The Amethyst Song – Episode Ten

The ride into Belbarbiton had been silent. When Beatrice had found Mae, in a long abandoned, blocked off portion of the old factory, she had tried to get her adoptive daughter to talk to her. She had even tried to provoke a fight to get the girl to yell at her. Anything. But the girl made it clear that she wasn’t interested in talking, and so it was in silence that they had made their preparations to leave.

Hector had let them use his battered old M.U.L.E. It was an early model and had seen better days. But, he assured them that he had maintained it himself and would get them to their destination in one piece. Also, as an all terrain vehicle, it would be able to take them off the main highway, through the back roads, and dirt tracks, just in case road patrols had been set up.

The trip took three days. If they had used the more direct highways, they would have been there in a matter of hours. But Beatrice, cautious as always, was keen to avoid detection. She had even doubled back a couple of times. Finally though, they approached the city.

Belbarbiton was huge. It was the largest city in all of Gildamoor, although not the capital. As they crossed the city limits, and entered the outlying suburbs, Mae broke her sullen silence to gasp in awe, as she saw the towering skyscrapers up ahead. It was late afternoon when they hit the city proper, and the afternoon sunlight reflected off the multitude of glass and steel that made up that city. The towers were built in a variety of colours and hues, with pinks, greens and violets being the most popular. To Mae, the girl whose only memories were of a small fishing village, the view was as spectacular as it was overwhelming. Beatrice couldn’t help but smile to see her daughter’s reaction.

As they passed through the streets of the bustling city, Mae was fascinated by all the different vehicles everywhere. Barely a week ago she saw her first H.O.R.S.E. yet now it seemed that the whole world was moving about in some kind of metallic, motorised contraption. She wondered why Murpodompous had escaped the influence of these fantastical, man-made beasts. She was about to ask, when she saw possibly the most stunning building in the world. It was massive. So tall that when she looked up, the top was obscured by the clouds overhead.  It was wide too, taking up three city blocks, with just a few narrow tunnels cutting through to allow traffic to move through. Above the cars, pedestrian walkways connected the towering monoliths.

The glass edifice was coloured a deep, dark purple. At regular intervals, wide glass doors allowed entry into the giant structure. An emblem displaying the initials HLC was tastefully hung above each door. The enormous picture windows had such wonderful displays, some with mannequins dressed up in the most stunningly modern creations for men, women and those who weren’t so fussy. The array of colours and fabrics had Mae staring in astonishment. Nothing like these had ever been brought into their shop for mending. Then there were other windows with all kinds of bizarre electronic gadgets and gizmos. She could hardly imagine what any of them were for. But the window that caught her attention, and kept it, was a display of various musical instruments. They were all so bright, and shiny she wanted nothing more than to tell her mother to stop the car so she could have a closer look.

Beatrice noticed where Mae attention led. She too was drawn in a similar direction. She would have loved to take her daughter in and show her the wonders. It would have been a good way to breakdown the wall that had formed between them. But, her focus was on finding a safe place for her daughter, while she went and found the person she needed. So she kept driving. Both women looked back wistfully once the enormous building was finally behind them.

Eventually, the M.U.L.E. pulled up outside a hotel. Unlike the sparkling, shining buildings all around, the hotel was dilapidated, and looked like it could fall down at any moment. It was five storeys high. Beside the towering giants surrounding it, the hotel was almost invisible. The entrance had a shabby looking, faded, blue and yellow striped awning, and a flashing neon sign telling the world they had  V CAN YS. Beside the hotel was a driveway, leading to a parking lot behind the hotel. Beatrice drove through and parked in one of the many empty spots. There were only two other vehicles  there. One old D.O.N.K.E.Y parked in the ‘Staff Only’ spot, and a H.O.R.S.E.  in the back corner, although  not as nice as the one they had seen in Murpodompous.

