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The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes: a Review

sgZAA killer who shouldn’t exist.
A girl who shouldn’t have lived.
A thriller which breaks all the boundaries.
CHICAGO, 1931. Harper is a man out of time – yet with all the time on the world to stalk and kill his ‘shining girls’. The objects he lays by their violated bodies are more than just clues: they are the glittering threads of his obsession, a web of sick satisfaction glowing through the years.
But these things have to be right. And if a girl lived to tell the tale, well, that would have to be fixed.
CHICAGO, 1992. Kirby knows there’s something strange about the man who nearly killed her – aside from being a violent psychopath. Rejected by those who should help her, she searches for others, the girls who didn’t make it.
What Kirby finds is … impossible. Murders scattered across the decades, accompanied by totally contradictory evidence. But for a girl who should be dead, impossible doesn’t mean it didn’t happen …

This is going to be a difficult review to write, not because I hated The Shining Girls but because I loved it and trying to articulate how and why I loved it is going to be difficult!
The opening chapter – Kirby and Harper’s first meeting is one of the creepiest things I have read in a long time, and sets the tone of the novel perfectly!
sgUKThe main characters Harper and Kirby are phenomenal contrasts. Harper a monster from the 1930’s, his life shaped by lifelong sociopathy, poverty, war and violence ranged against Kirby a free-spirited, independent woman of the ‘90’s. Two implacable characters hunting each other through Chicago and time, hurtling towards a confrontation that only one will survive.
Time travel, due to its often non-linear nature can make a story difficult to follow but Lauren handles the time stream like a pro. The story bounces from the 1930’s to the 1990’s and snakes through the intervening decades as Harper hunts his prey we learn more about him and the lives of the women he has targeted.
Even knowing in advance what happened to Kirby when Harper tracked her down does not make it easier to read when their trails intersect, it reads as a macabre meeting of lovers with brutality and profanity replacing tenderness and sweet nothings
At its heart, The Shining Girls is not about a serial killer although he is a large part of the story; it is a novel about women, more specifically it is about violence and discrimination, and, in jumps between the decades of the 20th century it is about how the roles of women in society change and evolve.
sgUSThe Shining Girls has a breathless, multi-layered narrative that kept me guessing, and even towards the end when I thought I had sussed it out I turned out to be completely wrong. It is the type of book that grips you, demanding your attention and then rewards you with a thrilling story and ideas that stay with you long after you have closed the covers.
If I had to describe The Shining Girls in one sentence it would be:
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo meets Doctor Who (if the Doctor were a time-travelling psychopath killing his companions rather than travelling with them!)
In closing please let me say AUGH! This book is amazing! You have to buy it, read it then tell your friends to do the same! You will not regret it!

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes : Trailer

Received in the Post: The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

I am a bit of a fan of Lauren Beukes writing (ok I am a lot of a fan). I read and enjoyed Moxyland when it came out but she really captured my attention with the Arthur C. Clarke award-winning Zoo City, it also won the Kitchies Red Tentacle Award and the 2010 BSFA Award for best artwork.

twitchat2012So in December last year when I was on Twitter (as I so often am) I saw on the Harper Collins fiction publicity team twitter feed that Lauren would be touring the UK in April/May I cheekily asked if she would be available for school visits. Now instead of saying go away you ‘orrible oik! as you would imagine someone would say when asked such an impertinent question they were very nice about it and pointed out that Lauren would only be in the UK for a short time and already had an extremely full touring schedule.
Anyway flash forward to a month ago when this arrived in my letter box:
shininggirls cover

Cue all sorts of hyperventilating and excited running around. Then I was hit with a conundrum, I had an advance reader copy of a book I had been anticipating since December did I dare read it and when the finished copy was released act like a hipster “oh I read that before it was released!”. It occurred to me that I was one: being stupid, and two: I do not even remotely resemble a hipster and three: it is a book, I am a reader and really, really wanted to read it.
As I started reading The Shining Girls I received another interesting artefact in the post:

It was a view-master, I had one when I was a child, I think my parents still have it in the family toy box but I will have to check when next I am back in Cape Town.

It had a stereoscopic reel inserted so I held it up to to the light and had a look.

white barrier

The Shining Girls is being launched today in South Africa and in the UK on the 25th April. I will post my review on The Shining Girls this afternoon.

Emilie & the Hollow World by Martha Wells

Emilie-and-the-Hollow-WorldWhile running away from home for reasons that are eminently defensible, Emilie’s plans to stow away on the steamship Merry Bell and reach her cousin in the big city go awry. Instead she lands up on the wrong ship… and at the beginning on a fantastic adventure.

Taken under the protection of Lady Marlende, Emilie learns that teh crew hopes to use the aether currents and an experimental engine, and with the assistance of the enigmatic Lord Engel, journey to the interior of the planet in search of Marlende’s missing father.

Emilie & the Hollow World is fantastic it reminds me a bit of James Blaylock’s Balumnia trilogy that i read in my early teens but it is completely kick arse in it’s own way.

A runaway girl trying to escape the shadow of her mother’s reputation and the disapproval of her relatives, aetheric sciences and magic plus a voyage into the hollow world with warring non-human people and a cut throat race between philosopher-mages to be the first to return to the surface with samples of life on the inside of the world.

