Rapid Fire Reviews (5)

Since I’ve found that I read faster than I can get around to writing full reviews of each book, I prefer to do mini reviews that reflect my gut reactions rather than being too analytical. All titles are linked to their Goodreads pages.

A Monster Calls. Patrick Ness.A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

I had heard of this book. I knew there was a film. I knew there were beautifully illustrated editions. But I didn’t know what it was about. If I had, I probably wouldn’t have read this book, because Conor’s mum is dying of cancer, and so was mine at the time I read it. I never expected a fictional monster to be the one to tell me what I needed to hear, but that’s the power of truly great storytelling. As the monster tells us, “Stories are important. They can be more important than anything, if they carry the truth.” This beautiful story carries more than just truth. It carries compassion, hope and the comfort of knowing that it’s okay to let go. Patrick Ness has done an incredible job. If I could give it more than 5 stars, I would.

All the Birds in the SkyAll the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

I really hate giving books bad reviews, but I honestly can’t find anything good to say about this one. I don’t mind books that combine different genres (science fiction and fantasy in this case), but this one was a mess of poorly connected concepts that either didn’t make sense, didn’t flow well together, or were just weird for the sake of it. The writing itself was very poor and I found myself frequently either cringing or frowning with some of the dialogue and amateurish metaphors (the sex scene was one of the worst examples of this and read like it was written by an inexperienced teenager who had read too many badly written fan fiction stories, despite the characters involved being experienced adults). The overall narrative didn’t flow well at all and events seemed to jump around without explanation or clear connections. I’m someone who feels the need to always finish a book, even if I’m not enjoying it, so I stuck it out for the whole 430 pages, but unfortunately this one will not be staying in my collection.

The Blackbird SingularityThe Blackbird Singularity by Matt Wilven

Every so often I like to read a book about mental health to increase my understanding of conditions I don’t have personal experience with. This one was a very well written account of one man’s life with bipolar disorder and the effects of his decision to stop taking his medication after discovering that his wife is pregnant with their second child – an emotional revelation given that their first son died. This decision allows him to forge ahead with his creative writing and to feel things more vividly than before, but it also causes problems with his marriage and other areas of his life. There are times when you’re not sure if what you’re reading is real or part of Vince’s delusions. Sometimes he isn’t aware of the distinction himself, although he accepts that he can’t always trust his perceptions. This kind of narrative gives a great insight into what it’s like to live with bipolar. It reminded me of The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer.

Grief is the Thing with FeathersGrief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter

Considering that I read this less than 3 weeks after my mother’s death, I was expecting this book to resonate with me. Unfortunately, I didn’t like it at all. It’s experimental in terms of narrative style and word choice, and, for want of a better term, it was just too weird for me to feel any emotional connection with it. The concept was very interesting and a unique way of exploring the complex concept of grief, but the execution of the idea just didn’t work for me. Considering that I’m still in the early stages of processing my own grief, I’m willing to accept the possibility that I’m not in the right frame of mind to appreciate or fully engage with this book, so I may give it another read in the future.

Rapid Fire Reviews (4)

Since I’ve found that I read faster than I can get around to writing full reviews of each book, I prefer to do mini reviews that reflect my gut reactions rather than being too analytical. All titles are linked to their Goodreads pages.

Lexicon CoverLexicon by Max Barry

I was intrigued by the idea of a science fiction thriller based on the concept that words can be used as weapons to persuade and destroy. In this world, people can be organised into segments and controlled (compromised) by specific combinations of obscure words. The wielders of these words are the Poets, members of a secret organisation that controls knowledge and use of the words. Emily and Wil appear to be on opposite sides of a conflict within the organisation, but nothing in this world is what it seems. One of the things I loved about this book was that it gave me lots of “a-ha!” moments when I could connect the small clues and figure out key plot points. I won’t give too much away, but the way the book is structured and told from the perspective of two different characters is significant to the story and makes it even more exciting. There is suspense, conspiracy, romance, danger, interesting explorations into the power and structure of language, along with well-developed characters and a satisfying conclusion. I loved it.

The Disappearance Boy CoverThe Disappearance Boy by Neil Bartlett

There are books that are character-driven, books that are plot-driven, and books that manage to be both. This one definitely tries to be character-driven, which means it should feature interesting and engaging characters with compelling stories to tell. Unfortunately, I couldn’t bring myself to care about any of them and found them annoying and uninteresting. The second person narrative really put me off and left little room for my imagination. The narrator was so busy telling me exactly what to think and pay attention to that they didn’t give me the chance to become immersed in the story. A really disappointing read for a book that seemed promising.