The women got out of the car. Mae followed her mother around to the front, and to the front desk. A bored looking teenage girl was behind the counter. She had bright orange, short spiky hair. A row of silver earrings ran up her left ear, while a bright pink feather hung from her right. She was wearing a black t-shirt with “Go Fuck Yourself” in white, jagged writing across it. Mae wondered how she was able to lift her hand, it was so covered in rings and bracelets.

Mae and Beatrice stood at the desk waiting for the girl to look up from her magazine. They waited a while. Finally, Beatrice cleared her throat and the girl put it down. She glowered at the women who had interrupted her reading.

“What?”

“We need a room,” Beatrice had had enough of sulky teenagers. Her daughter she was prepared to tolerate, but this ‘thing’ was another matter.

“If it isn’t too much trouble.”

“Huh? Oh, yeah. Umm… do you, like, do you have a whatsit, a reservation thing, like?”

“No, we do not. However, I should…” The girl cut her off.

“S’alright. Just like fill this in.” She reached under the counter and brought out a red plastic clip board. The clip board had a stack of registration forms. They were turning yellow, it was clear they hadn’t been refilled for a long time. Clearly that had not been necessary.

Beatrice filled in the form. Glancing over her shoulder, Mae noticed that she registered them as Naomi and Tammy Benson. In the address section she just wrote, Brogalla. A largish city on the opposite side of the country.

The girl took the form, glanced at it, looked up and said, 

“So which are you Naomi or Tammy? ” The sneer in her voice told them she knew the names weren’t real, but she didn’t really care. Behind her was a series of pigeon holes, with each room number written above. Each pigeon hole had a hook with a key on it.  All except one, room 12.

The girl reached for the key to room 10. The one closest to where she was standing.

Beatrice said, “We would prefer a room on the top floor.” The girl sighed, this was the most work she had had to do in days. She was already deciding whether she would call in sick tomorrow.

“Whatever.” She passed them the key for room 52. “Happy?”

Beatrice felt the level of sarcasm was unnecessary. As she took the key, she asked, “What can you tell me about the guest in room 12?”

“Well they don’t ask annoying questions for starters.”

Beatrice was satisfied. At least she could be reasonably certain this girl wouldn’t divulge their presence to anyone, “Fine. How much?”

“Depends how long you stay for.”

Beatrice reached into the front of her dress, and pulled out a purse. She removed a large roll of notes. She peeled off a couple, and placed it on the counter. “I think this should cover us for the next couple of weeks. Yes?”

The girl behind the counter stood up straight, her eyes wide with amazement and greed. “Umm, sure, like. Umm… stay, like as long as, you like.” She grabbed for the cash. Putting it straight into her back pocket.

“I thought so.” Beatrice nodded satisfied. She looked around, and noticed a CCTV camera behind the desk. She pointed at it. “Does that work?”

The girl looked where she was pointing. “What the camera? Nah! The owner like put it in cause he like figured it would be like a deterrent. But the guy is like so cheap he like won’t even like plug it in.” She indicated the electric plug was out.

Beatrice nodded. She handed the girl another couple of notes. “Let’s make sure it doesn’t suddenly get plugged in, shall we.”

The girl just nodded. Mentally she was already planning the massive blowout she was going to have with the money. She was definitely not coming to work tomorrow.

Beatrice turned toward the stairs, “Come on.” She started heading up. Mae looked over at the lift.

“Can’t we use the lift?”

“Oh, so you’re talking now? No, I think you’ll find the lift hasn’t worked for years.”

“Oh.” Mae returned to her previous sulky demeanour.

Beatrice sighed.

They were on the fifth floor, after climbing all those stairs, the women were exhausted. Their room was at the end of the hall. A window looked out at the building next door. Opposite their room was a door that lead to the roof and the fire escape.

Beatrice opened the door, and the women went in. The room was all brown, tan and orange. The carpet was threadbare and there were unidentifiable stains on the ceiling. In the centre of the room was a double bed that looked as hard as a slab of granite. It was covered in a motley, frayed and faded orange bed spread. Opposite the bed an old television was bolted to the dresser. A door sitting just ajar, revealed the bathroom.