There is a very neat disconenct between the surface (human) world and the world within hte hollow earth, matriarchal societies ruled by queens and traditionally male roles being taken on by female characters as opposed to the explorers where Lady Marlende appears to be the exception and as the story develops Emilie finds herself becoming more than she hoped to be as an adventuress.

One of my favourite parts of the book included this excellent conversation:
“And I wish to retrieve Kenar as soon as possible.” She paused on the landing to confide to Emilie, “Men are no good left on their own, you know. They pine.”
Emilie had never heard that before and the thought kept her occupied all the way down the stairs.

Seriously what is there not to like? I recommend it most highly!

Emilie & the Hollow World was published on the 4th April by Strange Chemistry.

Crossing Genres by Laura Jarratt – By Any Other Name Blog Tour

In some way, genres are a bugbear for writers. They’re a straitjacket. For booksellers, they make perfect sense – which shelf does this book go on, ah that one because it’s crime fiction. But it makes a writer’s life harder to have to be compartmentalised in that way and a lot more boring. Ask Jodi Picoult what genre her books fall into and she gives this response:

“Hang on while I get on my soapbox. I hate being pigeonholed. I have always been called a women’s author, but 49% of my fan mail comes from male fans, and I think you can legitimately label my novels as legal thrillers, mysteries, romances, or plain old fiction. I think you can consider my books literary, because they make you think, or commercial, because they are a compelling read. Marketing departments like to label authors with just one tag, so that they know how to promote a book, but I think the best books straddle genres and attract a variety of readers. I’d like to think this is one reason my books appeal to people – because I give them something different every time.”

I can totally understand where she’s coming from with that answer. Fortunately in YA – as long as you fit into the YA genre and that’s a whole other argument – then you don’t generally get divided up into sub-genres beyond that, which does give you more freedom. However I still get asked what Skin Deep and By Any Other Name are – romance, mystery, thriller, ‘issues’ books. The temptation to reply ‘Books,’ is always there. Actually I write urban fantasy too– as opposed to paranormal romance…see what I mean here about how silly labels can get – but the YA market is so flooded with vampires that I keep that just for fun because I like my characters. But it illustrates a point that we can be labelled within genres too and that does restrict what you want to write somewhat. We’re much luckier with YA than in the adult market but are these distinctions always helpful? Some writers – usually well-established successes – get away with cross-genre or swapping between different genres but I suspect more writers would be doing it if they could. Swapping genres does potentially confuse your fan base and so some people will use different pen names if they’re going to do that.

Ultimately I want to write books about people and have some stuff happen to them. If that means a few sub-genres get mixed, so be it. As long as it’s interesting for the reader, that’s all I care about. So really when I’m not being facetious when you ask me the question about what I write, I’d say ‘character-driven YA.’ Though I don’t mind the broad brush of ‘contemporary YA’ either. I like books that have a have a tangle of themes in them, because life’s like that. Life isn’t a single issue deal and I like my fiction to reflect that complexity. Which is why a bit of genre-mixing is sometimes essential.

IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS TRIVIA Ten fun facts about the novel and its setting

131129151. One of the earliest inspirations for this book was a television show about the Cottingley Fairies, a real-life story about two girls in WWI-era England who fooled people into believing they had photographed fairies in their backyard.

2. Most modern people think of the 1918 Spanish influenza as “the flu that was killing Edward Cullen in TWILIGHT” or “the flu that killed that poor blonde girl from DOWNTON ABBEY.” I first learned about the deadly illness in the 1990s when I read the book STRANGER THAN FICTION: VIGNETTES OF SAN DIEGO HISTORY by Richard W. Crawford. The flu plays a major role in IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS.

3. Ghostly experiences in the novel tend to occur at 3:00 am, known in legends as “the witching hour” because of an increase in paranormal activity during that time. Near-death-experience survivors (like Mary Shelley Black, the book’s protagonist) often wake up at 3:00 am.

4. I formerly lived in San Diego, California, and some of my favorite hangouts—Balboa Park; downtown; the beach along Ocean Avenue in Coronado—became the settings of key scenes in the novel.
5. In Chapter 13, there’s a reference to 1918 Americans calling hamburgers “Liberty steaks” to avoid sounding pro-German during WWI. They also called sauerkraut “Liberty cabbage,” Dachshunds “Liberty dogs,” and German measles “Liberty measles,” even though there’s nothing liberating about having measles.

6. The book’s spirit photographer character, Julius, was originally named Michael. I gave him a more distinctive name after early readers kept getting him and his brother, Stephen, confused. They felt both names were too normal.

7. My hazel-eyed teenage daughter’s favorite character is Aunt Eva, which is why I made Aunt Eva’s eyes hazel.

8. Two young war veteran characters, Jones and Carlos, didn’t show up until I was working on one of the last drafts of the book with my editor, Maggie Lehrman. Their scenes became some of my favorite parts of the novel.

9. I originally called the novel simply BLACKBIRDS. My agent, Barbara Poelle, came up with IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS, and I’m thankful she did so.

10. Two minor characters mentioned in the novel, Mrs. Martin and Miss Deily, were named after the elementary school teachers who encouraged me to be a writer when I was a child. Those teachers are still alive and well, and they know about this book. Thanks to all teachers who encourage creative writing!

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