Book Review – Lieutenant Hotshot by Julia North

Lieutenant HotshotLieutenant Hotshot is a Young Adult novel from first time author Julia North. When I ventured into the local bookshop and bought a copy, I had heard an excerpt of it in our book group and knew only a little of the story. I can not say that I expected what I read, but it is an amazingly good book. I originally planned to read it then pass it on to my 12 year old son. I will come back to that at the end…

Lieutenant Hotshot is about child soldiers in Uganda, but that doesn’t even start to convey the harsh, gory, grittiness of the novel. It contains violence that at times felt overdone, and language that further draws you to a place that you would probably rather not go. But this is the book’s strength; the picture it paints is hard to read and at the same time utterly compelling.

If I had been reading an adult horror book, then I would expect some of the scenes as an attempt to appal me because of the genre; something to excite the senses. Lieutenant Hotshot contains these same horrific scenes, yet it is a Young Adult novel! The book is not for the faint hearted, but it works perfectly for the simple reason that it is based wholly in fact. Adults and young adults combined will read this book and become consciously aware of what happens all too regularly somewhere on our planet.

People do terrible things to Modetse (the main character), he does terrible things to others, yet ultimately, the book is one filled with hope and love. Positive thoughts are strewn throughout the book and are all the more obvious when set against the horrors. To be dramatic, love and hate are rendered as close together as Yin and Yang; there is very little room for grey to separate the two extremes in this book.

The whole story is written in the first person and this is fundamentally important to it’s success. It is only as you take the journey with Modetse that you fully appreciate how the environment and the actions of others pulled him into a way of life that he didn’t understand. If there had been other perspectives, the spell would have broken and the reality of what was happening would have spoilt the story as soon as it was started.

As I read and experienced some of the harrowing scenes, I could see how something so counter intuitive is able to happen and how the whole awful wheel of manipulation works. There were even very well architected indications that some of the adults who were leading the soldiers had started out as child soldiers themselves and were still under the spell of their conditioning; so well converted that they could know the truth as an adult and still be able to believe themselves to be right. The blinkered way that an individual’s perception can can be warped reminded me of Lord of the Flies, but more extreme, in more depth and based on reality.

There is a quality to the book that I have wanted to capture for some time in my own writing. The articulation of the real world in a magical context. Not really ‘magical realism’, more the realisation that magic exists in our mind, in our intrinsic interpretation of the world (wow, deep man.) Lieutenant Hotshot is essentially a story of war. Not just the physical war that it directly describes, also a theological, nay, magical war for the ‘soul’ of Modetse and others like him. Julia has perfectly balanced the whole storyline of the book to convey both of these battles beautifully.

A final perfectly executed balancing act is that of religion in the book. The book portrays a strong understanding of the power or religion in a very specific way. You can see how Christianity is supremely effective in the battle against real evil in Uganda and I was minded to think how it’s use in that powerful way might have been a reason why the world’s major religions have spread so far and wide from their original countries.

As an agnostic I was concerned that Christianity may sit too heavily on this book. I was wrong. Julia writes in such a way, walking the tightrope perfectly to balance the anger, gore and belief of the first part of the book with love and a different belief at the end. I can imagine that some of the passages would have been extremely powerful if I was Christian, but I can still appreciate the drive and purpose of the mission and it’s positive effect, maybe more now! How else do you fight bad spirits but with good ones??

To start to bring a close to this review and my Yin Yang analogy a, I have created a list of some opposites that I noticed as I read. They are quite a powerful, thought provoking list in themselves. Hopefully they will give you an idea of the places the story goes without giving too much away, even, maybe whetting your appetite?

  • Bad spirits from the witch doctor – Good spirits and Jesus
  • Drinking blood of enemies – Drinking the blood of Christ
  • Cutting as a rite of passage – Baptism

So, there you go. As I said at the start, I found Lieutenant Hotshot to be an amazing and surprising read. Try it for yourself.

My final thought; will I let my 12 year old son read it?

