Thursday, 18 September 2014

Vivian Versus America

Vivian Versus America is the sequel to Vivian Versus the Apocalypse and therefore this review may contain spoilers for the previous book.

Every morning I wake up and think, What do I have to do today in order to not get murdered?

Reaching San Francisco wasn’t the magic solution Vivian Apple had hoped for. Now that she knows The Rapture was faked, what’s she supposed to do with the information? And Peter’s still missing. At least she still has Harp, and together they are wanted fugitives. Can they save her boyfriend and reveal the truth to a nation in chaos, all without getting caught by the Church of America?

I honestly didn’t expect to like the sequel as much as Vivian Versus the Apocalypse but I think this is a rare occasion where it has surpassed the original. The characters are rounded and believable; they are still regular teens despite what they are facing. They joke around, they get drunk and they’re more than a little sarcastic. They’re also anxious, confused and scared. Vivian has grown so much since we first met her but, like any human being, she still has doubts and worries.

"How do we explain the fact that we live in a world where the fake Rapture could have happened in the first place? Where human beings could have done that, to other human beings? Don't you feel like we're kind of...doomed?"

There are some lovely messages in there about how belief can be a comfort to many and religion can provide a community. It would be very easy for these books to fall into a “the church is evil” tirade, but it’s only this fictional churches exploitation that is evil. In a world where the climate is becoming destructive, it made sense that people would look for answers. But believers, including the prophet himself, were taken advantage of.

It also gives us a glimpse of how normal people can turn to terrorism. When there’s no hope of change, where those in power are the ones ruining lives, what can you do? Many just go along with it, survival being the key, but others rally the disgruntled population. People stop being people and are just seen as with us or against us.

Although part of the plot is about what happened to Peter, it’s very light on the romantic aspects. As it should be, Vivian has quite a lot on her mind. What I did love was the story of Vivian and Harp’s friendship.

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Book Source: Purchased

Sunday, 14 September 2014

More Than This

A boy dies. He wakes up alone in a familiar place. Is this the afterlife? There must be more than this?

Is that what hell is? Trapped forever, alone in your worst memory?

More Than This has such a strong start. It’s the final moments of a teenage boy’s life and it’s not a quiet death. Then the boy awakes and there’s a mystery as they boy tries to work out what’s going on. He is sure that he is dead and he starts to wonder if this is his personal hell.

I loved part one and felt it could have been an effective, standalone, novella about the futility of suicide. I was wondering how it would work itself out though, expecting a YA novel to give a bit more hope than leaving a boy by himself in hell for eternity. It’s definitely a book that’s hard to talk about without spoilers but I do think it becomes more hopeful.

The meaning behind the title changes as the story progresses. At the start, Seth is desperate that there is more than this to the afterlife. But it is also a message that whenever life is at its lowest there is always more than this. That life will get better and is worth living. Even the ending leaves you feeling like there could be more than this story.

Whatever happened to you down there, whatever the world looks like now, that’s not how it always looks. That’s not how it’s always going to look. There’s more. There’s always more.

When the turning point comes, it put me off a bit; it felt like a cop out as well as being all too familiar. I guess there’s still doubt over what Seth’s reality is but it completely changed the tone of the book for me. However after initial disappointment, I did start to enjoy the remainder, especially the flashbacks filling in the blanks in Seth’s choices. I do still stand by that part one is the strongest part, however half of my book group thought the opposite way; that it was slow to start but it got better from part two.

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Also reviewed @ prettybooks | Queen of Contemporary | Being Anne



Book Source: Purchased

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Popcorn Moment: Before I Go to Sleep

Before I Go to Sleep is based on the novel of the same name by S.J. Watson, which I have previously devoured and loved. You can read my review of the book here. It's one of those films whose effect is diminished a bit by knowing what happens. It is still pretty tense to watch, quiet and slow but building into something sinister.

It's the kind of story that I imagine is hard to translate to the screen. Instead of a diary, Christine records her daily message to herself on a camera (and gives an excellent opportunity for product placement). I can understand why that could work better on the screen but doesn't strike me as easy to do in secret; her situation is all about keeping it secret. And she must have had to spend ages watching it back every day. A written record just makes more sense. The ominous music throughout was a bit much and set it out from the start that there was something dodgy going on. I guess it has been marketed as a thriller but it makes her confused fear into something more much earlier on.


Not read the book? You might want to stop reading now as there are some things I want to talk about which are a bit spoilerific.

