Just-for-Me Book Club: The Reviews Are In – Part 2

The Just-for-Me Book Club is my latest reading project. I asked bloggers and some regular commenters to suggest books for me to read. I have a fabulous list! I have never been more motivated to read, read, read! The list is still growing. You can see all the titles on this Goodreads page, and most are noted here. It’s time for two more book reviews!

riddley

Let me tell you about Riddley Walker! Riddley is a 12-year-old. He does hard labour, digging in pits. He has just been deemed a man, not a boy, and is expected to take over his father’s role of being a “seer” or interpreter of events. A weird series of happenings and discoveries has forced him to leave town, live by his wits, wrangle dangerous packs of dogs and figure out a massive mystery from the history of humankind. This all takes place far in the future in a post-apocalyptic land that has reverted to something like ancient England. The people are clannish and suspicious. Knowledge is spread through storytelling, puppetry and the words of wise folk.

The book was told entirely through Riddley’s point of view, in a made-up variant of English. Some of it was spelled phonetically, some was partially reconstructed from disassembled words, and overall, it led me to think that language had devolved and people had lost a lot of smarts. It had an internal logic and grammar so the reader could get into the flow after a while. I did find it very slow going, but I enjoyed puzzling it out, word by word and phrase by phrase.

I have never read any other books in made-up dialects (famously, A Clockwork Orange and Finnegan’s Wake), so this was a new experience for me.

The book contains several stories from the oral tradition that Riddley had learned. In his travels, he must figure out whether the stories have any real-life meaning.

I was completely wrapped up in the world of this book. The setting was sadly believable. It’s easy to imagine a world in which we’ve misused all the knowledge we once had, and barely survived our own destruction. Wouldn’t you want to hear stories from the “time back way back” when everything had sense and was just…better? Or would you even believe it?

Punch and Judy, Bluebell Railway, Sussex UK

Punch and Judy, Bluebell Railway, Sussex UK

As a Canadian, I had never seen a Punch and Judy show until stumbling upon one in Sussex within the past five years. This added immeasurably to my reading experience. In fact, if the book didn’t have a Punch puppet depicted on the cover, I don’t know when I would have realized that these puppets were significant to the story! I loved the importance of storytelling to the plot (and to the culture in the “world” of Inland where the book was set). There were other “British-isms” in the novel which took as much figuring as the language.

The most fascinating thing of all, for me, is the range of Russell Hoban as an author. This is the author of Bread and Jam for Frances. This is the author of The Mouse and His Child. I was surprised to discover recently that he wrote adult fiction. I had read his quirky “indie” novel Turtle Diary three years ago. Now this!

If you want to challenge yourself and be immersed in a completely different mindset, I highly recommend Riddley Walker. A tremendous thank you to Paul @ Feeding Squirrels for suggesting it!

we-were-liars

The next book I read could not have been more different – which is why I chose it to read next! It was We Were Liars, a teen suspense novel. I read one or two YA novels each year, mostly bestsellers that have created a lot of buzz, like The Fault in Our Stars or Eleanor and Park. I generally don’t read suspense. I am probably one of the last people on the planet who has read neither Gone Girl nor The Girl on the Train! But I respect AP’s tastes and trusted I would like it.

In We Were Liars, we learn that something significant happened that changed the life of our narrator, Cadence Sinclair. The Sinclairs are old-money, east-coast, privileged white land owners who spend their summers on a private island that they’ve turned into a family enclave. Cadence and her cousins return every year to enjoy boating, swimming, being served by staff, and making day trips to Martha’s Vineyard. What I liked best about the book was Cadence and her cousins’ dawning realization that they are rich brats who benefit from the racism and classism of their parents and grandparents. To continue living their fabulous lifestyle, they are forced to go along with whatever their mothers and their grandparents want them to do, think, say or feel. Something has to change.

I guessed 25% of the ending of the book, and it did stretch credulity a bit, but I was more than willing to suspend my disbelief. The author uses quite florid language at times, of the type that rapt teens will love, because it brings to life some of the drama they experience. I liked the on-the-edge-of-your-seat feeling of reading a fast-paced story with mounting tension and a mystery to be solved. Did I say I read this in one sitting?!

As in The Fault in Our Stars, there was a moment near the end involving a parent that turned on the waterworks for me!

I will definitely recommend this to the teens I work with at the library, and it has loosened my inhibitions about reading suspense novels – I look forward to more. Thank you to the Asian Pear for suggesting this one for me!

Next up: I am reading A Study in Scarlet Women, the first in a new series about a female Sherlock Holmes.

Have you started your 2017 reading yet?

15 comments

  1. Wow – both books sound very interesting! My waiting books list is currently very long, but I may add these anyway.

    BTW – my favorite YA book is Life As We Knew It, a dystopian novel about survival in rural America after the moon gets knocked out of its orbit. Farfetched, I know, but the books offers lots of food for thought about the skills and mindset needed to survive a major disaster. The family did lots right at the beginning, which helped them further along as things grew worse. The book is the first in a trilogy (the second book takes place in a big city, for example), but I didn’t enjoy the second and third books as much as the first. Anyway, you have lots to read already, but just wanted to mention this book if you haven’t already read it.

