Book Review: Kindred Spirits

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Kindred Spirits, by Rainbow Rowell, tells the story of eighteen year old Elena, an avid Star Wars fan, who decides to spend four days queuing outside her local cinema to be a part of like minded fans’ anticipation of the opening night of ‘The Force Awakens’. What she had not counted on was that she would be one of only three people willing to go through this experience now that cinema tickets may be bought in advance on line.

Elena has read about the camaraderie of the cinema line, has joined a Facebook group where fans posted pictures and anecdotes about previous lines. When her mother reluctantly drops her off and she joins the two other guys, Troy and Gabe, she discovers what she had believed was the full story was in fact edited highlights of a mind numbingly boring few days. A mutual love of Star Wars may not be enough to generate a bonding with these strangers, especially when one of them appears to have already judged and found her wanting.

As Elena does her best to cope with the cold, the monotony of sitting on the street, and the need to pee in the night when no toilet is available, she tries to engage Troy and Gabe with quizzes and selfies which she posts on social media. She is creating her own edited highlights. When the time comes to tell her story one suspects that this is what she will relate.

The humour and lightness of the writing make this sixty page story engaging and enjoyable to read. There are hat tips to what makes a friendship, how we see others and ourselves, how we wish to be reported. The need to validate personal choices, not to be seen to have been foolish, predates the curation of lives on line.

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World Book Day is something of a misnomer as the event runs on different days around the world. UNESCO designated 23 April as an appropriate date for the annual celebration.

The day

“is an opportunity to recognise the power of books to change our lives for the better and to support books and those who produce them. […] Literacy is the door to knowledge, essential to individual self-esteem and empowerment. Books, in all forms, play an essential role here.”

In the UK and Ireland World Book Day falls on the first Thursday in March, the date chosen to avoid clashing with Easter. As well as book related events organised by schools and libraries, all school children are offered a free book or voucher for a book such as the one reviewed here.

Book Review: Rebound

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Rebound, by Aga Lesiewicz, is a tense and tightly written psychological thriller set in and around Highgate in London. Its protagonist, Anna, is a thirty-something, single female who enjoys a successful career in the media. With no partner and no children she offers the reader a refreshing glimpse of a woman living a life of her choosing, whose only real tie is her much loved dog. This is not a book that relies on gender stereotypes or cliché. Its characters are varied and rounded, as in life.

When the story opens, Anna is on the verge of breaking up with her boyfriend of three years. James is handsome, loving and successful but Anna has had enough. His previously endearing habits now irritate. When she meets with her best friend, Bell, to drink and discuss what she has done, Bell advises her to stay single for a time, not to rebound into the arms of the first available replacement as she has been wont to do in the past.

Anna unwinds by running, usually on Hampstead Heath which is close to her home. When she observes two men enjoying an assignation in the bushes she starts to fantasise about such an encounter.

She follows an habitual route on her runs and starts to notice a handsome stranger running the same paths. She shocks herself by playing out her fantasy. When the local news outlets report details of rapes on the heath she worries that she has somehow triggered these awful events. Her rational side recognises how unlikely this would be but nagging doubts remain.

Anna has good friends in whom she confides. She also starts to meet neighbours when one returns her dog, found wandering in the road despite being left secured in her garden. There are other unexplained occurrences: her car is vandalised; roses are left outside her front door. With the added pressures of overseeing major restructuring at work she has little time to consider her continuing interest in the handsome stranger.

Anna is required to travel to Paris on business. While she is away tragedy strikes and she returns home to find herself implicated in a murder investigation. Her personal space has been invaded; nowhere feels safe.

The darkness of the woods, emptiness of the heath, and the pounding of Anna’s feet as she runs, provide a dark and tense backdrop to this fast paced tale. As the reader tries to guess which of the characters may be capable of the heinous crimes being committed, a brooding fear seeps in.

The denouement does not disappoint. The darkness is exposed with minimal contrivance.

A deftly put together thriller that benefits from the inclusion of Anna. It is rare to be offered a fictional woman who makes her own choices – professional, sexual and personal – without regrets. Woven around Anna is a compelling plot that avoids condemning her chosen lifestyle. She is allowed to be female and independent whilst enjoying liaisons and relationships on her own terms.

This was a highly enjoyable read; a fine thriller, well written, that I devoured in a sitting. Recommended.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Macmillan. 

 

 

Book Review: You Are Here

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You Are Here, by Chris Hadfield, is a collection of 192 photographs taken from the International Space Station. The photographs are divided by continent and represent one idealised orbit of the earth. Each is accompanied by a comment from the author where he shares his observations on topography, geology and how man has shaped the land over time.

From space there is ample evidence of man, although nature paints a more varied and visually stunning landscape. The author points out where the shape of a promontory or other feature is reminiscent of an animal, an eye or the human brain. He brings humour to the pictures as well as insight.

Perspective of man’s occupation of this small planet is gained from the vastness of the areas in which there are no visible signs of his presence. The biggest cities are tiny whereas the deserts and plains stretch out to the horizon. The distance and scale of the shots are most obvious where the curvature of the earth can be seen in the distance.

Where signs of man’s activity exist they also provide sadness, such as where the gush of orange in the seas around Madagascar show the rivers carrying away topsoil due to deforestation, silting up the inlets. The night shots show lights that are brightest where man’s ambition hopes to be rewarded at whatever cost to the planet that sustains him.

I was struck by how futile are our efforts to control the whims of nature. From space the shaping of our world is shown to have been affected by meteors, volcanoes, earthquakes and the constantly changing climate over millennia. Any order which man has imposed can so easily be wiped out by any one of these events.

Naturally I was intrigued by the photographs that featured places I know personally. I was struck by the author’s comment that the only indication of real time human activity below is where there is enough plane traffic to create significant numbers of cross hatched contrails. These gave him comfort, that life as he knew it continued. Space must be a lonely place.

The book itself is of high quality, ideal for flicking through and admiring the awe inspiring prints. Read from cover to cover it provides an insight into both the vastness of the land and the arbitrary nature of the borders over which we as a species expend so much concern.

For those interested in our planet and in the view of it from afar this book is fascinating. A beautiful collection of photographs taken from a place that most of us can never hope to go.