I thought the casting was a stroke of genius. Colin Firth is so often the good guy, or the misunderstood Darcy figure of course, and Mark Strong is placed firmly in my head by that Jaguar advert as one of the bad guys. I did feel in the film that Ben was painted as too obviously shifty from the start. I know in the book she writes in her diary that she can't trust Ben, but the way it's written gives him the benefit of the doubt. He is caring and patient so why would we instinctively distrust him? He just didn't come across so much as the devoted, loving husband on the screen. More just resigned to his fate.

Mark Strong's voice is lovely and soothing, something you'd definitely want to hear on the phone every morning. I didn't really feel the same sort of attachment between him and Christine as in the book. There's just a little scene where she tries to kiss him but it seems out of context.

Overall I enjoyed the film though. It got a bit overly sentimental at the end, a scene my boyfriend said he would have preferred to go without. The reunion in the book was clearly too brief for film-makers who like to squeeze a bit of extra emotion out of their audiences.

I would love to hear your thoughts if you saw the film withour reading the book first.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Land

In 2014 sea levels rose to destructive heights. Those with the means fled in boats, sailing until they found land. These refugees set about creating Land, a place where everyone had their assigned purpose. Sixty years later, the population is divided, the colour of their clothes designates their position. You have no choice, you must do the job that Land gives you. Christy, daughter of a traitor, is seventeen and ready to accept that she won’t be Paired. Who would allow her DNA to prosper?

Land is a truly Orwellian tale which echoes horrors of WWII. Faced with shortage of land and resources, the founders of Land set about putting a society in place to control the population. Not only is size, but in their very day to day existence. Perhaps they set out with good intentions and corruption ensued, but by the time Christy is seventeen, the rot has set in. The Leader wants only the best DNA, in his opinion, to thrive; to reward the already privileged blues and beat down the workers and the worthless.

It did feel all very familiar to me though. I wonder if Land is best enjoyed by those who haven’t read many properly political dystopian tales. A lot of what is called dystopia is using the term very loosely, and this at least fits the profile perfectly, and that makes me happy.

It’s useful to remember that projects like Selection and the Youth Troopers are atrocities that really happened. As time passes, it’s too easy for events to become stories in a population’s culture, just as Christy is told stories from her grandmother of the Old Times. Although at least those stories told of a better place, not a worse one. When we turn history into stories, we have to remember that these things can happen.

I’m not convinced by the timeline. 60 years is perfectly enough time for a community to screw themselves over, however the fact that a small piece of land populated by refugees has somehow managed to perfect manufacturing of cars and electronics, is hard to believe. Not to mention how they get the resources. It would make more sense if they were using scavenged and recycled goods, but it’s made to look like the cars and tracers are all made to be the same. Perhaps the bit of land conveniently included a warehouse of such things…

You think that if they’ve managed to create clever pills that make people die of apparent natural causes, they’d have managed to sort out contraception. The sexism of Land doesn’t seem to be challenged at all. Only women are punished for unapproved sex; they get sent to state sanctioned brothels to serve the men that can’t control their urges. Apparently women don’t have sexual urges in this Land. The men who create unapproved babies face no punishment at all. If it were solely about population control or eugenics, contraception would be the obvious choice. There’s only one point where Christy pauses to consider that forced prostitution, and therefore a lifetime of repeated rape, could be a fate worse than death.

There’s a lot to cover and some serious issues that I’m not sure they get given the time they deserve. The Pairing is essentially arranged marriage, one more thing citizens of Land don’t have a choice over. One Pairing results in domestic violence; I think it is put in there to demonstrate that it’s something that doesn’t always end well. I’m actually surprised there were so many Pairings that did work.

Land is published by Hot Key Books and is available now in paperback and ebook editions. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

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Shelve next to: Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell



Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Incoming!

AKA Showcase Sunday

I got some great books from Hot Key Books in the last few weeks and my first 2015 review copy! Annihilation is still free on Kindle if you're interested.


For review:
A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale (Tinder Press)
This Book is Gay by James Dawson (Hot Key Books)
Land by Alex Campbell (Hot Key Books)
The Memory Keepers by Natasha Ngan (Hot Key Books)
Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari (Vintage)
Crossing the Line by Kerry Wilkinson (Pan Macmillan)

Freebies:
Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

Bought:
The Chrysalids by John Wyndham



Showcase Sunday is hosted by Books, Biscuits & Tea.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

The Chrysalids

I certainly did not feel unusual. I was a normal little boy, growing up in a normal way, taking the ways of the world about me for granted.