    • Thanks for the recommendation. I have a soft spot for dystopian novels!

    • I loved Life As We Knew It too, Laura. It comes to mind every year when my local store puts all the canned goods on sale!

      Dar, I’m really glad to hear you’re enjoying this challenge. 🙂 I was sold on reading Riddley Walker until you mentioned that it’s written in a dialect of English . . I wonder if there’s an audio version. Or would I be missing out if I listen rather than reading the text?

      • Hi Amanda, I couldn’t find an audio version listed online anywhere, but there should be one. It’s only a variant of English – it’s still understandable. If you get a chance, listen to this clip read aloud on YouTube. In the story, Riddley has just found an old puppet buried in a pit at his work site – with the dead puppeteer’s hand still in it! (The black leader mentioned at the end is a dog). https://youtu.be/5WX3hIeeJfI

  2. You’re welcome.

    I’m happy to have been a part of this project.

  3. I am never NOT reading (it’s my preferred form of entertainment), so yes, I’ve started my 2017 reading. 🙂

    I’ve decided I’m going to track the titles I complete in 2017, along with which/how-many books I recycle and how (trading at a used book store, donating, passing along to a friend). I spend a lot of money on books every year (I really need to look into what’s available at my local library!), so I’m hoping my tracking efforts will help me budget more accurately.

    The first book I completed this year was Girl Waits With Gun, a historical fiction novel about Constance Kopp, who was one of the first women in U.S. law enforcement, deputized in 1915. It was well paced and entertaining, and followed the history of actual events. An *accurate* fast, fun read. 🙂

    • I am always reading, too. Girl Waits with Gun sounds good! If you track your books on Goodreads, I hope you will friend me 🙂 You can tag your books however you like, so you can add tags like library, purchased, donated, gifted, etc.

  4. More books to add to the to-read list. 🙂
    The Book of Dave by Will Self is another one with a part of it set in a dystopian future, complete with made-up language. I suggested it for a bookclub I used to be in but some people didn’t even finish it because they thought the use of txt-style writing for dialogue to be pretentious (I think “c u l8r” might have caused the argument, because they claimed if we are reading what someone has said, it should read “see you later”, even if that person might write “c u l8r” themselves. I found that the txt-style writing, even for dialogue, kind of helped me to understand some of the linguistic changes than might have happened. Or not even the linguistic changes but just, how closely language and the way we think are related perhaps.). I’ve still never managed to slog my way through Clockwork Orange though. Nor anything by James Joyce!

    • Hi Moonwaves, I don’t know why I have never got around to reading any Will Self. I know I would like his books. I have read a couple of other books in text-speak and I think it works well. A lot of students don’t write much long-form except in school and that’s all they know. For me it symbolizes the future of the language (or perhaps the way it will devolve when we’e all less practiced in long-form). I hope to read more of James Joyce someday. A Clockwork Orange turns me off because of the violence at the beginning, even though I know it’s necessary to the plot later. Can’t stomach it.

  5. I can see why in a post-apocalyptic people might reject the world that caused the demise of “when things were easier” but I just don’t get why humans lose intelligence and knowledge. I know we’ve had that in history, Dark Ages with the loss of Roman knowledge (what have the Romans ever done for us) but it passes because humans are clever and work things out. I suppose I just have difficulties accepting the thesis that knowledge will be lost and we revert to a less civilised, less knowledgable way. Like losing words and reading and writing.

    As to suspense, in the main it’s not me either. I don’t like sudden twists, preferring to focus on the characters and the how things work out rather than the plot itself.

    • I suppose my favourite genre is literary fiction, in which a character has insight into themselves or the world. Usually I don’t read books that are plot-driven, either. Not opposed to them, but not intensely drawn to them.

  6. Fiona

    Tried to read Finnegan’s Wake last year…thought it was stunningly beautiful language but yeah…couldn’t read much of it. Loved ‘Bread and Jam for Frances’ as a child though…that alone makes me want to look into Riddley Walker!

    I like reading YA Fiction since I work so much with 12-15 year olds. Definitely adding the second book to my list!

    Amazingly I have actually been reading while I was away – I hope to keep it up now I’m back!

    • You’ll have to update your Goodreads, Fiona! I am way behind on YA fiction. I suppose I lost interest a bit over the past 5 years because so many similar trilogies and series were published in the vein of Hunger Games, Divergent, Maze Runner, etc. I have nothing against these books and they have inspired a lot of teens to read, but I didn’t want to commit to reading each of the series. I like stand-alone books such as John Green’s (even though some people think they are rather “precious.”) This year I only read two YA books, this one and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, and a couple of graphic novels.

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