Tag Archives: John Stephens

Some Saturday Reading

Yesterday (a little ahead of schedule) I finished my second draft of the WiP. It’s by no means ready for public consumption yet, but it’s that little bit closer to being how I want it to be. The end is still not right – it happens too fast, and almost seems like an anti-climax after the story that comes before it, and I still have some work to do with my protagonist (though she’d like to say thanks to everyone for asking after her, and wants to let you all know she’s much happier now that she gets to kick some butt).

So, I thought maybe I’d write a quick post about what I’ve been reading, and some of what’s on my to-be-read list. I’ve just finished ‘What’s Left of Me’ by Kat Zhang, which I really enjoyed, even if the author is so absurdly young that it’s made me wonder what I’ve been doing with my life.

It’s a wonderful concept – the book asks how would you cope if there was more than one soul, more than one consciousness, in your body? In Zhang’s imagined world, people are born with twin souls and they spend their early lives inseparably entwined. After a certain age, though, doctors begin to get worried if one soul doesn’t prove itself to be ‘recessive’ and begin to fade away; if this doesn’t happen naturally, children are brought for treatment to ‘help’ one of their souls to disappear. As is made clear throughout the story, each soul is a distinct personality – it’s not a case of someone hearing a voice in their head, or anything like that. The main characters in this book are Addie and Eva, two unique young women who happen to share one body. It’s a book that asks hard questions like what it means to be a human person without any power, not even the power to move your own body, and what rights you should expect; it asks questions about psychiatric care, and how doctors with no experience of the condition they’re treating can possibly know what’s best for a patient. It made me wonder about individuality, and how it would feel to be inside a body which may be doing things you find abhorrent, but over which you have no control. The writing is good – it’s clear, and the plot moves along quickly. At times I did feel as though the larger issues were somewhat glossed over – or, more exactly, I felt that the author didn’t make the best of the wonderful ideas on show – but this book is the first in a series, so it remains to be seen what she’ll do with the characters. I’d recommend it. It has tinges of Pullman’s ‘Northern Lights’, but is a very different book in terms of style.

I also recently read ‘Wolf’ by Gillian Cross – this is not a new book, so it might be hard to find. The edition I have dates from 1992, and I’m not sure if there are more recent editions.

It’s definitely the kind of book I like – unique, original, a bit crazy, peopled with memorable characters and a plot which seems completely unfettered in places, giving the story a sense of freedom and unpredictability. Our protagonist is a young girl who lives with her grandmother, except for occasional breaks where she is sent to live with her mother. These breaks are always preceded by a strange midnight visitor to her grandmother’s home, and the girl (Cassy) isn’t sure who the visitor is. The book shows its age in terms of technology – telephone boxes, no internet, and so on – which is great for readers of my vintage, but even so the story throbs with life, exploring the meaning of family and love, and what it means to not be sure of who you are. It’s excellent – if you can find it, I recommend it.

I also read ‘The Emerald Atlas’ by John Stephens not so long ago; I’d had this one on my radar for a long time.

It was good, too – a nice long, complicated, twisty storyline designed to get the neurons firing. It involves time travel, three siblings who must unravel the mystery of their missing parents, and figure out how to use a strange book with incredible powers in order to save an entire village from an evil witch and her undead warriors. I did like this book, but not as much as I thought I would – some things irritated me, like the fact that the author decided, conveniently, that two versions of the same object can exist at the same time. As in, if someone travels back through time clutching the mysterious book, which also exists in the past, that both versions of the book can exist for about half an hour before one of them will disappear. That annoyed me because I thought it was a cop-out, of sorts! I really liked the writing, though, and I loved the siblings’ relationship with one another. So, overall, this one is worth a try. It’s the first part in a series, too, so perhaps things will improve.

I picked up Frances Hardinge’s ‘Twilight Robbery’ last weekend, so I’m looking forward to getting into that. I read the previous book to this one, ‘Fly By Night’, a few years ago and wasn’t too sure about it, but the writing is good enough to entice me to give it another go. I also have ‘The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay’ by Michael Chabon on my to-read shelf; this, despite the title, is not a children’s book. I do occasionally dip my toes into grown-up literature, too!

I’m off to enjoy some words that I didn’t sweat and agonise over, for a change – I hope you find some time to read and/or write this weekend, too. Whatever you do, enjoy and take care.