Nasty Women CoverNasty Women by Various Authors

I consider myself to be liberal and open-minded, but this collection opened my mind even further and gave me new perspectives I hadn’t considered. I didn’t connect with all the essays, but each one definitely had a distinctive and unique voice behind it and wove an intricate tapestry of what the world is like for women in 2017. My favourite was Jen McGregor’s ‘Lament: Living with the Consequences of Contraception’. In addition to speaking to the reader, she also spoke directly to the Depo-Provera contraceptive she was forced to stop using due to health reasons. Some elements of her story are very similar to my own, and I could feel her struggle through her words. A fantastic collection I would highly recommend to everyone.

The Jungle CoverThe Jungle by Pooja Puri

I was lucky enough to get a signed copy of this book as I bought it at the Society of Young Publishers Conference in Edinburgh a few months ago. The cover really drew my eye and the plot sounded intriguing. I can’t say that it was a terribly engrossing story, but it was well written and easy to read. Rather than a complex plot with a satisfying ending, this book presented a fictional snapshot of life in the Calais refugee camp. It’s about the people more than the politics and the struggles they face having run from one bad situation only to find themselves in another. By the end of the story, most of the characters were essentially in the same place as they were at the beginning, but maybe that’s the point. It illustrates the endless cycle of the refugee crisis and the shattered hopes and dreams of those who find themselves in such desperate circumstances.

Rapid Fire Reviews (3)

My third (and hopefully final!) attempt to make this a regular feature on my blog. I’ve found that I read faster than I can get around to writing full reviews of each book, so I prefer to do mini reviews that reflect my gut reactions rather than being too analytical. All titles are linked to their Goodreads pages.

the-miniaturist-coverThe Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

This book came highly recommended from friends and colleagues and my local indie bookseller (who said it was the best book she had read in 2014, high praise indeed). There are excellent explorations of the female family dynamic and the politics of power, both in the home and in the wider community, including the main character’s personal development as an 18-year-old new wife thrust into a world of lies, societal pressure and the expectations of marriage. There were definitely some parallels to Jane Eyre, which is what I was expecting when I first picked it up. I felt that the conclusion of the novel was a bit anti-climactic and not what I was hoping for, but the lack of definitive answers to my many questions did retain the air of mystery that shrouds the story, particularly the identity and motivations of the Miniaturist, so I suppose the ending did make sense in that regard. While I did really enjoy this one and would recommend it, it wasn’t quite a 5 star book for me.

the-road-headed-west-coverThe Road Headed West: A Cycling Adventure Through North America by Leon McCarron

I don’t normally read any travel writing, so I was quite surprised at myself when I picked this one up, although it probably had something to do with my love of visiting the United States. I’m not one for cycling either, but I thought it sounded like a great way to see a country and I was interested in going along for the ride. McCarron’s writing is engaging, thought-provoking and entertaining. He meets all sorts of weird and wonderful people along the way, who both delight and terrify him, and ultimately help to change his views of the world. I was particularly interested in reading about his impressions and experiences of the parts of the USA that I’ve visited myself (and loved), especially Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Canyon, San Francisco and Seattle. His vivid descriptions of the landscape and general vibe of the places left me with a feeling of comforting familiarity, and a fervent desire to see them again someday. You can watch the trailer for the book here.

kids-pf-appetite-coverKids of Appetite by David Arnold

Although I’m certainly not one of those people who thinks that YA novels are only for teenagers, I am guilty of using them as easy-read palate cleansers between other genres. I usually enjoy them, but I don’t tend to become invested in them or feel particularly connected to the characters. Kids of Appetite is one of the better ones and I did find myself wanting to keep reading. The flashbacks made the narrative more interesting, and I liked how all the elements of the plot tied together. The main cast of characters were all distinct individuals and I was happy to join them on their journey. It won’t be going on my favourites shelf and I don’t feel like it’s left a lasting impression, but it was probably the best YA book I’ve read in a long time.

the-circle-coverThe Circle by Dave Eggers

This book has been on my TBR for well over a year and I finally got around to reading it. I found the plot scarily plausible given the direction that the world is heading in. I was more aware of my social media use while I was reading it and I could see how something like The Circle could have grown from the likes of Facebook and Twitter. The ending wasn’t what I was expecting (or hoping), but it did tie in well with the overall message of the story. The social commentary aspect was more transparent than most of the dystopian science fiction novels I’ve read, and there were elements that were too repetitive (I don’t feel that we needed to see Mae answering customer queries quite so many times). That said, it made for addictive, fast-paced reading and I would recommend it. I’m really looking forward to seeing the film adaptation in April (you can watch the trailer for it here).

