The Book of Dust 5 of 25 #ReadwithRD

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“The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage”, by Philip Pullman, gave me my fifth book in the Readers Digest reading challenge this year – the ‘book with animal on the cover’. (See that hyena, hanging on the B and the O?) It’s also the book which gave me arm ache as I’m not used to reading hardbacks, and it’s got a lot of pages!

Book of Dust

I was pretty excited to read it as I love the original trilogy, His Dark Materials. As a Philosophy student, the central questions in the books were fascinating when I read them first, 15 years ago – who are we, do we have free will? What happens to us when we die? These questions are still interesting, and are still being asked in the prequel, volume 1.

 

This read a bit like Rogue One in the Star Wars universe – a prequel to everything that came before it and a piece of the jigsaw puzzle falling into place. The story follows 11 year old Malcolm Polstead – the son of the couple who run the local pub on the outskirts of Oxford. He’s got a bit more about him than the ordinary pub landlord’s kid, and quite soon he’s caught up in shadowy conversations and mysterious disappearances.

 

It was really lovely to be back in the Dust universe – I loved familiarising myself with daemons and Oxford, spotting soon to be well loved and worn characters in the next books. It was quite a hard read and it took me a little while to get into it, which may have been because I’m so connected with Lyra and Will, that new characters which are the same but not quite took a bit of getting used to.

 

I was also quite shocked at some of the language – there was definitely some swearing and some of the discussions were adult themed. It belonged in the story and perhaps these books are aimed at the people who grew up with the first trilogy and who are now adults themselves. After all, Will and Lyra grow up in those books so really, it’s nothing new. I would perhaps not recommend it for bedtime reading with your children though, especially as it involves quite sinister characters as well as a fight for survival with graphic depictions.

 

I definitely enjoyed it and I am already looking forward to book 2 “The Secret Commonwealth”, reportedly to centre on 20 year old Lyra and take place after the end of The Amber Spyglass.

 

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36 Questions 4 of 25 #ReadwithRD

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There is a set of questions that if two strangers ask each other each question, they will fall in  love. Apparently. This is my ‘book with a number in the title’.

36 questions

This book is based on that set of questions: “36 questions that changed my mind about you”, by Vicki Grant. The set up is that it is a college experiment – a call for strangers to ask each other the questions in exchange for $40 each. Betty & Bobby (fake names) meet and instantly dislike each other. Told from Betty/Hildy’s point of view, Bobby/Paul is not her type at all. Tough, muscly, short on words and even less concerned about proper grammar. The session does not go well and she ends up storming out after throwing her fish at him.

 

She finds, though, that she can’t stop thinking about him. How they would have answered the rest of the questions. What else he would have drawn. She wishes she knew his real name, and then she gets a message on facebook from ‘Bob’, who has also been thinking of her. And the $40.

 

The story is a time honoured classic of boy meets girl/girl hates boy (and vice versa) etc. I found that their story was more nuanced and more complicated than I expected, and the background of Hildy’s home life demonstrated that they are more alike than they first thought.

 

I enjoyed the description of the weather – I know that sounds strange but there’s a snowstorm at one point and it was tangible. I could almost feel the chill from the outside coming in.

 

A great read and I read it in one sitting (perhaps because I was on a plane!) but definitely one I’d recommend to someone looking for an unchallenging romantic story with a little bit of bite.  Thanks to Netgalley and Hot Key Books for the advance digital copy!

 

Oh, and those questions? They’re here, if you want to try them out….

Turtles, everywhere Book 3 of 25 #ReadwithRD

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“Turtles all the way down” by John Green, is my 3rd Readers Digest book and the one that ticks off the ‘book on your shelf you haven’t read yet’. Although technically, technically it’s on a virtual shelf as I only have it on kindle. That definitely counts.

turtles book cover

The basic plot is that Aza is a teenaged girl who has issues with anxiety – far more so than the normal angst puberty brings. She lives with her Mum, a teacher at her school (awkward!) and has couple of close friends – Daisy and Mychal. On top of the struggle with her own thoughts, Aza discovers that local billionaire Russell Pickett has gone missing – the father of a boy she once met at camp, and had a connection with.

 

Aza is not a reliable narrator, but she is an interesting one. The description of her thought process around germs and hygiene and the number of microbes people have living on their skin, is a vivid one. It’s easy to see how all consuming that spiral can be, especially with such a good description.

 

The story, interwoven as a study in the complex and transitory relationships with people dead and alive, against a backdrop of investigative whodunit, is also an interesting one. Aza is a vivid character because she has ‘real’ reactions – she is self aware and she understands how odd, how unusual her behaviour is, and yet she cannot stop herself. That is one of the difficult things in the novel, which is that she cannot complete the actions which would help her manage her anxiety. One of these is to take her medication, which she refuses to do as she is anxious about losing her ‘self’ – what if the medication removes her personality? What if her brain and her aversion to germs is intrinsically linked to her identity, and without it, she loses the uniqueness of her?

chewy and rey

The other characters around her are well drawn too – her Mum, who is doing all she can to help but aware that Aza is in the middle stage of child to adult, and her best friend, Daisy, who writes Chewbacca and Rey fan-fiction. Daisy’s inclusion of an Aza-like character, writ large and exaggerated, feels mean through Aza’s eyes, but also, her point is well made. Aza is selfish, by nature of her condition, she only thinks of herself and the impact the world has on her  – not vice versa.

 

I enjoyed reading this and I can see how this, along with Fault in our Stars, would have been just what I wanted to read in my teens. I think now, twenty years later, I can stand from far off and acknowledge that it’s well written – I just can’t engage with the characters emotionally.