Beatrice looked around.

“I know it’s not much. But it will be safe.” She looked across at Mae, who had gone to sit on the bed.

“Can I trust you to stay here?”

Mae glared at her.

Beatrice sighed. “Fine. Just don’t leave this room until I get back.”

“Is there any point asking where you’re going?”

“I’m going to find a woman who can help us. Help you rather.”

“I guess I should have expected a vague answer. Is there any reason I have to stay here, and can’t come with you?”

“It’s not safe. I’m already taking a risk in going myself.”

“Fine. Then go. I’ll be here. Waiting like a good little girl.”

Beatrice placed the key beside the TV. “I’ll leave this here, but please don’t go out. Don’t let anyone in either. You’ll know it’s me because I’ll knock like this.” She demonstrated knocking three times on the door. “Alright. Goodbye my love. I promise I’ll be back soon.” With that she left.

Been missing me???

Hey folks!
Been missing me? Selections from my tower of shame has moved to a new ‘self-hosted’ site at http://bookblog76.com
Feel free to come and say “Hi!”.

 

According to the good folks at WordPress apparently there is no way for me to transfer your email subscriptions etc across to the new site, so you will need to sign up again once you get there. Look forward to seeing you.

 

Catching Fire: Hunger Games (Book 2)- Suzanne Collins (Narrator: Carolyn McCormick)

Cover of "Catching Fire (The Second Book ...
Cover via Amazon

This is a difficult review to write, simply because I don’t know how to talk about Catching Fire: Hunger Games (Book 2) by Suzanne Collins without giving away what happens in the first book The Hunger Games. So, if you have NOT read The Hunger Games I urge you to look away now. (A review of The Hunger Games  is posted below.) …..

Okay, now that they have all left, we can talk about Catching Fire. I would just like to say “Oh My God!” If you thought the first book was awesome, this second installment in the series goes to a whole new level.

We start out with Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark who are trying to settle back into life after winning the Hunger Games. Katniss, her family, and Peeta have all moved to the ‘victors’ village’ in District 12, and are using their new wealth to try to improve the living conditions of the rest of District 12. Also, Katniss has to deal with the complication of her ‘romance’ with Peeta that contributed to their victory in the game and how that will affect her relationship with Gale, her long time friend and hunting partner.

At the end of the first book, we saw that Katniss’ defiance  in the incident with the berries did not make her any friends amongst the powers-that-be in The Capital. Now, in Catching Fire,  Katniss is made aware that her actions in The Games have stirred up rebellion in a number of the districts. She, and Peeta, have become a dangerous symbol for those opposed to the oppressive regime overseen by The Capital.  How will The Capital respond?

As I said before this book is actually even better than the first. It is action packed and fast paced. If you liked The Hunger Games even a little bit, you MUST read this book.

 

 

 

 

Lovesong- Alex Miller

Courtesy of Allen and Unwin.

I started reading Lovesong by Alex Miller because I had tickets to see him speak at The Wheeler Centre. I must confess that prior to the event I had never heard of him. But, I am always keen to find new authors whose work I will love so I jumped at the opportunity. It turns out that Alex Miller is a two-time winner of the Miles Franklin Literary Award. It could be argued that to win the prize once is a fluke, but to win it twice suggests some that can write. While not being one of the book that won that prestigious accolade, Lovesong has not been entirely missed by the various literary awards about the place. It was the winner of several prestigious awards including The Age 2010 Book of the Year and the 2011 NSW Premiers Literary Awards- People’s Choice Award.  Clearly this is a ‘great’ book.

Ken is a ‘retired’ writer living in Carlton with his grown up daughter. He has just returned from Venice when he discovers that one of the old shops in the local shopping strip has been turned into a pastry shop run by an Australian man and his exotic North African wife, and their five-year old daughter. His story teller’s antennae is up releasing that these people must have a great story to tell. He befriends John and begins to draw out their incredible story, and so we get the story of Sabiha, and John, and their life in the industrial arrondissement of Paris.

