Tom's Midnight Garden

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In the vast multitude of fiction books, some are specifically recognised as children’s books. I guess children’s books are recognised as such because they tend to be more predictable and structurally as well as thematically simpler than books for adults. Some people take great pride in not reading children’s books once they become adults. I’m not one of those and like to read well written children’s books from time to time.

“Tom’s Midnight Garden” by Philippa Pearce is one such book. Tom, the protagonist of this book, needs to spend some days with his aunt and uncle while his brother gets rid of the measles. His uncle and aunt are a childless couple who are happy to have a child at their place for some time, but who also don’t know a thing about children. So Tom gets bored and as he wanders around the house, in which his aunt and uncle occupy one apartment, he discovers a garden that seems to only exist during the night.

So now Tom visits the garden every night where he meets a girl named Hatty. They become friends and have some adventures while playing in the garden.

At first it seems that Tom visits are linear in time but then it’s suddenly winter in the garden while it was summer the night before. He also seems to jump forward and backward in time with his visits. And Tom also has some special capabilities while in the garden.

I wouldn’t call this a fantasy book. There are no knights or kings and wizards are also not to be found here. It’s a tale for children about friendship and loss in which the world has some fantastical properties that the rational mind dismisses as highly improbable.

But if you read it as a child and just take the world like it is described without questioning it, it is a wonderfully written story.

Only the end felt somewhat disappointing to me. It felt like a rather fast and abrupt wrap up after a nice tale. Somewhat like “Well, I told you the story. That’s it and here’s the explanation of the loose ends. Get lost.” But as an adult reader you will have an inkling of what’s going to happen some time before it ends and maybe it’s the disappointment to not have been proven wrong that gives the ending a bad taste.

But even with that little stain, I recommend this book to anyone who likes to become a child from time to time and read a really nice children’s book or to anyone who’s on the search for a book for their children.

Chronicle of the Fallers

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I’m a fan of Peter F. Hamilton. I just like his kind of writing. Each author has his or her own style of writing that shows in every book even if the author succeeds not to write the same story over and over again. Hamilton’s book are really grand space operas with boastful protagonists almost always showing some kind of cheeky attitude to the world around them.

I really liked The Night’s Dawn. I mean, how can you not like this insane tale were the dead force their way back into the world of the living and one of them is Al Capone.

The “Commonwealth Saga” which was expanded in the Void Trilogy didn’t disappoint either although the Void Trilogy didn’t reach the scale of inventiveness seen in the Night’t Dawn or the first two books of the Commonwealth Saga.

Now Hamilton has expanded the Commonwealth Saga once more with the “Chronicle of the Fallers”. This is a story that runs parallel to the one told in the Void Trilogy and reuses some of the mechanics introduced there. Hamilton originally planned to make it a trilogy but it ended up being a duology consisting of the books “The Abyss Beyond Dreams” and “Night Without Stars”. To show my feelings about those two books, I could say that Hamilton ran out of ideas and that’s why it’s only a duology, but as any other Hamilton book those two books are so long other authors would have made a tetralogy out of them. So that’s not really a valid proposition.

After reading the first of the two books some two years ago, I decided to not read the follow ups, but when the second was released, I somehow couldn’t resist.

So I’m not really excited about the chronicles. They are far from the best there is to have from Hamilton. I don’t recommend them. If you are new to Hamilton, don’t start with those. Take any of the other books. But if you are a seasoned Hamilton fan having read all or most of his other books, you will probably want to read this sometime. It’s a solid story, nothing revolutionary and sometimes even boring, but in the end it’s OK and even fun when Commonwealth trademark characters like Paula Myo enter the scene.

To Kill a Mockingbird

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When I finished reading “To Kill a Mockingbird”, a book by Harper Lee, Amazon proposed to me other books from the category “heartwarming stories”. At first I was a bit perplexed, because being a heartwarming story is not what gained it the Pulitzer price.

The story of the book evolves around the lives of two children growing up in a rural town in southern USA. This main story arc is very well a heart warming story. A different aspect makes it interesting, though.

The father of the children is a lawyer who was given the task of defending a black man accused of raping a white woman. This adds another dimension in which the author explores the relationship between white and black people in the southern US of the 1930ies.