Yes

There is definitely an emotional maturity required to read this book (child or adult!) My son has that, and he knows just about every swear word under the sun to boot. The evil that people do and the good that balances it? It is a reality that we all need to understand, accept and try to resolve. So yes, yes I will let him, if he wants to…

 

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Book Review – Bleeker Hill by Russell Mardell

I’ve been itching to read this book since I got it back in the summer. I met Russell in a pub with some other writing types (you know who you are!) and was enthusiastically recommended his book by one of my friends. It was hurriedly procured from the local Waterstones and I quickly added it close to the top of my reading list. I’m sure I had a good excuse to buy it, but the date in August is not near any special dates like birthdays or fathers day? I think Bleeker Hill may have the dubious honour of being the first book that I have added to my list without excuse since I started the blog! (Good grief, that’s rule 10 broken for the first time!)

There have been quite a few distractions from reading over the last few months, most of which I have already mentioned. Not least, finally writing some fiction! I succeeded at NaNoWriMo and it felt great. The downside is that writing doesn’t let you get many books read! I also got a bit stuck with Anna Karenina; not as stuck as Vronsky, and in a totally different way, but stuck none the less. I am glad to say that I am now unstuck; in more ways than you can imagine dear reader, in more ways…

Bleeker Hill, the actual review

bleekerhillBleeker Hill’s main storyline builds wonderfully from the first pages of the prologue right through to the finale. The book takes you on a journey with a set of well realised characters into a vision of the future that is shrouded in confusion. The central character has been out of touch with the world for some time, and his lack of knowledge is followed through the book. This provides a back story that leaves you wanting to know more about what has happened, while giving enough to support the main story. I would love other books to be written in this world so that they can elaborate on it’s interesting version of the future…

All of the story arcs come together well to support the main event. At it’s heart, Bleeker Hill is a ghost story with realism to give it credence; a broken vision of the future.

Bleeker Hill bought various films and books to mind and I give some examples below. I need to be very clear that there is no relationship between the book and any of these references. I hold all in high regard and it is the feeling of the environments that Russell Mardell has built that evoked memories of the other stories for me. When I am talking about some of my favourite films and books, this can only be a great thing:-

The distopian future depicted in the story echoed “Children of Men” (the film) to me. Political parties struggling to keep order in the face of disaster. There is no dictatorship in place, but there are a lot of people trying to make sense of a broken society.

V for Vendetta also popped up in my mind. This time for the human experiments back story. There are again no real story parallels here. Bleeker Hill is the setting for experiments so much more profound than an attempt to create a super human. Trying to solve the human condition? Maybe.

Lastly, Woman in Black. Now, Bleeker Hill is not as jumpy as Woman in Black, but it definitely has the good old ghost story at it’s heart. If you were to take the Children of Men setting and play out a ghost story in it, then you would get somewhere close to Bleeker Hill.

To conclude, Bleeker Hill delivered exactly what I needed from this type of book. A well paced ghost story in a realistic and viable setting augmented with great characters.

Read it ASAP.

Rating: 9/10

 

 

Back on the reading list (ish)

bleekerhillI have had a very interesting last couple of months. I’ve just checked my Massive Book List and I started reading Anna Karenina (my current book) on the 11th August!!! I managed to get almost half way through it, but other events have overtaken me and I have decided to admit defeat, for now. I usually read and come back to books, so this is a pause for AK and not the end. Most of my spare time since august has been spent writing, sending stuff off to agents, doing nanowrimo successfully and going to writing club.

I am sat here on a Sunday afternoon with what is shaping up to be a nasty cold (man flu) and a wish to read something that is not Anna Karenina. I have had my eye on the next book in my list for a while, and although I want to finish AK, I need a break; even though I just had one! I’m starting Bleeker Hill by Russell Mardell this evening.

I still have lots of writing to do.

I still have lots of work to do.

I still have a cold and don’t want to use my brain. (Those two things are related for once!)

but here goes with Bleeker Hill...

