Friday, March 23, 2018

Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay

I can’t remember which article I was reading, but I heard about this book from The Straits Times. It sounded pretty interesting, so I tracked down a copy at Jurong Library and borrowed it!

Picnic at Hanging Rock is a novel that resembles a non-fiction mystery. On Valentine’s day, 1900, three girls and one teacher at a picnic at Hanging Rock disappear. The fourth girl comes back in hysterics, unable to remember a single thing.

Although the start of the story resembles a mystery, it isn’t one. There isn’t a resolution and the book is more concerned about the effects that the disappearance have on the staff and students of the school than on solving the mystery. In fact, it’s soon clear that this disappearance has sparked a chain of endings. And although it’s never made clear, the book hints that all the events after the disappearance are connected, all threads in one tapestry. And sadly, not all endings are happy.

The characters in this book are excellent. There is Mrs. Appleyard, who appears very proper but acts stranger and stranger (and more selfishly) as her school falls apart; Mademoiselle, the kindly meant French teacher who doesn’t disappear; Sara, whose only friend is Miranda, one of the girls who disappeared. There’s also Irma, the heiress who disappeared than came back, and Michael and Albert, the men who found her. All of them were well-written, with their own motivations for their actions.

I’ve read that one reason this book has endured for so long is because no one is sure if it’s fact or fiction. This is the only ‘account’ of the case, but the foreword and the factual style of writing has made many people believe that this was based on a true story.

If you’re into atmospheric novels and are fine with unresolved endings, you should definitely read this book. It’s a bit hard to find, but totally worth it.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Say Everything by Scott Rosenberg

I decided to read this book because it was recommended in Trust Me, I’m Lying, which I thought was an excellent read. Unlike Trust Me, I’m Lying, which was about media manipulation, Say Everything focuses on the history and impact of blogs, which is definitely right up my alley.

I say ‘history’, but it’s really about the first fifteen years and focuses on key people during a certain era of blogging. The book starts with Justin Hall, who intentionally revealed his life online, continues with Dave Winter, who moved from a mailing list to a blog, and continues on. It covers the period from when blogging was new to when it became mainstream and includes the invention of Blogger, the rise of political blogging, and of course, blogging for profit.

Obviously, this is a lot to take in, so I’m glad that the book focuses on specific people, branching out from them to the larger blogging environment. That made it easier to see the rise of the ‘blogosphere’ and how the word went from weblog to blog (and now the word weblog sounds so foreign and archaic!)

The last part of the book takes a look at the effects of blogs, namely journalists vs bloggers, what happens when everyone blogs (the author is actually quite positive about it) and how blogs can develop in the age of Facebook and Twitter. He isn’t as cynical as Ryan Holliday, which makes me quite positive about my compulsive habit of starting blogs.

I now want to read a book about the history of RSS. Any recommendations?

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Alice by Christina Henry

I do not remember how this got on my TBR list but it is so good! Alice is a very dark sequel/spin on the Alice in Wonderland Tales, which is exactly up my alley!

Alice starts on in the asylum in Old City. After a terrifying attack that she can’t remember, Alice is locked up and given drugs to keep her quiet. But during a fire, her friend Hatcher breaks them out and they start on a quest to defeat the Jaberwocky that haunts Hatcher’s mind.

I should warn you up front that this is an extremely dark book. There is a lot of graphic violence, both the traditional kind and sexual violence against women. This is a world split into two, where the Old City is ruled by criminal underlords. And as Alice and Hatcher slowly regain their memories, they go closer and closer to the centre of power.

My favourite aspect of this book is definitely the world-building. Having both Alice and Hatcher lose their memories make it easier to have the world explained in a non-info dumping way. And although this is a dark and violent world that I would definitely not like to live in, it fits in with the tone of the book, and I love how the element of magic and the absurd was written in.

My second favourite were the characters. Hatcher is pretty interesting, and I like the conflicting nature in Alice. She’s essentially a good person, but she has to confront the darkness within her if she can defeat the evil that is stalking them.

I’m a bit conflicted on the ending, though. Overall, it’s satisfying, but it’s also slightly anti-climatic (though it does fit in with Alice’s development story, so I guess this isn’t really a valid complaint?) I also wish for more backstory on Alice, but I suppose that because this is a series, there are still opportunities to delve deeper.

Overall, this was a really dark and thrilling book. If you’re into dark and twisted takes on classic stories, you have to read this. Definitely in the running for one of my favourite books of this year, and I’m definitely reading the sequel.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

When I heard that Annihilation is similar to Tanis, I thought “hmm, I should read it.” When I heard that Annihilation is going to be a Netflix movie, I thought “okay, now I definitely have to read this.” While this is one of more unorthodox novels that I’ve read, it was a really good read!

The unorthodox part of the novel comes from the fact that there is no real plot (okay, maybe it just resembles some literary fiction). It’s basically the journal of the Biologist, part of the twelfth expedition, as she explores the mysterious and increasingly dangerous Area X.

The writing here is fantastic. Area X felt menacingly real and despite the lack of explanations at the end, I was left wanting more rather than feeling cheated (as is usually the case when there’s an open ending). I think the reason why this works for me is that the menacing aspect of Area X goes hand in hand with the breakdown of the biologist.

Okay, maybe I spoke too soon just now. As the story progresses, we get to find out more about why the Biologist came on this expedition. There is no big quest, but there is revealing of character, even while said character seems to slowly break down.

And by the way, I think it’s really cool that the author used their job titles instead of names. It might have reduced them to simple stereotypes, but all the characters felt three dimensional, which means that the generic titles gave it a ring of universality.

If you’re into weird worlds and dark edges, you have to pick up this book. I know that I will definitely be continuing this trilogy!