Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Only Ever Yours

In a world where women are designed to be companions and concubines for men, they have no choices. Confined to institutions until they are seventeen, they spend their lives being judged against each other. Only the prettiest, thinnest, most obedient girls will be chosen as companions. The rest must only hope they are good enough to be concubines, serving as playthings for men for the rest of their lives.

I am pretty. I am a good girl. I always do as I am told.

I have mixed feelings about this book. For the first half, it felt like the worst season of Next Top Model ever. The girls, and women, are their own worst enemies in this world. For 17 years, they live in a female only environment, facing the inevitable future of being controlled by men. Why do they not spend that time supporting each other? Instead they undermine each other at every turn.

The pressures that young women put themselves under is very real, and take away the bizarre breeding program, their tale is playing out across many high schools even today. The media and our peers have as much to blame for the pressures as men, many of which probably don’t have any idea what a thigh gap is, let alone why it would make a difference. And these girls have only ever been told second hand what men want, never given the chance to get to know them as individuals, never given the chance to realise they might want something different too. There is a glimpse that the boys are being manipulated too, although this is not their story.

I do this every morning, a part of me hoping that I'll have been magically transplanted into a different body during the night - isabel's or megan's maybe. That I'll wake up and be paler, thinner, different. Better.

Pitting the girls against each other, stops any real friendships forming. They manipulate each other, trust no one and see their only salvation as a life of slavery to men. They never stop to wonder if they are wrong.

I found the institutionalised bullying very uncomfortable reading. It is one thing for the girls to do it, but not even having a fair authority figure in the chastities is horrible. There is anonymous cyberbullying, peer pressure and awful, shaming and exploitative media.

This is who we are. This is who we were designed to be. It's all my fault for allowing myself to become vulnerable. It is all my own fault.

I cannot quite understand why all the girls weren’t severely underweight. They pride themselves on their self-restraint by not eating and many of their meals are “0 kcal”. Bulimia is encouraged; a vomitorium is even provided for the act. Yet they all have a target weight they have to maintain, not going over, or under and too skinny is also pointed out as unattractive.

I’m not convinced that I believed in this world. It is a cautionary tale where everything is exaggerated. If women are designed and conditioned to be perfect for men, why do they spend so much time obsessing over fashion? Are these soulless, cruel women really going to make the best mothers? And why on earth were the worst kind of men left to keep the world going? It suffers a little from the YA dystopian tendency to have an idea to explore without developing the world to support it.

I’d advise that you feel in a good mental state when you read this. It’s not a fun read and there’s plenty that could trigger negative feelings. I’m not sure it challenges the behaviour enough. The negative behaviour is rewarded in the plot; those that don’t toe the line, get punished. Yes, the message is clear for my (mostly) grown-up brain but I can see how it could be taken the wrong way.

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Also reviewed @ prettybooks | ShinraAlpha | Uncorked Thoughts




Book Source: Purchased

Monday, 24 August 2015

On the Beach

Over four thousand nuclear bombs have been dropped in the northern hemisphere. In Australia the survivors wait, for news, for hope. But the radiation will reach them eventually. All they can do is carry on living.

Why should we have to die because other countries nine or ten thousand miles away from us wanted to have a war? It’s so bloody unfair.

On the Beach is one of the saddest things I have ever read. The fact that everyone is so jolly and getting on with their lives, for however long that may be, makes it even more tragic. Not a single character is a villain, no one deserves to die, certainly not a horrible prolonged death. Radiation poisoning is one of the scariest things out there; with very little anyone can do to help.

It all starts off quite chipper. The short third war has destroyed the northern hemisphere but down in Australia, no one quite believes it will affect them, not yet. They are having to make do without petrol and aeroplanes, but life is continuing. Mary plans and plants her garden for next year. Inviting the American captain down and keeping him entertained so he doesn’t stop to think about his family; doesn’t see the baby and cry. Creating make-shift vehicles driven by cattle and pedal power.

They would much rather have another drink, than worry about it; Moira has decided to switch to brandy as gin rots the insides. There’s even rumours that getting pickled will increase resistance to radiation. It gives the whole thing a cosy catastrophe vibe.

I couldn’t bear to – to just stop doing things and do nothing. You might as well die now and get it over.