 

 

My thoughts on writing in 2012. Still relevant?

Hi blog, very long time no see. That is because I have been writing an actual story! I have also been editing some stuff and reading a lot. I know I neglect you blog, but that’s just the way it is going to be. Please be appreciative of the words I send you…

This post is copied verbatim (poor grammar and all) from a doc I wrote in 2012. It is a point in time and I thought it would be good to share. It was nice to find this as from the point I wrote it, the cogs began to whir and I ultimately created this blog and am at the literary pinnacle of book 1 chapter 2!

Enjoy

P.S. there is rude swearing in the text below…

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By Pocobooc 26/11/12

so, lets stop fucking about. I have been “about to write” for years. I have mucked about with setup and thinking and planning and worrying (in the fidgety, picky way). I have taken too long to get to this point, and now I am holding back on the main event by stating how bad I was at getting there for so long…

I have a text editor (read web based cloud document editor that automatically saves my jibber) and not much else. I have specifically not written a title, formatted anything (including centering anything) I havent given this a title. Im just writing,,,

I am watching “on the road” on my smart TV. The film is digital and is sitting on a hard drive under my stairs that is connected to a Raspberry Pi that is running squeezebox which is a tiny linux distro. That is running a twonky server which is serving the film to my smart TV. Smart eh. And I like to think that im not a geek!!!

I am also quite proud of the fact that my media server uses about 15 watts. My amp uses more than that. When I go to bed and everything that can be off is off, our whole house pulls about 60 watts. In usual operation it pulls about 200

so where was I. Im watching on the road, and its based around beatnik writters and the main character started off with writters block, and its been nagging me that Ive not written anything based on sentences for a very long time. Ive written ideas. Ive written documents for work. dry documents that require long words and concentration, but they dont excite, they dont break out of anything. They tie down, they restrict and define and inform. Better than nothing, but only just!

I went to Alresford on Sunday. Becky wanted to look at some boots, but the shop was shut. We went to a lavender barn, etc etc etc AND we went to a second hand book shop AND I bought a hardback book with Kurt Cobain’s journals. And again, there is a person who can cut loose and just write. Might be shite, might not make sense, but its there. its not still in his fucking head incase its not organised right. Although on a side note, my head is still on my fucking shoulders and capable of thinking, but I consider that only some small advantage.

My new Monday 26th Nov 2012 resolution (one time availability I suppose)

I am going to actually create. Be it websites, stories, books, painting. anything. I am going to complete things even if the end up shite.
To close I need to say that this is a very positive aim. I am not generally scared of creating. This is not a problem like that. There are many reasons that I have not done this before. Perfection, OCD (not real) etc etc etc… … bored now. over and out

The Month of August – A roundup

Good morning (or generic time of day where you are) everyone. How the bloody hell are you? It’s been aaggeeesss since I last bothered to visit, and I’m going to tell you why. Things are gonna change round here (again) and that is for the better…

Let’s start this story from the last time I visited. My last post was the book review of Minority Report on the 24th July. It’s the 5th September today, so that is 6 weeks of total absence, basically the whole school summer holidays! I am really sorry I neglected you 😦 What follows is an update of what I have been doing and what I plan to do next…

Firstly, I have been reading a lot (Castle of Wizardry, Consider Phlebas, Eden & Gardening t Eden, Dead Air.) I haven’t reviewed any books, but I have rated them all in the book list in my book activity page. I have mentioned before that I really wanted to use this blog and my whole Post Consumer reading challenge as a way to ready more, write more and see where it takes me. Well, it doesn’t take me to being chained to writing book reviews and nothing else. I am therefore going to try to do a monthly round up of my book reading progress from now on.

I still want to use some of my time to write more diverse articles for this site. I really do still want to investigate consumerism and various other “stuff”. I want to understand, at least for myself, where my previous meager attempts at shrugging off consumerism have gone wrong and how I can rectify that.

