Monday, 17 August 2015

Ladder Of Years by Anne Tyler / Social Engineer by Ian Sutherland / City Of The Beasts by Isabel Allende

Ladder of YearsLadder of Years by Anne Tyler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of my Top Ten Books of 2015

I often find myself empathising with characters in novels, but it is rare that I can so completely identify with one in the same way as I did with Delia Grinstead in Anne Tyler's Ladder Of Years. Having pulled a similar stunt myself, albeit as a teenager, I was amazed at Tyler's apparently uncanny knowledge of how I felt at the time. " How do I get out of this then?" I suppose it must not be such an unusual experience after all. Delia's reinvention of herself from Dee - fragile put-upon and overlooked wife, mother and daughter - to Miss Grinstead - efficient secretary and woman in her own right - is such a sensitively drawn transformation that I was hooked on every word of her tale. I loved both her emotional journey and also the detailed description of her actual journey from Baltimore to Bay Borough, the ideal anonymous small town on arrival and, of course, soon discovered to be anything but.

All the characters in Ladder Of Years are superbly drawn and my favourites, other than Delia herself, were Iron Mama Eleanor who perhaps wasn't such a paragon as she had forced herself to appear, and Carroll, the model of teenage angst. Perhaps it does all get a little too schmalzy towards the end what with weddings and babies and the like, but the characters still felt so true and honest to themselves that I could get past it. Much of the book, as is Tyler's style, is made up of tiny details so I can understand that this read wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea. However, Ladder Of Years is definitely one of my top reads of 2015. I finished it three days ago and am still giddily excited when recalling the story - sign of a great book indeed!

Buy the paperback from Waterstones.

Social Engineer (Deep Web Thriller, #0)Social Engineer by Ian Sutherland
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ian Sutherland is another author whose work I first discovered by chatting on Twitter. (Regular review readers might be starting to suspect I spend most of my time tweeting!) Ian is offering this novella, Social Engineer, as a free Kindle download from Amazon to give potential purchasers a chance to check out his writing style before committing to buying a full length novel.

Social Engineer's protagonist is Brody Taylor, a computer hacker, but one who only uses his powers for good! Except of course that Brody seems to grey the distinctions between what is good in a general sense and what is good for him to achieve his immediate aims. I liked his character which has elements of the standard flawed hero, but also hints at a more complicated creation. No doubt more will be revealed in the novels to follow. Other characters weren't developed to any great degree, although Mel's French accent could start to get irritating after a few more chapters!

I did find this taster book slow in pace due to the extraordinary amount of explanation that has been crammed in and, a couple of times, repeated. For such a limited number of pages, I think a more exciting, dynamic effect could have been achieved by not dumping so much non-essential information. Sutherland has a competent, fluid writing style which is easy to read and there are some neat plot ideas (which I won't discuss as I don't want to spoil the surprises). However, for me, this just wasn't a thrilling enough thriller.

City of the Beasts (Eagle and Jaguar, #1)City of the Beasts by Isabel Allende
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I am slowly starting to work my way through Isabel Allende's back catalogue of work having been so impressed by Of Love And Shadows. I saw a practically new copy of City Of The Beasts in the Children's Society charity shop in Garstang - they really do have an excellent quality book selection! - and decided to give it a try. I didn't even know Allende had written Young Adult fiction. In this fantastical novel, Alexander, a previously town-bound American teenager, is suddenly thrust into the wilds of the Amazonian jungle on an expedition with his intrepid grandmother. Through a series of real and magical events and challenges, he learns what is really important in life and comes of age to manhood. City Of Beasts is a 400 page book, but with larger than standard font and is very easy reading so I zoomed through in about five hours.

On the positive side, Allende's gift for description means that the jungle environment and its indigenous peoples are beautifully portrayed, the flora and fauna easy to envisage. I wasn't so impressed with her characterisation though. Several of the adult figures are either not fully realised or, as is the case of the pretentious Professor Ludovic Leblanc, simply ludicrous caricatures. The plot line is adequate while not being especially inspired and I felt more could have been made of some scenes which seemed to be curtailed without exploring their full potential. I realise the intended audience is younger readers so perhaps I was expecting too much, but the last few chapters where the great plot is unravelled pass by incredibly swiftly and were therefore unsatisfying. I think I will stick to Allende's adult writings in future.

Buy the paperback from Waterstones.

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