Review: Desolation by Derek Landy

Spoiler warning: this review of Desolation will include Demon Road spoilers (and maybe some made-up things because I have already forgotten quite a lot of Demon Road)

desolationDesolation is the sequel to Demon Road, Derek Landy’s newish series about a teen demon being pursued across the USA by her parents. Because, you know, they want to eat her soul and offer it up to the Shining Demon. Like you do.

Landy picks up the action here right where Demon Road left off, with Amber and Milo hotfooting it to Alaska because another demon told them to. Demons, when they aren’t trying to eat you, are apparently reliable sources of travel advice. Their destination is Desolation Hill, a weird and remote town where Amber will be safe from her crazy parents. What they don’t count on is the fact that every serial killer in North America is after her too, because they all want to be demons. It’s kind of a weird set-up. Also new in this second in the series: a Scooby Doo-esque crew who fight supernatural meanies, and a bickering pair of geriatric former actors, who everyone hilariously assumes are a gay couple.

Glen’s absence means Desolation lacks the laugh-out-loud hilarity of its predecessor, but it is still funny, although the humour is juxtaposed with a level of violence which exceeds anything in Demon Road; for example, in the first chapter, Amber has every one of her fingers broken by a random serial killer, with Milo appearing just after he would actually have been useful. This sets the tone for some unpleasant scenes later on. Look, I’m a Tarantino fan; I don’t mind a bit of senseless violence. I just find it quite hard to keep reading pages and pages of it when the end result is basically the same every time; everyone gets beaten up and someone ends up naked.

On the subject of nakedness, there’s an aspect of Desolation which I found a little troubling and I’ve seen on Goodreads that other readers have shared my reservations; there’s a point here where Amber gets intimate with another character, becomes nervous, shifts into her demon form and forcibly tries to remove their clothing. Her excuse is “oh I was a demon, it wasn’t my fault.” Which, to me, is not a million miles from the kind of excuse actual rapists would use. On a linked point, the object of Amber’s exertions is a few years older than her and this makes their flirtation border on creepy. Again, Goodreads reviews have raised this too, so I know it’s not just the BBC viewer in me wanting to be offended by things.

I did like things about Desolation. The set-up, with Desolation Hill’s unfriendly residents and their town festival, is effective, creating a creepy atmosphere from the outset, and this is only increased throughout. I also developed a particular love for Virgil and Javier, the ageing actors forced to work together despite their years of animosity.  I really enjoyed the chapters which focused on them. When the PoV first started switching between characters, so many of them new, I didn’t think I’d enjoy it; actually, I think it made Desolation more interesting and engaging, because it stops Amber’s voice from becoming overwhelmingly whiney.

Unfortunately, I don’t think Desolation is as good as Demon Road. It is, however, worth reading if you’ve already read the first book, and the world-building continues to be entertaining. I’m not going to try to excuse the obvious issues which I’ve mentioned already, but I will say that it is possible to read Desolation without being overwhelmed by these problems.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Picked Up On A Whim

These days, the books I read tend to be titles I’ve known about ahead of their release, but it wasn’t that long ago that I just bought books because they looked good and then read them with no outlet to discuss them beyond actually talking to people. Shudder. This week’s TTT topic is a nice way to revisit some of those pre-blogging books, so thanks to The Broke and The Bookish for another fun idea.

Our Tragic Universe by Scarlett Thomas
I hadn’t read any other Scarlett Thomas books before this one, which I picked up in a local discount bookshop basically because it has a beautiful cover. I took it on holiday to Devon with me last summer and was extremely surprised and happy to discover that it is set in the exact area I was staying in, thus giving me loads of annoying geographically-relevant things to say to my husband while he was trying to listen to Satnav. I’ve got a couple more of her books waiting next to my bed.

The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
I bought this without ever having heard of Chabon, which I think is actually quite shameful. I lapped this one up; the combination of historical/family drama, New York and superheroes made it a total win for me.

Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk
I used to spend basically my whole life hanging around charity shops to pick up cheap paperbacks, and Invisible Monsters was one of my best finds. Although I’d seen the movies of Fight Club and Choke, I’d never read one of Palahniuk’s books, and this was so excellent I became a Palahniuk completist. Although I think he’s gone off the boil recently (Beautiful You, ironically, was one of the most hideous books I’ve read), Invisible Monsters remains a brilliant book.

Nod by Adrian Barnes
I came across this a few weeks ago in Waterstone’s and was intrigued by its premise: one night, everyone in the world except a very select few stops sleeping. Anarchy quickly takes over. It’s a really interesting and clever book which I’ll be reviewing over at Fourth and Sycamore in June.

Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer
I bought this entirely because it has a very cool and beautiful cover, and was extremely pleased I did because of its fascinating and incredibly weird plot. Annihilation is the first book in the Southern Reach trilogy, the main subject of which is the mysterious Area X: a great swathe of the USA which is only accessible by the shadowy Southern Reach organisation. I loved this series.

Goodbye Johnny Thunders by Tania Kindersley
I have no idea when or where I picked up this book, but I was obsessed with it during my boy-drama phase and re-read it every time I had suffered once more at the hands of a cruel male. I was obviously in such an emotional state every time I read it, I can’t particularly remember what it’s about, but I think the main story is about a woman who falls for a very emotionally unavailable dude who’s obsessed with Johnny Thunders.

The Basic Eight by Daniel Handler
Another book I’m obsessed with; I think I saw this on some kind of Buzzfeed list and thought it sounded good. And then I read it and realised “good” wouldn’t cut it as an adjective for this book because it is amazing.

Fortune’s Rocks by Anita Shreve
In my years of frequenting charity shops for my bookish fix, I discovered that Anita Shreve was someone who had a) written about a bazillion books and b) wrote the kind of books that people clearly feel compelled to donate to charity shops. Fortune’s Rocks was my first Shreve; I remember starting it thinking it would be really cheesy and then enjoying it an embarrassing amount. This was in no small part due to the fact that the main character of this historical drama is, if I remember correctly, Olympia, and that is awesome.

Mosquitoland by David Arnold
I think I’ve expressed my love for this book enough that the author is probably scared of me now, but I initially picked it up having heard basically nothing about it and that was one whim which definitely paid off.

Zeitoun by Dave Eggers
As I’ve mentioned, I like to read books set in the places I visit, so when staying in New Orleans 6 years ago, I was pleased to find this excellent but harrowing story set around Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. It’s not easy reading, but is deeply affecting, especially if you read it while in its location.

I now want to reread all these books. Damn you, Top Ten Tuesday!

I’d love to know your whimsical book purchases so please leave a link in the comments.


Review: Kill the Boy Band by Goldy Moldavsky

kill the boy band.jpgBefore blossoming into the Smiths-quoting, Courtney Love-worshipping paragon of cool whose words you see before you, I was a boy band fan. Yes, it’s true. My excuse is that, for the most part, I was about 10 and couldn’t have been expected to know any better. The inspiration for this teeny-bopping phase? Take That (the first time round, not the bearded, grown-up version of the 2000s). I wanted to marry Robbie Williams; I  sang every word at a concert in 1993; I felt personally betrayed when they went all raunchy and, for some reason, decided to write an angry letter to my local newspaper about it. I was a pretty weird kid. I came out of my Take That stage to graduate to “proper” music, with a slight regression at the age of 14 when my love of Hanson took over my life. I am still mocked for this now but I stand by the fact that Middle of Nowhere is a brilliant pop album.

What all this means is that I found a great deal to enjoy in Kill the Boy Band, a delightfully silly book which focuses on 4 obsessed fangirls and the events that unfold when they accidentally kidnap a member of their favourite boy band, The Ruperts. The story takes place in and around a hotel, besieged by crowds of screaming girls, with our central quartet of inadvertent criminals swiftly disintegrating into a kind of hormone-induced mania, while simultaneously discovering the parallel rifts in their beloved boy band.