Today, more than 70 years later, that relationship is still a difficult one. In Europe currently a similar situation is developing with the refugees. In both cases it’s distrust, suspicion and other negative feelings towards the “others”.

The book reminds us that in the end it’s always also a “we”. That both groups are made up of human beings having the same rights – even if the way of living and being of one group feels strange or unnatural to the other.

Besides having a deeper meaning, the book is very well written and provides an engaging story. So even just as a “heartwarming story” I recommend reading it.

The Last Unicorn

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“The Last Unicorn” by Peter S. Beagle is on Amazon’s 100 Science Fiction & Fantasy Books to Read in a Lifetime and appears on other lists collecting great books. People confess having cried while reading it. Long story short. I was intrigued by this phenomenon.

I can assure you that crying is not the only possible reaction to this book. Simply being content at having read a beautiful book is another one.

The book is written in the style of a fairy tale. There is just one quest and several characters appear on the road to its culmination. Some stay and some leave again. There are no flashbacks, no side tracks. It’s fairly simple.

It begins with a unicorn. After hearing two people talk about there being no more unicorns, it becomes restless and sets out to find out whether it really is the last one and what happened to the other ones. Unicorns only die when they are killed. So the disappearance of all but one unicorn is a mystery.

On its quest for knowledge it meets Schmendrick, a magician who is most of the times unable to do any magic. Schmendrick is a very likable character. It’s quite enjoyable to follow his endeavors at doing magic. And Schmendrick stays till the end of the book.

I liked the tone of the book and the short stories it tells on its way to the uncovering of the great mystery. The characters are well crafted. The unicorn especially feels somewhat alighted or nearly arrogant. You would probably expect it from an immortal being and the unicorn actually says at one point:

You are a man, and men can do nothing that makes any difference.

So while it’s not a book that is guaranteed to make you cry, it’s beautiful in its way and an enjoyable read.

Bone Clocks

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“Cloud Atlas” was a collection of stories ranging over a long period of time that starts somewhen during the colonization time and ends in the future. And all the stories were somehow mysteriously connected.

“Bone Clocks”, the second book by David Mitchell that I finished reading some days ago, has some similarities to “Cloud Atlas”. This time there are six stories and they again start in the past and end in the future. But the past and future aren’t as distant as in “Cloud Atlas” and the connections are more obvious.

There is a woman — Holly Sykes — who appears in all stories and even tells the first and the last one. It all starts while Holly is a teenager and ends with her being a grandmother.

I liked the first story. There are some really funny tidbits like this one:

Over her head is a faded poster of a brown goldfish bowl with two eyes peering out and a caption saying: “JEFF’S GOLDFISH HAD DIARRHOEA AGAIN”.

I still start smiling when I think about that one.

The second story is the greatest of all of them. I’m not quite sure whether I would recommend reading the book just for this one story, but it is really great. It’s reminiscent of the Bret Easton Ellis’ books. There’s no way to remember all the details, because there are too many, and there’s actually no point in trying. It’s fun while it lasts but nothing you’ll keep thinking about during the days and nights that follow.

By now you’ll have an inkling of something strange going on. And that will get more obvious during the next two stories, but an unveiling will not happen before the fifth one.

I’m not into wartime hero stories. So the next story dragged along quite a bit. The fourth one was more interesting, although I sometimes thought that Mitchell created a self-fulfilling prophecy by stating early on in this one:

… what surer sign is there that the creative aquifers are dry than a writer creating a writer-character?

Each story is told by a different narrator and story four is told by a writer. But in the end it’s OK and quite fun on some occasions.

Story number five brings answers to the “What the …” questions that started piling up by now. There are some nice ideas presenting two groups using two different means to live forever. Those two groups fight each other and this story also shows a somewhat ridiculous fight involving force fields, lightning and so on.

The last story wraps up the whole thing nicely and Mitchell cannot let the occasion pass to tell a story about a gloomy future. While reading it I thought “Damn, we don’t make it to the part with flying cars in this one.” As fitting the current time, this dystopia is caused by climate change and careless usage of earth’s resources.

I liked how the perspective changes from one story to the next as the narrator changes. Most people reappear in the next stories, but you get a different look at them as the next narrator has their own views and ways to describe people.

Although it’s really slow and dragging on some places, the good parts make up for that. So, yes, “Bone Clocks” is a recommended reading — not as much as “Cloud Atlas”, but still recommended.