Whilst the state of the world is without hope, there is optimism in human nature. These people don’t turn against each other or exploit the situation, instead they are helpful and kind. It is the kind of community we would all like to be part of if the end was nigh, not having to struggle in our final days, but just pottering along.

A sole American submarine is still in operation, stationed in Melbourne. A small crew take it out to take readings and study the movement of the radiation across the globe. At first I wasn’t that interested in the goings on of the Navy, however it provides a useful tool to relay information about the rest of the world. They are living in isolation, no news can come from lands where no one lives and the submarine is the only thing equipped to go close to radioactive areas.


Maybe we’ve been too silly to deserve a world like this.

All world leaders should be made to read this book. It humanises the horror of nuclear war more-so than any graphic telling of destruction. It’s the slow, inevitable wait for the extinction of the human race.

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Book Source: Josh

Saturday, 22 August 2015

All of the Above

It would be neater, wouldn’t it, if this was a story about self-harm or sexuality or eating disorders or drunk mums or ridiculously hot bass players, but it’s a story about all of them.

Toria is starting a new school; with it all the anxieties over fitting in, doing well academically and making new friends all over again. Who is she and which crowd does she belong to? When Daisy offers her the olive branch of friendship, she soon finds herself fitting in with her group. A group which brings new friends, and potential boyfriends, and a whole lot of love and friendship.

James Dawson is back on form with All of the Above. Warm, real and funny characters you can’t help but love. Poking fun at high school drama tropes, check. A diverse cast of realistic characters, check. Parents that seem like real people, check. Laughter, check. Tears, check.

I couldn’t help but wonder why, in real life, all of the above is never an option.

You’re still learning about who you are as a teen, and that means you don’t have to stick with the first label someone assigns you, or any label at all. You don’t need to know who you are or who you want to be. First loves don’t have to be forever-loves. It’s a lovely positive message to a book that covers plenty of issues.

Without ruining the anti-labelling vibe of the novel, I’d like to at least point out how well it portrays bisexuality. It shows clearly how you can fall in love with the person on the inside and it’s nothing to do with gender. A kiss with a same sex friend isn’t made into a huge deal, it doesn’t define you unless you want it to.

Isn’t that what a boyfriend or girlfriend is? A naked best friend!

Toria has an online presence as well as her real life friends. It’s probably the first time I’ve seen this acknowledged in YA where it wasn’t an integral part of the plot. It all just helps with making these characters seem like real, well-rounded people.

Perhaps the key to educational achievement lies in sending young people to dreary dead-end seaside towns.

I liked the seaside town setting; I thought it hit the nail on the head with the fact that so many teens just don’t have anywhere they are welcome or stuff to do outside of school. And every seaside town has a dubious crazy golf. If it wasn’t tourist season here right now, I’d be down there in tribute of the group.

I get the wanting to escape a dead-end town, but do we need to keep holding London up as the Promised Land? It’s becoming more and more inaccessible for the average person to live there, without resorting to living in an actual cupboard. There are plenty of other vibrant, diverse towns and cities you can go to, honest.

We are the Petition Generation. We get angry and we noisily voice opinions but we don’t like paying for things or actually doing things.

All of the Above is published by Hot Key Books and is available from 3rd September 2015 in paperback and ebook editions. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review via NetGalley.

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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.

Monday, 17 August 2015

The Girl in the Road

In the not too distant future, two girls flee their homes, both bitten by a snake. Meena must leave Mumbai, and after a chance encounter in a bar, she decides to walk the Trans Arabian Linear Generator; a dangerous and illegal act which will lead her to the shores of Ethiopia. In another time young Mariama, clearly traumatised, embarks on her own journey, across Saharan Africa.

There are no emergencies. I’m bored. This is the lived reality of adventure.

I loved Meena’s journey along the Trail, the wave and solar energy generator that links India and Ethiopia. This aspect reminded me a little of Wild; she is prepared equipment-wise but not physically and has a hard time just walking on it to start with. Her goal seems futile, walking across an ocean on an ever moving snake. All the time she muses on her past mistakes and thinks quite a lot about sex.

I really wanted to love The Girl in the Road but I wonder if it suffers from too many ideas. It’s refreshing to read about a future in a non-white-Western culture and there’s an exploration of sexuality and gender in a supposedly forward-thinking India. Yet for much of it I was left a little confused, and every time I started to get into it, I was torn away to another element or moment in time.

