“Out of Love” by Hazel Hayes

I am a sucker for stories told out of chronological order, so Out of Love caught my eye a while ago.

I don’t know why the concept appeals to me so much. I think it’s something about examining cause and affect, playing around with what the reader knows and when, that somehow suits my sensibilities.

A hardback copy of “Out of Love” by Hazel Hayes sits on a table. There is a mug of hot coffee to one side. On the other, in a small decorative bowl rest two wedding rings.

Out of Love is a great example of this. The story itself is about a breakup, and on its own it would be just another doomed love story. But by playing it backwards Hayes manages to show a side of this tale we might not have seen otherwise.

Instead of a doomed romance, instead we see each part of the relationship in context to what would come next. We see the fallout from the breakup, then the breakup, then the signs of the breakup, back and back until we get to two people meeting for the first time.

Yes, this story probably resonated with me as I’ve recently gone through a big breakup myself. What this story was about, essentially, is how complicated relationships are, and how even the ones that end bring so much to us. We start at the end, seeing how broken and miserable Hayes’ protagonist is. But as we go back we slowly see how much good the relationship did her. How no matter how bad things seem at that point, the growth and the support she gained have left her in a much better place than when it began.

Essentially, it’s a story about how a relationship ending doesn’t mean you’re not better off for having been through it. Growing as a person isn’t necessarily easy or fun.

But this still had the potential to have been a rather dull book. A failed love story isn’t the most original tale, despite the reversed order. What made it grab me was Haye’s writing. There’s a sweep of Irish poetry in her style, lyrical and philosophical. While the story may be universal and well told, the way she tells it touched something deeper.

What made me love this book was that it helped me break through my own issues. I’ve found it so hard to read and write recently, but having made my way through Out of Love suddenly I found myself wanting to throw myself back into those pleasures. Somehow, her character being someone who wrote inspired me to pick up a pen and start working again. Once I finished this book I was able to pick up another without a struggle to make myself do it.

Reading Out of Love was a catharsis for me. Maybe it wouldn’t have affected me as much if I hadn’t been in this particular point in my life. But then maybe it would have.

Recommendation: “Learning from the Germans” by Susan Neiman

Every country has racism. But is that something we need to face, hold up, and forever atone for? Or something to move past and forget? (Spoiler, it’s the first one).

Neiman, as a Jewish woman who grew up in the American South in the ‘60s, and has since lived in Berlin in the ‘80s, as well as Israel along the way, has a rather unique perspective of how different cultures dealt with their legacies. 

I read about this book and the premise immediately put it on my reading list. There are a lot of books about racism out there, from a lot of point of views. In Learning from the Germans, Neiman presents an analysis of how racism embeds in a culture by using comparison between how America has refused to deal with the legacy of slavery and how Germany has turned to face the legacy of the holocaust. 

I’d go into it in more detail here but I’ll end up writing far more than can fit in one blog post, and far worse that Neiman puts it herself. Simply put, it’s a fascinating philosophical discussion on how the human mind doesn’t like to face and accept its own hand in past evils, and without being forced to face the truth will embed itself into a culture of self denial where it can never learn. 

What I loved about this book is how well Neiman writes. I’ve read books like this before where the only way to describe them is a “slog”. Yet Neiman’s writing is so easy to read that it’s never a chore. That’s not to say I didn’t need a break every so often to take it all in, but that was the about of information to take in.

I really recommend picking this up. While it discusses American Slavery and the Nazi Holocaust in detail, the conclusions are universal. The English are no strangers to evil history, and when the fact that our past “glories” came balanced on the backs of the oppression of other cultures is ignored… well let’s have a look at our current political leaders, shall we? 

We all need to face our past. We may not be personally responsible for our ancestors actions, but we have grown up on the foundations those decision set out, and when you take an honest look at them its horrifying how many of the same values and cultural blindness have played a hand in who we are. 

Review: “Opening Up” by Tristan Taormino

Finding books about non-monogamy is tricky. When you’re polyamorous, one of the things you notices about popular culture is how must it simply doesn’t get what polyamory is. A lot of resources out there are trashy, focusing on nothing but the sexual aspect. Others seem to have decided that they have worked out exactly what polyamory is, and make you feel that if you don’t want exactly what they say you want then you’re doing it wrong.

This is why meeting people in the scene is so important, as it means to get recommendations. (It’s all about the networking, people!)

(I was recommended Opening Up by my girlfriend. For the record, she is amazing a finding useful resources on numerous subjects. She’s smart like that. You should also read her blog. It’s really good.)

What Taormino does with Opening Up is present their work as an introduction for those with little or now knowledge of the lifestyle. It doesn’t seek to tell you the answers, but present you with information and case studies which allow you to take in information and make your own decisions. It leads you along a path and encourages you to determine what you want, rather than telling you what you should want.

For me, this is the main appeal of this book. At no point does Taormino claim they have all the answers. Or even that there is a “right” or “wrong” way to life a non-monogamy life (like some resources I’ve encountered). Opening Up recognises that not everything is for everyone, and that the first step into the world is to determine what you want out of it and build on that.