Rapid Fire Reviews (2)

My family and I have been having an awful year, so, although I’ve been reading quite a lot, I haven’t been writing a lot. I’m trying to get back into it now, and these are the three books I’ve read recently that I have strong feelings about and feel like commenting on. All book titles are linked to their Goodreads pages.

schtum-coverShtum by Jem Lester

This book was important to me on a personal level and I was really keen to read it as soon as it came out. It follows the battle of a father to get his autistic son the specialist care he desperately needs, which is a battle my own parents fought for my brother. It’s part-fiction, part-reality for Lester, who has an autistic son himself. His fictional protagonist, Ben, must navigate marital issues, a sick father he’s never been able to talk to, and Jonah, his severely autistic son, who makes daily life an incredible challenge. The book included letters and reports relevant to Jonah’s case, which really added to the story and helped to express the frustration that endless bureaucracy can cause in these situations.  The book was well written, emotive and illuminating. Having experienced home life with an autistic brother and watched my parents fight for him the way Ben does for Jonah, I can say that Shtum is a very realistic portrayal of what it’s really like – the highs, the lows and the heartbreaks.

the-loneliness-of-distant-beings-coverThe Loneliness of Distant Beings by Kate Ling

I was really disappointed with this book. It had the potential to be interesting. The main characters are part of a generational ship’s crew whose sole mission is to seek out the source of a distant signal received by their ancestors on Earth. In order to ensure their continued survival, they have a breeding program that selects who they will have children with, leaving no room for love or personal choice. Seren, the protagonist, rebels against this idea when she has a chance encounter with her shipmate Dom (and 5 seconds later decides he’s the love of her life even though they’ve barely ever spoken). This unrealistic love connection is described as being ‘that quick, that strong, that beautiful and … also totally impossible.’ Well, it’s also the reason I found this book ‘totally impossible’ to like. 350+ pages of teenage angst and instalove really wasn’t for me.

the-long-way-to-a-small-angry-planet-coverThe Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

I LOVED this one. It has everything I look for in science fiction – interesting and well developed alien cultures, cool futuristic technology, fast-paced adventure and complex and relatable characters. There was also a broad acceptance of cultural diversity and cooperation, homosexuality and individuality that I appreciated. Each of the characters came from different backgrounds (and species) and were distinct individuals, but, for the most part, they functioned together as one family. There was conflict, secrecy and misunderstandings (it would have been boring and unrealistic without those elements), but I did love the bonds that existed and developed between the Wayfarer’s spacefaring family. There is a sequel to this book, however it’s a stand-alone that only features two of the supporting characters from The Long Way (which I liked, but didn’t really connect with), so I don’t think I’ll be reading that one, at least for now. I feel very satisfied with how The Long Way ended, so I’m happy to leave it there.

Rapid Fire Reviews

I’ve been so busy lately that I haven’t had much time to write. That really bothers me, so I’m trying to spend this weekend catching up on a few posts. Rather than writing separate reviews for the books I’ve been reading recently, I’m going to do a quick rundown of each of them. I’m calling it a rapid fire review post. Considering how behind I tend to get on my book reviews, this might become a regular feature. I think it’s a good way of going with my gut instincts rather than being too analytical.

All the Bright Places Cover All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

“The story of a girl who learns to live from a boy who wants to die.” That line is on the cover and it drew me to the book right away. Violet is dealing with the grief of losing her sister, while Finch is trying to find reasons not to kill himself. When they meet on the ledge of their school’s bell tower, they strike up a friendship that has a profound impact on both of them. I enjoyed the parallel journeys of the two characters. While Violet was rebuilding her life, Finch was rapidly losing control of his. I really liked them both and their struggles felt real and relatable. This isn’t a feel good YA, but it’s definitely worth a read.

 

Our Endless Numbered Days CoverOur Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller

Peggy is only eight when her father takes her to live in an isolated cabin in the wilderness, after telling her that the rest of the world has been destroyed. What follows is a fascinating exploration of the father/daughter dynamic and the effects of extreme isolation and deprivation. I did see the twist coming, although I was hoping I was wrong. While I would recommend this book, it was quite disturbing at times, so it’s definitely not for everyone. I really enjoyed it though, and I think Fuller did a great job of dealing with the psychological effects on a young girl who matures into a woman with only a mentally disturbed father for guidance.

 

The Serpent King CoverThe Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

This one came highly recommended from Stefani over at Caught Read Handed. It’s centred around the lives of Dill, who is struggling to escape the prison of his family’s past; Lydia, who has aspirations far beyond the boundaries of her hometown; and Travis, who escapes his violent home life by taking refuge in his love of a Game of Thrones style fantasy series. Up until the twist in the middle of the novel, I was enjoying it well enough but it wasn’t really affecting me emotionally, but the second half had me rooting for the characters and hoping to see them happy. It was a good read overall.

 

The Water-Babies Cover The Water-Babies by Charles Kingsley

A fairy tale about a boy who runs away from his cruel employer, gets turned into a water-baby, and has lots of strange adventures in the underwater world. I really didn’t like this book. It was written in 1863, so the style of language was quite different. I studied literature for years at university, so that’s not something that would usually bother me, but in this case I found the style of writing jarring and annoying. My main thought as I was reading it was, “this book is just weird for the sake of it”, and that really didn’t work for me. The talking turnips whose sole purpose was to learn lessons and be examined (or die), were the last straw!