Tuesday, 23 February 2016

This Is A Love Story by Jessica Thompson: Book Review

This Is A Love Story by Jessica Thompson

This Is A Love Story is indeed a love story. It's also a drag-you-through-the-emotional-wringer, rip-your-heart-out-and-stamp-all-over-it kind of story. And I loved it.

It tells the story of Nick and Sienna, two young Londoners who become friends, although it's made explicitly clear from the start of the novel that they both want something more.

Life gets in the way, as it so often does in these things and stops them getting together, despite a few near misses. The plot is reassuringly predictable, but from almost the first chapter, I wasn't in it for the plot. I was in it for the sheer love of the characters, so deep and well-constructed that I was rooting for them throughout.

The final third of the book had me blubbing my eyes out on a packed commuter train, forcing me to pack it away until I got home to the privacy of room and finish reading there. I devoured it, and it wasn't until I turned the last page that I realised how attached I had become to Nick and Sienna. Closing the back cover left me feeling bereft.

For anyone who enjoys a bit of high-brow reading, this probably isn't the book for you. It's pretty much ready-made for adaptation into a rom-com film. I'd love to see more from Thompson -- her character work is certainly deserving of another airing, but I'd like to see a less predictable storyline from her future work. Rip my heart out in a different way.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves: Book Review

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

If you're looking for a book with a humdinger of a plot twist, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is absolutely the book for you.

It's narrated by Rosie, an American college student in her twenties telling the story of her upbringing, specifically, the disappearance of her two siblings, Lowell and Fern.

Rosie's older brother Lowell, it becomes clear early on, ran away from home and never returned. Fern, on the other hand, is more of a mystery. We find out she is Rosie's twin, We know she's not dead. Then, on page 77, we find out the truth about Fern. It's gasp-out-loud-on-the-train stuff.

Karen Joy Fowler also wrote The Jane Austen Book Club, which if I'm honest, I found a bit wishy-washy, so I was dubious when my colleague, the lovely Zoe, singled me out as someone who should definitely read this book. Her reason for thinking this also remained a mystery until the all-important page 77, when suddenly the penny dropped.

Compared to other books I've enjoyed recently, this one's a bit of a slow mover. I didn't really feel connected to any of the characters, even Rosie - although this may be intentional on the part of the author. Yet something that I couldn't quite put my finger on kept me reading all the way to the end.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

The 400 camels of Lanzarote

Meet Sue. Sue is a camel. One of 400 camels* living in the town of Yaiza near Timanfaya National Park in Lanzarote. Due to recent events, Sue is my friend. Her real name probably isn't Sue. She might, in fact, be a he.

I'll start at the beginning.

On a recent holiday to Lanzarote, we took a day trip to the Timanfaya National Park, the protected area known for its lunar landscape due to volcanic eruptions. Nobody is allowed to walk in the park - except camels.

So we found ourselves headed for the camel riding spot on the edge of the park. We knew exactly what we were letting ourselves in for - or at least we thought we did, until our coach turned a corner and we found ourselves face to face with rows upon rows of camels. Hundreds of them (400, we later found out), chilling out in lines (straight lines at that. Too straight, some might say, to have been masterminded by an animal whose standard greeting is spitting.) ready to greet their adoring public.

Once we'd got over the shock of SO DARNGOSH MANY CAMELS we tentatively made our way over to where we were to "board" our camel. Enter Sue, the camel we were riding. As I said, Sue probably wasn't her name - she (he?) may not have had a name at all - there was no time for formal introductions. So Sue she became, a name chosen by me for its calm, dependable demeanour.  Everything you want in a camel you're about to climb onto, basically.

And climb on we did. Cue waves of embarrassment at my naivety when I realised that I wouldn't actually be riding Sue the way one would ride a horse, one leg either side and a quick "yeehah" for luck. No, camels are ridden with special seats, one person on each side and plenty of straps to keep you where you are.

Take off is a bit bumpy. Camels get up bag legs first, stumble around a bit, and then remember they have front legs that they'd do well to straighten too. Needless to say, it was a hair-raising few seconds before Sue got into her stride and took us for a 30 minute stroll up into the mountains and back down again, passing several of her co-camels on the way (so many camels!) before bringing us back down to earth in an equally bumpy manner.

We later found out that the camels - all 400+ of them - live in the nearby village of Yaiza. While nobody is allowed to walk in the National Park, an exception is made for the camels and their handlers, for whom a special path has been carved out in the volcanic material. The walk to work takes them two hours everyday - although on the way home it only takes an hour and a half, because the camels are hungry by this time and keen to get home for their dinner. Seriously.

*Pedant's note: the eagle-eyed among you will have noticed that Sue and her amigos are in fact dromedaries rather than camels (the difference is in the humps). I guess the word "dromedary" is less marketable to tourists than camels.