I found a lot to like about Kill the Boy Band. It’s very knowing, sharply skewering what passes for culture in the 21st century; the Ruperts, for example, were formed on a reality talent show called So You Think the British Don’t Have Talent? and were arbitrarily grouped together because they all had the same first name (clue: it’s Rupert). Their lyrics are frequently quoted throughout the book and include such gems as “yeah yeah yeah! I’m so excited!/ Yeah yeah yeah! Tonight is the night!” My favourite moment, and the one which made me laugh the most, was the description of the Rupert with the truly tragic backstory of not being able to tell the time.

It’s not all about mocking boy bands though; if anything, Moldavsky is particularly smart and sympathetic when it comes to the actual people concerned. When mocked for her fandom, the narrator (who is so unreliable we never even learn her real name), dismissed her critic as “just another adult who forgot what it was like to love something so completely. In fact, he probably only liked things ironically, which meant he didn’t like things at all.” The Ruperts’ assorted complaints about the reality of life in the spotlight also ring true. Kill the Boy Band is silly but sharp at the same time, with plenty of satire to engage the cultural critic.

All in all, I was very pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed this. It seems light and fluffy at times, but this is always undercut by an intriguing layer of darkness. And terrible lyrics.

Review: Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke

wink.jpgWink Poppy Midnight was exactly the kind of weird, slightly messed-up book that I like. April Genevieve Tucholke’s tale of oddly-named teenagers with claustrophobically overlapping relationships is essentially an example of the much-maligned love triangle, but the triangle is kind of misshapen and off-centre, with constantly shifting points. If I remembered any maths I’d be able to give it that special name for a triangle with uneven sides, but I would scare myself too much if I actually looked it up.

The eponymous characters, and narrators of the book, are Wink, a strangely ethereal bumpkin with numerous brothers and sisters; Poppy, a self-confessed bully and oddly proud of the fact, and Midnight, essentially the emotional heart of the story. Midnight begins by telling us about his deeply unhealthy relationship with Poppy, for whom he serves as a romantic stand-in, in the absence of the boy she actually likes. Moving away from Poppy’s clutches, Midnight finds himself in the company of Wink and her inexhaustible repertoire of fairy tales; for Wink, Midnight is ‘the hero,’ but for me, he’s just ‘the slightly ineffectual and easily manipulated naïf. Complicated relationshippy things happen and, a couple of pranks-gone-too-far later, things get even more messy.

Wink Poppy Midnight does one of the things that really annoys me – alternating narrative voices – but manages without actually annoying me; each voice is unique and odd in its own way and, although I’m not sure any of them ever sound like real people, I don’t know that that actually matters. Poppy’s cruelty is oddly compelling; she’s horrendous, but the pleasure she seems to take from that is weirdly entertaining to read about. Wink and her many siblings, with equally interesting names, seem to provide an intriguingly peaceful contrast, although this turns out to be a misconception. So, although Midnight is the “nice” one of the three (albeit making some very questionable decisions), he’s annoyingly easily led; he often refers to the fact that his mother has moved to France, and I have now developed a theory that  Midnight is attracted to bossy, domineering girls because they serve as some kind of mother-replacement. Now I’ve made this book sound even weirder. While on the subject of parents, Wink Poppy Midnight does little to dispel my belief that YA fiction depends entirely on absent parents: aside from his absent mother, Midnight’s father spends his whole life in the attic, Wink’s father has mysteriously disappeared, an Poppy’s parents are such successful doctors that they never have to see any patients or spend any time working, instead gallivanting off and leaving Poppy home alone. Because, clearly, that’s a great idea.

This book has a different tone and feel to anything else I’ve read recently; it’s got a really weird vibe, partly due to the fact that it’s hard to know how truthful any of the narrators are being at any given time. These are all more reasons for me to like it. And look: nearly 500 hundreds word into this review before I’ve shown my superficial side and mentioned the beautiful cover!