So if you’re exploring non-monogamy is any way, or know someone who is and want to learn more about it, then this is a definite go-to read.

Review: Sticks and Stones by Jo Jakeman

After spending two years in jail for giving a false alibi to her abusive boyfriend, Charlie has fled to Cornwall to make a new life. Unsure if she even deserves it, is it possible for her to make a new life for herself? Especially when she doesn’t know how or when her past will catch up with her, only that it can only be a matter of time.

Jo Jakeman’s debut, Sticks and Stones, was about facing the truth about your life and how you free yourself from the shackles that hold you down. Now her second book is about the next steps: trying to create something new in the shadow of your past.

Safe House is a story about trying to take control. Our protagonist Steffi/Charlie is someone who has never had control of her own life. After a life of emotional manipulation by her parents and boyfriend, followed by two years in prison, she’s finally ready to take control of her life.

But how do you do that when you’re not sure if you deserve it? Or when you know it’s only a matter of time before your past catches up with you?

This isn’t as much of a thriller as Sticks and Stones was. There’s less action, mainly being focused on Charlie’s internal world. And we’re missing any real wild emotional ups and downs. Until the end there’s no real antagonist other than her own paranoia.

I will say I think the ending is a little too neat. I like a story to have a few untied threads, giving me a feel that the world will carry on once the plot finishes. Without wanting to give too much away, I felt things were all wrapped up a little too well.

But other than that I can’t really fault it. Definitely worth a read.

Review: “The Disciple” by Stephen Lloyd Jones

I enjoyed this book, but felt it only really got going in the second half.

There is a really good story here, with a core concept that’s incredibly interesting once you reach it. However, I don’t feel that the set up and initial feel of the book gels that well with the second, much better, half.

I feel the first half of the book could have been half as long and a lot more focused. I love Jones’ style, but it took me ages to get into the story to a point where I wanted to carry on.

But once you get through that, the second half is really worth working through for. The concept for the climax is really interesting. I would have loved to have the opening more focused around this rather than taking so long with character development that could have done with a lit of streamlining.

One thing I want to say is there is a massive improvement to the other of Jones’ books I’ve read. When I read his first novel, The String Diaries, I was disappointed by the tacked on happy ending. Sometimes a dark story needs to be brave enough to have a dark ending. And, without wanting to give too much away, The Disciple has an ending that perfectly matches the tone.

So not a great opening, but definitely worth pushing through until it focuses and pulls you in.

The Wheel of Time Reread: The Fires of Heaven

*SPOILERS AHEAD FOR THIS AND OTHER BOOKS IN THE SERIES*

Prelude: New Spring
Book 1: The Eye of the World
Book 2: The Great Hunt
Book 3: The Dragon Reborn
Book 4: The Shadow Rising

8FE6F6EF-3131-48B9-BE7E-A430560EA462

We’re done with book five, and we’re really getting into the initial upward curve of the series. However, while The Fires of Heaven keeps up the pace and doesn’t have any significant issues, unlike The Shadow Rising I don’t think there are any significant stand out series highlight moments here. Until the end, that is.

 

We’re really starting to see how Jordan world-builds here. We have our first instance of his opening the book with scenes dotted around the world. I love this technique, and how it sets the scenes beyond the immediate world of the protagonists. How have past event impacted the rest of the world, and what is happening that will affect us in later books? 

This is carried this on with the scenes in Tel’aran’rhiod, where Nynaeve and Elayne are able to find glimpses of information in the dream world. These often mean nothing to the characters, but the reader has knowledge that us to fill in the gaps. We’re given enough to build on without it being forced on us. I’ve always thought this was really well done. 

 

Another good thing is we start to see some of the characters grow past their initial, more annoying stages. In earlier posts for this re-read I wrote about Nynaeve and how the fact that she starts off so irritating is mitigated by the fact I knew the growth coming in her character arc. Here is where that begins to show. Through pride she makes a huge mistake, and that kicks off her path of development into a more rounded character. And the fact this isn’t instant, but builds until later books, makes it even better. 

Matt also starts to get better in The Fires Of Heaven. Although it’s not so satisfying than Nynaeve. Rather than a significant lesson or moment of realisation, he simply stops sulking about everything and just gets on with things.

Unfortunately, there will be no growth for Elayne. She is simply an irritating character. Spoilt, whiney, entitled. It was bearable in previous read-throughs, but knowing she has no growth and will be this annoying for the remainder of the series just makes her grate all the more. I think this was on purpose on Jordan’s part, but I don’t think it works. 

 

Rand also gets another level of growth; the introduction of Lews Therin. This is interesting, as we are at a point where he could have become dull. Having completed his initial character arc, he has accepted his fate and gone on the offensive. He could slipped into the trope of “trouble hero”, but the intrusions of Lews Therin give us a new element to explore. Is this a past life coming through, or just an element of Rand’s own madness? 