It had to be something. If not caste, if not class, then gender. Children must un-train their elders over and over again.

I got the feeling from early on that the snake bites, and the snakes themselves, were symbolic. Both girls bitten in the solar plexus which is the manipura chakra, associated with the power of transformation. In Ayurvedic medicine, deficiency in this chakra is related to mental health issues. Early on in the story, Meena attempts suicide and is clearly running away from something. She says Semena Werk were trying to kill her, but there is no evidence of this. She is constantly picking at the scab on her chest, preventing it from healing properly, preventing herself from facing facts and healing mentally.

The ones who saw something unbearable and continued living anyway. I’m one of those even though I don’t have a conscious memory of it. As a baby I felt my mother die around me. And after a thing like that, why live?

As the story progresses, we learn about the golden meaning, the true meaning behind the things we say or do. There’s a lot about suppressed memories and truths, both girls motherless and fleeing their pasts.

Mariama’s narrative is more child-like and I found it very hard to connect with her as a character. She runs away from home and stows away on a truck carrying goods to Ethiopia. As she travels across Africa she meets Yemaya, who she looks up to as both a mother figure and a goddess. Yemaya is the name of an African spirit, the spirit of mothers and the ocean, linking together both stories.

Meena’s sexuality is fluid; she addresses her narration to a previous partner, a transgender woman called Mohini. We learn a little about Mohini through flashbacks and it would seem at first that India has become quite accepting of differences gender identity and sexuality. However the world is still full of violence against women. There’s some uncomfortable scenes, one of which has drawn controversy to the book, and it doesn’t sit right with the idea of a society moving on. Why is this something women can't escape?

The Girl in the Road, winner of the 2014 Tiptree Award, is published by Blackfriars, an imprint of Little Brown, and is currently available in paperback and ebook editions with a new paperback due on 3rd September 2015. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review via NetGalley.

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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.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Monsters

Peculiar is one of my least favourite words. Everyone is always describing me as peculiar, especially grown-ups.

All is not well in the Cornish town of Fowey. The body of a women has washed ashore in this quiet, seaside holiday location. Everyone is shocked by the murder except for one 12 year old girl, staying with her aunt and uncle for the summer. She loves murders, the more gruesome the better, and she’s sure she could do a better job than the incompetent local police at solving the crime. Then she finds a partner in Miles, who seems to take even more glee in the crime than her, if that was possible. This could be the start of a beautiful friendship.

Is this a story of two budding sociopaths or just a couple of kids with an interest in the macabre? That’s up to you to decide. I thought Miles showed more signs of sociopathy than the narrator (I apologise if she has a name but I can’t for the life of me remember it). The fact that the narrator hasn’t the same social constraints as the adults, and shares some of her less savoury thoughts, means the pages are scattered with a dark humour.

Sometimes, when I’m angry, I get the feeling that I’m filled with conger eels like the tank in the aquarium, all cold and slithery.

The story feels as if it’s from a different era. I think sometimes seaside tourist towns can seem trapped in the past, but there’s a clear lack of internet and mobile communication going on. It harks back to the days when children had to make their own entertainment over the summer. It helps that there is a real drama here, but you can imagine it as a game they would make up. Indeed, Miles does invent a rather disturbing game of Murder where our narrator must play the victim. However it does need to at least be in the late nineties as The Lost Gardens of Heligan are no longer lost.

You’d be surprised what people would do to live in a beautiful town full of flags and sunshine and with no litter on the streets.

If you need to like the characters in order to enjoy a book, you might want to pass on this one. However I had a lot of sympathy for the narrator. It didn’t sound like her parents had a lot of time for her when they were alive and now she is a victim of abuse. My heart bled for her when her period starts and no one has ever really told her about it. At times I felt the monsters weren’t the children but the people around them.

Some of the people of the town come across a bit caricature like but it kind of adds to the charm. The styles is a little like that of a “cosy crime” mystery even if the main characters aren’t all that cosy. I’ve seen a few reviews saying it’s not for younger readers but I loved Point Horror as a pre-teen and I don’t think this is any grizzlier, though perhaps better written!

Monsters is published by Hot Key Books and will be available in paperback and ebook formats from 3rd September 2015. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review via NetGalley.