Miller’s is a talented and skillful writer. The tone of the story changes between the slow, almost dreamlike pace of the Paris story and the plain-spoken story of life in Carlton. The story of John and Sabiha is one about love, hopes, dreams and the pain that is caused by dreams going unfulfilled. In this case, Sabiha’s dream is to be a mother of a daughter. When, after sixteen years of marriage she is still without her child, she takes drastic action to remedy the situation, with consequences for all concerned.

This is a beautiful book. Miller has drawn all his characters, including the minor characters, with empathy. There were times when I didn’t like or approve of Sabiha or her actions. But, I remained committed to following her story to the end, and I was well rewarded when I got there. This book is excellent, admittedly not ‘high action’, just a good story about two people trying to make a life together.

 

Lab Rat One- Andrea K Höst

Lab Rat One by Andrea K Höst is the second installment in the Touchstone trilogy. Followers of my blog will know how

Image courtesy of http://www.andreakhost.com

much I loved the first book, Stray. Well, this is BETTER. I think that because the first book dealt so much with Cassandra getting lost, and then finding her way on the alien world, this book was able to focus more on the day-to-day of her new life as the ‘useful stray’. It is a bit like how Star Wars was an awesome film, and then along came Empire Strikes Back. However, I would NOT advise reading this without having read the first book. Höst has created such a complete and detailed world with its own language, customs and idiosyncrasies, most of which were introduced and explained in the first book, and unlike many authors of series she DOES NOT explain things over and over from one book to the next. She assumes you know.

This book carries on from where the first book broke off. The Tarens with the aid of Cassandra have discovered their lost world of Muina and are in the process of settling the new city of ‘Pandora’ (a name chosen by our heroine). They have begun exploring with teams of scientists studying flora and fauna, while their archeologists  search for evidence of their ancestors and answers about the Pillars so that they might aid their own planet.

While this is happening Cass is settling into life with the black nanosuit wearing Setari (the flying ninjas) and developing strange new ‘talents’ . She is making friends, and falling in love. She has to deal with bullies and paparazzi as her existence becomes known outside the confides of KOTIS. Her special role in helping the Tarens find their old home make her of particular interest and curiosity.

As I said this book is FANTASTIC!!!! I found that when I got to the end I was devastated, because I wanted to know what would happen next, but I have to wait until the third and final installment is released. This series is great and I can’t wait to see how it ends.

How I Became A Famous Novelist- Steve Hely

Cover of "How I Became a Famous Novelist&...
Cover of How I Became a Famous Novelist

How I Became a Famous Novelist by Steve Hely is another book I picked up as a result of a session at the 2011 Melbourne Writer’s Festival. For those who are not aware, Steve Hely is part of the writing team on such hit television series as 30 Rock, The Office (the US version) and American Dad. So my expectations for this book were that this would be a funny book. What I got was not so much a laugh a minute side-splitting comedy, and more of a satirical examination of the world of contemporary literature, publishing and what it means to be a successful writer.

When Peter Tarslaw receives an invitation to the wedding of his ex-girlfriend, who unceremoniously dumped him, leaving him a broken shell of a man, he decides that the only way he can tolerably attend the event is if he is a success at something. At this time he sees an interview with one of his ex-girlfriend’s favourite authors, Preston Brooks. He is a frequent fixture on the New York Times Bestseller list. Tarslaw is not a fan of his work. However, in watching the interview Tarslaw decides that Brooks is in fact a genius having made a name for himself by writing what people want, and living up to people’s idea of what a novelist should be. He decides that if Preston Brooks can do it, then so can he. He then sets about writing a book that will make him famous.

