joyce

DATE FINISHED: June 17th, 2012 

RATED: *** 

SYNOPSIS:  Zoe and Jake are trapped in an avalanche while on a skiing holiday, but somehow manage to escape. Or do they? They find their hotel and the local village both deserted and the phone lines dead, but when they try to venture further afield for help, they keep finding themselves back where they began. A waiting game begins, while they try to work out what has happened, or – perhaps more importantly – what will happen next…

THOUGHTS:  Joyce has an unpretentious prose style that is easy to read, and a gift for both characterisation and evocation of place which I hoped might lift a storyline that otherwise held little appeal for me. Read more of this post

The Tooth Fairy by Graham Joyce

DATE FINISHED: June 16th, 2012 

RATED: *** (3.5)

SYNOPSIS:  At the tender age of 5, Sam accidentally sees the Tooth Fairy when he wakes in the middle of the night. From that moment on, Sam sees the Tooth Fairy’s malign hand in everything that goes wrong for the people closest to him while he grows up, like a shadow hanging over him. Sam and his two best friends Terry and Clive are growing up in the sixties, with a world that’s changing around them, but from the safety of their suburban family units. But when the three join in with a scouting game that goes horribly wrong, they live in fear of the moment it will catch up with them throughout their adolescence. And Sam’s visits from the Tooth Fairy ensure he is never at risk of forgetting…

THOUGHTS:  Apparently, this novel is officially categorised as ‘horror’, but I read it as a classic and original coming of age story Read more of this post

The Limits of Enchantment by Graham Joyce

DATE FINISHED: October 14th, 2011             

RATED: ****

SYNOPSIS:  Fern has been raised by the village midwife, Mammy, assisting at births since her early teens and catching glimpses of Mammy’s magic as she prepares folk remedies for those who don’t quite trust the NHS. But when a young girl who has visited Mammy for help dies soon afterwards, scandal and gossip runs rife in the village, and Mammy’s own health goes into rapid decline. Fern is left to cope with her grief over Mammy, the prospect of eviction, and the discovery of her own gifts and calling; but who can she trust to help her through?

THOUGHTS:  Although it sounds trite in synopsis, The Limits of Enchantment is surprisingly engaging and thought-provoking in the telling. Read more of this post