This raises interesting questions about one of the series’ concepts. Reincarnation is established as a real thing in this world. That souls are born and reborn is a key plot device. But where we’ve seen it before with Matt it’s been simple, each soul is reborn. But where Matt gains memories from his past lives, here we have two distinct and separate personalities. It can be put down to the fact Rand is the Dragon Reborn, not just any reincarnated soul, but I’ll be paying more attention to this aspect going forward with this re-read.

 

And so we come to the one real significant event in this entry; Moiraine dies. And, for a significant remainder of the series, the first time reader will believe this is permanent. At least I did. I’ll be interested in seeing if I spot any hints to the contrary on this read through.

This is a signification point, as she is the first main character to die. And while it’s a big climactic  set piece rather than an indication that anyone can die at any time, it’s still a big moment. Especially after a couple more books when you can assume she isn’t coming back in some form. She’s gone. 

But the other reason I like this is how its highlighting something in both Rand, and fantasy tropes. Rand, like a lot of “early” fantasy, has a problem with women. He refuses to see that as equal, but in a way he believes in honourable. Even surrounded as he is at this point by a literal all-female warrior society, he cannot bring himself to think of woman in the same way as men. He would argue the point, but essentially he believe’s women are weaker than men and must be protected, to the point he won’t harm someone as undeniably evil as Lanfear. He’s had at this point multiple experiences where if he’d been prepared to kill a woman he could have have a huge advantage but couldn’t take it.

And now, that’s lead to one of his main supporters dying. In a way he doesn’t learn from. This is an important point, and part of Rand’s learning the difference between “Hard” and “Strong”. Rather than him realising if he’d let go this cultural construct in his head he could have saved her, he instead starts to obsess on all the women he failed to saved. In continuing to think of woman as inferior to men in this way, as much as he doesn’t see it that way, all he does is weaken himself.

 

I’ll having a little break before beginning Lord of Chaos. Just to let myself get through a couple of the other books on my reading list. But I’ll be back on the re-read soon.

Review: Great Maps: The World’s Masterpieces Explored and Explained

I couldn’t tell you why, but I love old maps. I think it has to be something about the art of them, and how something with such political meaning and intention at the time they were created has bow become artistic and historical curiosity.

Screenshot 2020-04-30 at 14.39.18

I’ll always be drawn to collections like this. Seeing the ways cartographers tried to shape the world around them, whether it was claiming what they already knew or that which was being discovered and defined.

This is a pretty good collection, as they go. Most of the maps included reflect some aspect of cartography through the centuries, and the author makes sure to use examples outside of the western traditions, showing maps from other cultures and styles, some of which most people in western culture wouldn’t recognise as a map at all.

Review: Little White Lies by Philippa East

I finding myself enjoying stories like this one; smaller focused family stories, where people are forced to face the cracks caused by the tiny things done in their past.

A5D70964-D5B1-4301-81B0-6727CCE2C030_1_105_cIt’s similar to Emma Donoghue’s Room, in that it’s about a young girl who’s spent 7 years abducted and locked in an attic. Except here the story start with her being rescued, and told through the eyes of her mother and cousin.

The plot isn’t a rollercoaster. There are no real emotional peaks and valleys. The story is quite a low key presence. Rather than the events, “Little White Lies” focuses in the emotions of these characters as they try to process their own feelings and issues.

But there was something that stopped me getting completely lost in the book. I felt I needed more of Abigail. She’s been kidnapped and held away from her family for seven years, but until the climax didn’t seem that affected by it. She fit into her old life too smoothly. I think this was a conscious intent, as we are seeing her through the eyes of people desperate for her to slip back into her old life, but I felt it lacked a certain punch.

I think this is the book’s only issue. There’s fear, secrets, tension, but lacks any real conflict. I wanted Abigail’s return to upturn things. To disrupt her family’s lives more.

I think the author’s background in psychology is reflected here. I found the characters completely believable, but just a little detached.

I sped through this book. One of those stories that grabs you and keeps you reading. I can’t wait to see what East brings us next.

Recommendation: “Lexicon” by Max Barry

Emily, a talented street grifter, is pulled off the street and placed in a school that teaches its students the true power of human language. Struggling against the strict discipline of this new life, she discovers her talents for persuasion are more powerful than she ever realised.

Will has no memory of the things the men who abducted him insist he was part of. The only survivor of an impossible to survive event, he finds himself on the run from an organisation that wants to pull a word out of his head anyway it can.

I got this book as my Secret Santa gift at work last year. It was a successful purchase.

I got pulled into the story straight away, with both Will and Emily’s stories are equally engaging. At no point was I annoyed when it swapped between one and the other, which can happen when there are two viewpoints at once.

It’s hard to go into some of the details without spoilers, but I’ll just say I loved how the two POVs came to interact. There were surprises, and while I managed to work some out in advance these were enough to make me fee smart rather than making the story feel predictable.

This book was fascinating. As I got into it I actually started to worry, as the concept got very close to one of my WIPs. Luckily Barry took it in the other direction to where I’m looking to go. I might still take some inspiration from here though.

I’m definitely putting Max Barry on my watch list. It looks like he’s got a few books out, so those are on my To-Read list once I get my current reading pile down a bit.