Yes Man by Danny Wallace — Reread Review

It’s been a long time since I last read Yes Man, but it’s had a lasting impression. In the intervening years, I’ve picked up every Danny Wallace book that happens to have come across my path. (At a quick count, that’s at least three other titles which I’ll get around to reviewing one of these days.) I’ve liked them all, but none of them have made me laugh like Yes Man did. Now that I’m so much older, I did worry that it wouldn’t have the same effect, but I’m glad to report that it did.

Let’s face it – there was no way in the world that Lizzie could think I was serious. I was a drunk man, suggesting she take a train – a train! – from Australia, on the basis that Edinburgh was ‘good’ because it was ‘big and funny and loadsa people’.

Yes Man, Danny Wallace

Yes Man made me laugh out loud several times, but the book isn’t just a comedic autobiography, though that was certainly what I remembered about it. It surprised me, this time, by also being a genuinely touching love story, and a satisfyingly tricky whodunnit. (I was convinced I was right about that, and when I turned out not to be, the clue was right there all the time!)

“Why are Germans phoning you up under the impression that you’re a three-man teenage boyband? Because I’ve known you for a while, now, and you are nothing like a three-man teenage boyband —”

Yes Man, Danny Wallace

And Danny Wallace’s quest to say ‘yes’ to absolutely everything also made me think about the ‘yes’es in my own life. There haven’t been too many of those this year, what with working from home and social distancing rules preventing me from traveling to see my friends, none of whom live close enough for me to walk to. Still, I was able to find some, which added a nice uplift to my mood.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Night of the Mi’raj by Zoë Ferraris — Reread Review

I like detective fiction, and I lived in the Middle East for three years, so a murder mystery set in Saudi Arabia certainly ought to tick some boxes for me! That was certainly my logic when I first bought The Night of the Mi’raj, and when I read the sequel some years later. Unfortunately, the story ended up being only okay.

But the Nouf of his mind was free already, jetting down the freeway on a Harley-Davidson. She wore a scarab-like helmet, alligator gloves, and a man’s white robe. The robe whipped around her ankles as she skirted tractor-trailers and SUVs, some lunatic Bedouin on a space-age camel.

The Night of the Mi’raj by Zoë Ferraris

The characters were the best part of The Night of the Mi’raj. I liked Katya, who, as a Saudi woman who not only works but also solves murders, is certainly the most striking character. Nouf, the murder victim, also interested me at first, though that markedly wore off as more and more was revealed about her. The real problem point was Nayir. Although his attitude towards woman is certainly understandable, given his upbringing and religion, it’s also pretty wearying to read. He does develop a little over the course of the novel, but by the end he still finds it hurtful to have sympathy for women who want to go to school and travel. It was too small and too slow a shift, and I simply didn’t have any patience for it on this reread.

At least, when a woman drowns in the largest sand desert in the world, there ought to be an equally remarkable explanation.

The Night of the Mi’raj by Zoë Ferraris

In terms of plot, the murder mystery was average. It’s not a particularly clever murder in any way, and the reveal of the culprit comes a little too much out of the blue. This is partly because neither Nayir nor Katya are official investigators of any kind, and so their access to the potential suspects is limited to social engagements. (This, of course, presents a particular difficulty in a culture where neither gender is allowed uninhibited access to both male and female witnesses.)

At some point, I’ll reread the sequel to see if I get on with that any better, but if I don’t, I think that’ll be the end of my interest in this particular detective duo.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

An Accident of Stars by Foz Meadows — New Review, Bookclub Edition

Books like An Accident of Stars make me glad that I assign so many two, three and four star reviews. Because when I give a book five stars, I want that to mean something: that this book is stand-out, better than just ‘good’. An Accident of Stars was great, from the first sentence to the last, and I definitely want to read more by Foz Meadows just as soon as my TBR allows.

“Somewhere you shouldn’t be,” came the snapped response. “Down the rabbit hole, through the wardrobe, over the bloody rainbow.”

An Accident of Stars, Foz Meadows

Every character is fabulous. I fell in love with Gwen first, because she allowed Foz Meadows to write a portal fantasy without that moment of dramatic irony that so grates on my nerves (I talked about it in my review of The Fandom). Gwen’s been through all this before, and her attitude about it filled me with glee! Some characters are more developed than others and, naturally, we’re given more info about the four viewpoint characters than anyone else, but that just means that there’s still more characters that I want to learn more about in future books!

I have to call particular attention to Viya, who fits one of my favourite tropes. I love when authors are able to give depth to characters who, at first, appear to be nothing more than spoiled teenagers. Malta Vestrit from Robin Hobb’s The Liveship Traders is, perhaps, the paragon, but Viya certainly draws from a similar mould and undergoes a similar, if somewhat shorter, arc.

The relationships – particularly all the relationships Saffron develops – had me cheering for them to keep getting to know each other. They’re all different, but they all feel real and heartfelt and, in some cases, heart-breaking. And I’m still processing the impact that certain plot events will have on those potential relationships in future, which can only be a good thing. The emotions in An Accident of Stars are big and intense and raw, in a way that reminded me of The Thorn Birds and Finnikin of the Rock.

“In Veksh,” said Trishka, “our mothers teach us that there’s a type of story called zejhasa, the braided path: a new tale that starts before the old tale has ended, and which could not exist alone. Every life is zejhasa. Before we are born, our mothers live their own stories, and when we are young, our existence is twined with theirs – small threads in a wider pattern. But as we grow, these threads begin to separate, forming new strands, new lives, new purposes. Our mothers’ stories go on, enriched; but ours will always begin before theirs have ended.

An Accident of Stars, Foz Meadows

I don’t usually read fantasy for the world-building, which makes it all the more impressive that Foz Meadows managed to do such a good job that I’d notice how skilful it was! The world in which Saffron finds herself is utterly, realistically different from our world. Foz Meadows managed to invent untranslatable concepts, built their world on entirely different social mores from most western fantasy series. If queer and poly representation are thinks you’re looking for in fantasy books, An Accident of Stars has plenty of both.

Characters who devoutly believe in fictional religions are an interest of mine – especially when the narrative doesn’t necessarily confirm that those beliefs are ‘true’. An Accident of Stars has at least three different religions, and we’re introduced to characters who follow each. I’m particularly intrigued by the religion that’s all about shaping stories and finding the truth in fictional tropes.

To top it all off, the prose is beautiful without getting in the way of the characters, world-building, emotional depth and analysis of internalised culture. In short, I absolutely loved everything about it, which puts it firmly at the very top of my list of all the books I’ve read for books club.

Rating: 5 out of 5.