My writing has taken a sharp upward turn this month, in volume if not quality! I have joined a writing group and this consists of a health mix of about an hours writing workshop each month, followed by at least 2 hours in a pub 🙂 This group has inspired me to finally dust off the book that was 0.000001% complete and get on with writing properly. I have now written about 2000 words in draft and the imaginative humours are up.

Lastly, I am trying to find ways to move further into the bookish world with a possible, maybe, option, vague plan, thought of doing this more as a job in the future. Writing books is obviously a route to do that, but it is apparent from the number of authors that I follow on Twitter that this is definitely not a street paved with gold or even copper for the vast majority. I am writing a book because I want to… So, maybe there are some articles in me? Maybe there is half a copy-editor in me (ewww) or maybe there is a blend of all 3, plus a few more, that could work? When I started this blog I was dipping a toe into the literary world. Over a year on, I am very glad I started this Journey and I guess my foot is submerged; still writing the blog, going to writing club, writing a book. Wow, this feels good.

The Journey – by me 1997(ish)

I wrote the following in 1997 when I was 20/21. I was at University at the time and could see my future stretching in front of me. This is a very personal piece of writing to me, mainly because I have come back to read it a few times over the years and it always rings true. I’m also not going to comment on it at all, I will save that for another time. Suffice to say that my current journey is underpinned by this sort of sentiment.

For now, here is the text with the original hand written version below. A 20 year old’s letter to the world at large and to his older self – me.

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We all know what life is, but most of us don’t make of it what we want, it makes us what we are. This is wrong in the deepest sense of the word, although words do not express anything with enough power. The greatest writer in the world can merely point the way. We, our minds, must make the words mean something. This is one interpretation of individuality.

To make your life what you want, you must work at it and a perfect life is one where no boredom can be found. To truly experience life and all it can give one must experience every aspect and feeling possible. Even the negative ones. I suppose (contradicting myself) boredom is one of those feelings, but again life must be worked at to lose that boredom or pain or anguish or frustration. But it must all be experienced.

The fear of death, the only true fear, must be conquered, must be seen and lived and dealt with. I once read a quote that said “those who learn how to die have unlearned how to serve”. While this is very true, the fear of death should be maintained to keep a person living. If complacency sets in a full life will not be lived.

We must strive to achieve happiness and contentment.

I, and everyone, can only comment on life from one viewpoint. Later, I will stress my doubts about my life, but for those in other circumstances these issues don’t even get considered.

I worry that I am not going to do anything with my life. I see so much in this world that can be done, for myself and for others and I am worried that I will not do it. I could spend a life time striving to achieve  trivial goals, this idea is spawned from my past life. I have lived a life of relative achievement; succeeding through school, college and now university. If I am to continue along the same path, I will complete university and achieve a job and money. But in the long term this is not an achievement at all. Apart from the achievement of wasting my time on this planet. I see myself living a life of monotony. Waking, working, eating, sleeping and living in between.

True, work must be done to survive, not just to provide an income and a way to live. The multitudes live like this. I have said before like a lot of little bees in a big fucking hive. They don’t think of anything but making honey. They don’t consider their surroundings. They don’t dream. This is where humans differ. We do dream. But we don’t act on this information that is given/created by us. we just think “what if”. if we do have a purpose on this earth it is definitely not to do what we are doing. To fight to eat, to basically wait to die. We should be united. Racists fuck me up. They are so close sighted as to look at people from the outside. If you look at THEM from the inside they can be shallow hatred creatures. But every human is not just one emotion, one action.

I want to know everything
I want to know everything of importance.

The Journey 1 The Journey 2 The Journey 3 The Journey 4 The Journey 5 The Journey 6 The Journey 7

Next Book – The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller

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So, those of you on Twitter might have noticed that I have already started this book?? Apart from an expectation that there was going to be quite a few parallels with what I’m doing and what Andy Miller did, I had no idea what to expect from this book. I’m about a fifth of the way in and finding it quite a surreal read for many reasons. I will save the commentary for my review of the book. Onwards…