As I said this book is a satire, and while funny at times, there are moments that are so close to how things actually are, that it is more scary than funny. He makes some uncomfortable observations about the publishing business, and the idea that books and reading have become commodities that are publicised and sold in the same way that other firms sell soft drink or hamburgers. That giving the masses what they want, and creating a ‘sensation’ are more important the creating a great piece of literature.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was especially meaningful for me since I have become a participant, through this very blog, in the ‘book industry’ that he describes. ( I can only hope that my contribution is for the good of books and reading, and not part of the greater problem.) I recommend this to anyone with an interest in books, reading or publishing.

The Sense of an Ending- Julian Barnes

I read the other day that the Man Booker Prize  for 2011 had been awarded to The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes. It occurred to me that I had the book in ‘My Tower of Shame’, I decided it was time to see what the fuss was about. The only thing that stopped me reading this in one sitting was that I had to go to sleep to get up for work the next morning. Unlike some books that win various prizes, that when read leave you wondering what the judges were thinking, this book is excellent.

It is in a sense a memoir, but not. It is about history, the personal kind, and the fallibility of memory for the reliable retelling of our stories. It is the story of Tony Webster, now in his sixties. He is remembering the key moments in his youth. His friendship with boys he met at school, and most notably that of Adrian, the boy who came to the group late, and whose high opinion the other sought. He remembers the first woman he loved, and the lasting effect that his own interpretation of the memories of that time have had on him. It is also about suicide, and divorce and being a father, and of life continuing on and on to its inevitable conclusion. He talks about how when we are young, we are ‘still waiting for life to start, not realising that it has in fact already begun’. Then in our middle age we realise that the opportunities to effect any real change in our lives has gone, and that this is probably ‘it’.

I just finished reading this morning, and I confess that a lot of it has probably gone over my head, and I won’t get it until after, when I’ve had a chance to ruminate and mull over it. But, that in itself is a measure of how superb this book is. So many books are fine, and a good way to pass the time and escape from reality for a while. There is nothing wrong with that, in fact it can be a pleasure in and of itself. But, great literature is the kind that stays with you for months, if not years later, while you try to figure out the enigma of it.

A great book and a worthy winner, and at no more than 150 pages a quick and satisfying read. Well worth picking up.

The Hunger Games (Unabridged)- Suzanne Collins [Narrator: Carolyn McCormick]

Cover of "The Hunger Games"
Cover of The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, is the first of the Hunger Games Trilogy. It is a Young Adult, Sci-Fi thriller that keeps moving from beginning to end. I listened to this as an audio book, the first that I’ve listened to. I don’t think I could have found a better choice to try the medium. This book is awesome.

In a post-apocalyptic world, twelve districts are governed by The Capital. Some time ago the districts rose up in rebellion, against The Capital. The Capital ruthlessly crushed their rebellion, and ever since they have used every means at their disposal to keep the districts subjugated and cowered. (There were originally thirteen districts, but District 13 were completely annihilated.)Their most ingenious, and diabolical means of controlling the districts are through ‘The Hunger Games’.

Each year one boy and one girl, between the ages of twelve and eighteen, from each of the twelve districts are selected by way of a ballot to enter ‘The Games’ which is a Survivor style game, televised for the titillation of the people of the Capital. The winner of ‘The Games’, is the last competitor still alive.

The story is told by Katniss Everdeen, a sixteen year old girl, living with her mother and younger sister in ‘The Seem’, the most impoverished area of District 12. She has taken on the role of ‘bread-winner’ since her father died in the mines, doing all she can to keep her family fed. When her twelve-year-old  sister, Prim, is pulled out during ‘The Reaping’, Katniss volunteers to take her place.

As I said, this is fantastic. Apparently, the series is in the process of becoming the next big movie franchise, in the tradition of the Harry Potter and Twilight series. I can see that this (and I am assuming the two subsequent novels) will make terrific movies. I most definitely look forward to seeing them.

There is an enormous amount of hype around this book, and that is likely to increase prior to the film’s release. Sometime that can be off-putting, and suggestive of a less than satisfactory read. DO NOT be put off by the  hype. For once, the accolades and excitement around this book are thoroughly deserved.