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Flash Reviews (September 25th 2013)

M is for Magic by Neil Gaiman ****
This is such a clever and well written story collection, filled with Gaiman’s trademark smoke and mirrors.  I found the entirety very inventive, and would recommend it to any fans of short stories and magical realism.  My favourite tales were ‘The Case of the Four and Twenty Blackbirds’, ‘Troll Bridge’, ‘October in the Chair’, ‘Chivalry’ and ‘The Witch’s Headstone’ (from The Graveyard Book).

The Journal of Katherine Mansfield *****
This is one of the few books which I’ve been the most excited about reading in my entire life.  Mansfield is one of my favourite authors, and she is the reason why I now adore short stories.  This is truly the most exquisite of journals.  Mansfield writes with such clarity, even during her fugs of illness, and I love the little story fragments and ideas for possible tales dotted throughout.  Utterly, utterly lovely.

How They Met and Other Stories by David Levithan ****
This is the first of Levithan’s solo works which I’ve read, and I very much enjoyed it.  As one can guess from the title, love is the central theme of this collection, and sexuality the second.  Levithan writes with wonderful clarity, and each and every one of his characters and their situations felt real in consequence.  Each story is a gem in itself, and I find myself unable to pick any favourites, as I enjoyed each and every one for different reasons.

The Rose-Garden Husband by Margaret Widdemer ***
I would probably have never come across this had it not been for Fleur Fisher’s lovely and encouraging review.  The story was most enjoyable and very sweet, and I enjoyed Widdemer’s writing.  My only qualm was with the rather unrealistic and predictable ending, hence my three star rating.

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Flash Reviews (20th September 2013)

Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel ***
I really enjoyed Life of Pi and was interested to see how it compared to Martel’s other work.  Beatrice and Virgil certainly follows a similar structure – a protagonist takes a journey (this one is mainly metaphorical) with a couple of animals who have human names (and who are given voices here by way of a play written by a taxidermist), and who muses about life along the way.  There is quite an autobiographical feel to the story, and it was rather clever at times.  I liked the use of different narrative techniques throughout, but some of the sections of the taxidermist’s play seemed a little long and far too drawn out.  Beatrice and Virgil is a very sad book on the whole, and its odd ending makes the entirety feel rather disjointed, which is a real shame.

Our Little Finnish Cousin by Clara Vostrovsky Winlow ***
I downloaded this on my Kindle on a whim before I went away, merely because it sounded cute.  Finland is the only Scandinavian country which I’ve not visited as yet and I’m longing to go there, so my interest in the title was peaked,  I think the sense of place which Winlow captured here was lovely, and the book is rather educational for its intended child audience, both geographically and in terms of the culture it portrays.

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan ****
I have wanted to read Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist for such a long time, ever since I watched the rather sweet film adaptation with my boyfriend.  I started reading it on the plane over to Menorca, and had to read it in secret on my Kindle during our landing (naughty, I know) when the air hostesses came around, because I couldn’t bear to put it down.  Having seen the film, I knew what was going to happen, but the getting there was the best bit.  There is perhaps a little too much swearing in the book, whereby it is used for the sake of it and for no real narrative effect, and it certainly shouldn’t be marketed as a children’s book, but it is very sweet on the whole, and rather amusing at times.

French Leave by Anna Gavalda ****
I have been wanting to read Gavalda’s work for what seems like an age.  I wasn’t expecting such a contemporary novel, but I very much enjoyed it.  The characters and their differences were drawn very well, as was the French countryside and the relationships between the Loriat siblings.  The novel is rather a short one really, but I imagine that it is a great way to become acquainted with Gavalda’s writing style.

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Flash Reviews (6th September 2013)

Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan ****
Summer days warrant these witty, fun reads for me.  The books which Cohn and Levithan write are not your usual teen fare.  Rather than being fluffy, simply written and overly predictable (sorry, Sara Dessen, but I’m looking at you), their tales are smart, well constructed, intelligent in their prose and rather unique in terms of the cast of characters they create.  Yes, I suppose that there was an element of predictability here with regard to the ending, but the entire story was so well wrought that it really didn’t matter.  The characters are all marvellous, with perhaps the exclusion of Naomi, whom I found to be an incredibly difficult protagonist to get along with.  I loved the way in which Cohn and Levithan tackled serious issues – the rocky road of teen friendships, homosexuality, trying desperately to conform with peers, and so on.  Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List is a great book, and one which I struggled to put down.

The View From Castle Rock by Alice Munro ***
The View From Castle Rock is ultimately disappointing, particularly in comparison to Munro’s other short stories, which are tiny masterpieces in themselves.  I liked the way in which she wove in her family history, but I simultaneously felt as though it bogged down the tales somewhat, making them rather stolid and plodding in consequence.  The strongest tales here were certainly those written using the first person perspective.  The others I felt incredibly detached from.

The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories, Volume 1 by Joseph Gordon-Levitt *****
I found this gorgeous little book in the Book and Comic Exchange in Notting Hill last year, and read it on the train on the way home in one delicious gulp.  It has been my ‘go to’ book for when I feel unwell or just need a breather from more serious literature.  I was feeling a little under the weather near to the end of August, and my boyfriend read this book to me in its entirety in the hope that it would make me feel better.  It did.  It is stunning, both in terms of the words and lovely illustrations.  I’ve upgraded my rating from my previous four to five stars, because this book is a real treasure.

A Midsummer Tights Dream by Louise Rennison ***
I only purchased this because I so enjoyed the Georgia Nicolson series.  I’m fully aware that I’m far too old for such a book.  Also, let’s face it – the title is rather good as far as puns go.  It is silly frivolous teen fiction, just as I expected it would be.  Tallulah, the protagonist of this volume, does not have the same charisma or silliness which her ‘cousin’ Georgia has, and some of the language which the teens use throughout feels rather outdated.  A Midsummer Tights Dream is rather a fun, quick read, but it would have made far more sense had I read the prequel beforehand.