Waknuk is a district of law-abiding, God-respecting people, where deviations and blasphemies are not tolerated. Any crop that dares show any difference from the norm, from the image that God gave it, must be destroyed without question. And people, well, to deviate from the God-given image means that you cannot be human at all.

It’s a little sad that a book published in 1955 on such a topic is still so relevant today, but also kudos to John Wyndham, whose stories never fail to strike a chord. The Chrysalids is set in an unspecified future where a disaster, known as The Tribulation, has occurred. As the story progresses you get a good inkling of what really happened, but it is never overtly described.

They stamp on any change: they close the way and keep the type fixed because they’ve got the arrogance to think themselves perfect.

At the core is the argument over creationism and evolution. Without mutations, humans wouldn’t be as they are today. In this world, those mutations aren’t allowed because it is taught that God created everything and change is not tolerated. Differences aren’t tolerated. It is heart-breaking to think that even today, there are some people that just can't cope with people deviating from what is considered "the norm". It touches on the horrors of eugenics; for it is not bad enough to be shunned for your differences, but blasphemies would be sterilised and banished to the Fringes. Something that really isn't science fiction at all, but a part of history many would like to forget.

That is their greatest sin: they try to strangle the life out of Life.

This is arguably the first dystopian young adult novel. David is only eight when the story starts but it is told from his perspective as he grows into a man, in first person narrative, showing his slow realisation that the world is not necessarily as his authority figure (his preacher father) tells him. David learns how to think for himself but also forms strong bonds. I got a bit teary at the end because of those bonds. It’s a story of friendship as well as what have now become recognisable YA tropes.

It’s both an easy, absorbing read and so thought-provoking. I can see why this is so often readers’ favourite Wyndham. I'm not really sure what's going on with the cover design on my old copy. There's no reptilian creatures, just people. I think the cover designer must have just been told "mutants" and sci-fi and gone with the flow!

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Also reviewed @ Book Addicted Blonde



Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

One of Our Thursdays is Missing

One of Our Thursdays is Missing is the sixth book in the Thursday Next series and therefore this review may contain spoilers for the previous books.

BookWorld is on the brink of a genre war. Literary detective Thursday Next is scheduled to attend peace talks with Speedy Muffler of Racy Novel but now she’s missing. Is something sinister afoot in BookWorld or has she just gone undercover? If there’s one person who knows how to find Thursday, it’s Thursday.

Thursday Next goes all meta; this instalment is not narrated by RealWorld Thursday but by BookWorld Thursday. It’s a bit slow to get into and it’s probably the weakest book of the series, but part of me wonders if this is intentional. Thursday is only an A8 character, who doesn’t have all that many readers any more (not after she replaced her sexy and violent predecessor). She’s not likely to be as convincing and captivating a character as the real Thursday, is she? And I do think the story improves as it goes on.

It’s still Jasper Fforde though so every page is entertaining even if the story isn’t perfect. If you just like reading about BookWorld, it’s still worth picking up. There’s plenty of poking fun at genre stereotypes and jokes for the grammar geeks. I did enjoy Sprockett, the robotic butler who would always be on hand to provide just the right cocktail for the occasion. Everyone needs a butler.

BookWorld has gone under a transformation too; once held in a library format, they have now been converted to a geographic model and Fiction now exists as an island. That means there’s a great map at the front of the book and if you look closely you can find such gems as MP Expenses among the genres.

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Also reviewed @ Sam Still Reading | Lucybird's Book Blog



Book Source: Purchased

Monday, 1 September 2014

The Month That Was... August 2014

August was a mixed bag, with the delights of Nine Worlds, struggling to find my reading mojo and job-hunting. I've read some great books lately and I think my mojo is starting to recover with 12 books read last month (OK, two were teeny tiny, but it all counts).

Here's what made it onto the blog...

Reviews:





5 stars awarded to: This Book is Gay by James Dawson, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel + Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas.

Read and awaiting review: More Than This by Patrick Ness, The Chrysalids by John Wyndham + One of Our Thursdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde.

Blogged about:

Check out my rambling Nine Worlds wrap-up post and see what new books came in.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Half-Blood

Alex was taken out of the Covenant, a strict boarding school for the Hematoi, three years ago by her mother. She has no idea why she left, but she knows if she goes back she’s sure to face a future in servitude to the pures. When daimons kill her mother, she has little choice other than to return. Will her uncle show her lenience and give her a chance to train to be a Sentinel? A position which will give her opportunity to seek vengeance.

I have mixed feelings towards Half-Blood. It was an enjoyable enough read, a way to pass the time but I found it all too easy to put down. I’ve seen Jennifer L. Armentrout mentioned enough across the blogosphere that perhaps I had higher expectations. Maybe I was expecting something new and different and instead I got something that seemed all too familiar.

In all honesty, Half-Blood felt like a vampire novel that refused to call them vampires. Instead, they are daimons, who feed of the life force (aether) of pure and half-blood descendants of the demi-gods. They appear to do this feeding by, erm, drinking the blood of their victims. And they can also turn pures into daimons, who then lose their souls, or at least any resemblance of humanity.

The idea of the pures and half-bloods seemed a little odd, considering they are all descendants of demi-gods. That means a Greek god got down and dirty with a human and created, essentially, a half-blood offspring. This all meant the mythology came across a bit forced just for the reason to be not writing about vampires. It’s OK to write about vampires!

Aiden and Alex’s romance was set up as obvious from the start. Are we meant to be interested in them because it’s not allowed? I couldn’t generate any enthusiasm for them and Alex was rather an abrasive character from the start. I’m not sure I‘d want to carry on reading about their forbidden love for a whole series, but there are aspects I liked more and would read on for. It all depends on the focus of further books.

I liked the idea of the Apollyon and the actual Apollyon himself. Mystical power and duty bound, there's future mileage there and the one character who did't seem to fit an obvious stereotype. Seth, despite his smaller part, came across as a more real character than Aiden who, quite honestly, was a bit boring. There's an element of high school roles too, with the pretty, popular, mean girl who Alex bickers with, but not in any way that endeared her to me. I just thought she was reckless for a large portion of the story.

I wished the book had gone more into the social structure of the Hematoi and the rather disturbing servitude of the half-bloods. It’s a missed opportunity to explore prejudice and segregation, instead relying on the core romantic relationship to highlight it. Really slavery should be a bigger motivator than smooching?

This edition also includes Daimon, a prequel novella covering the events running up to Alex returning to the Covenant. The main story was slow to start so I’m glad this material was separate. I've seen some reviewers say to read it first but I don’t think it adds anything new story wise.

Half-Blood is published by Hodder and this edition is available now in paperback and ebook formats. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

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Also reviewed @ I'm a Book Shark | On a Book Bender



Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

This Book is Gay

This Book is Gay is the instruction manual for all those who have ever wondered. Sex education in the UK rarely covers relationships or body issues outside cis heterosexual and this book is something to plug the gap, covering many aspects of being lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and * (to include the whole spectrum). Hopefully it will find its way into many schools and the hands of those you need something like this to help them feel that everything’s OK.

It lays out the facts and is wonderfully informative for anyone with questions or doubts or just plain nosy. And it’s all done with trademark James Dawson humour. Most importantly, it’s so inclusive and accepting. It may be aimed and LGBT* teens, their parents and teachers, but there’s nothing to make you feel like you’re not allowed to be reading it. Which is partly the whole point, people are people no matter what they do with their genitalia. As James says, you can identify as a carrot if that makes you happy.

As well as James’ own advice, there’s plenty of facts and testimonials from real people of a variety of ages and backgrounds. It explains terms, without any embarrassing internet search trail for others to find, and it also lays out stereotypes and why they’re bad but also why they exist. And yes, there’s a chapter on sex as well as some SADFACE aspects, such as discriminatory laws and HIV.

Lesson One
Sometimes men fancy men.
Sometimes women fancy women.
Sometimes women fancy men and women.
Sometimes men fancy women and men.
Sometimes people don’t fancy anyone.
Sometimes a man might want to be a woman.
Sometimes a woman might want to be a man.
Got that? It really is that simple.

It also has pictures! Not embarrassing, sex-ed style, photos of willies but fantastic and amusing illustrations (OK, sometimes with willies) by Spike Gerrell.


I loved the holy book interpretation section; what to do if someone uses the “it’s in the Bible” excuse (but also takes a look at other religions). James focuses on the two most problematic passages that generally get wheeled out and shows how they can be interpreted in different ways. And also how there’s plenty of other stuff that’s in there that no one follows today. The good news is, Buddhism and Hinduism both promote a general acceptance of all.

This Book is Gay is published by Hot Key Books and is available in paperback from 4th September 2014. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

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Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.
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