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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.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Win The Time of the Clockmaker!


Lost in time and stranded on her own, the new Miss Hatfield must discover the secrets of the Tudor court. But danger and love are never far away...

Her mentor shockingly killed in front of her, Rebecca Hatfield must flee the place and time she knows. She has lost her family, her dearest love and her ability to live a normal life. All she has left is the gift - or curse - of her immortality, and the bizarre clock that allows her to travel in time.

But when she too is attacked by the mysterious black-clad figure, Rebecca finds herself stranded in Tudor England. The clock has been stolen and without it, she can never leave the past. Alone, without friends or resources, she must risk the danger of Henry VIII's court and hunt down her attacker.

But someone else is waiting for her...


Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Led Astray

Led Astray is an anthology of work from Kelley Armstrong, most previously published in various places. The stories dip from the past through to the future, including some post-apocalyptic scenarios, one of which is set in a future affected by the goings on in the Darkest Powers world. I would definitely be interested in reading more of that future if Kelley decided to write a novel there…

The world will end, not with a bang, but with a sniffle.

I appreciated how substantial some of the stories were. Ones you could really get involved and absorbed in. It’s one of the best example of this kind of anthology I’ve read in a long time. It’s definitely not the dregs! There’s also plenty that are standalone tales, including an excellent one where a village struck by diphtheria is visited by some men promising them the impossible. It’s a skill to write characters that draw you in in such a short space of time.

You’ll get the most out of the in-world stories if you’ve read the series, but they are mostly quite contained and still can be enjoyed without prior knowledge. Where they are set in an existing world, it’s handily listed underneath the title, so no having to guess what world you’re in. Obviously, some of them might have a few character spoilers, and the Cainsville ones definitely shouldn’t be read before the first book if you want to keep the intrigue.

Bloodsucker? What's next? Queen of Darkness? Spawn of Satan? You're running about twenty years behind, sweetie. Where's the clever quip? The snappy repartee?

The Cainsville stories got me in the mood for the novel out next week. They are all set in the past and reveal a little bit more about the Walshes. I’m not sure if I missed the significance of something in Visions but Devil May Care definitely shed more light on something for me. The blurb states it includes two new Cainsville stories, I can only assume the others have been published elsewhere as there’s definitely more than two.

List of contents (taken from kelleyarmstrong.com):

Rakshashi (standalone)
Kat (Darkest Powers universe, non-series narrator)
A Haunted House of Her Own (standalone)
Learning Curve (Otherworld universe, Zoe)
The Screams of Dragons (Cainsville universe, non-series narrator)
The Kitsune’s Nine Tales (Age of Legends universe, non-series narrator)
Last Stand (standalone)
Bamboozled (Otherworld universe, non-series narrator)
Branded (Otherworld universe, non-series narrator)
The List (Otherworld universe, Zoe)
Young Bloods (Otherworld universe, non-series narrator)
The Door (standalone, original to this collection)
Dead Flowers by a Roadside (standalone)
Suffer the Children (standalone)
The Collector (standalone)
Gabriel’s Gargoyles (Cainsville universe, Gabriel)
Harbinger (standalone)
V Plates (Otherworld universe, Nick)
Life Sentence (Otherworld universe, non-series narrator)
Plan B (standalone)
The Hunt (Cainsville universe, non-series narrator)
Dead to Me (standalone)
Devil May Care (Cainsville universe, Patrick, original to this collection)

Led Astray is published by Tachyon Publications and will be available in paperback and ebook editions from 15th September 2015. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review via NetGalley.

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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.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Am I Normal Yet?

Starting at a new college, where no one knows her as the girl who went crazy, Evie is determined to get her life back on track and start being a normal teenage girl. She’s almost off her meds and is getting out and going to parties. She just needs one more thing, a boyfriend.

I didn't really have any sharable anecdotes. That's the thing about anxiety - it limits your experiences so the only stories you have to tell are the "I went mad" ones.

An excellent portrayal of a girl fighting against OCD, a much misunderstood mental illness. I liked the fact that it used Evie’s Bad Thoughts throughout the text, and how they escalated was representative of how the illness strikes. At the beginning she is much better at counteracting her bad thoughts with good thoughts. Her ritual behaviour is linked closely to her bad thoughts, the kind of behaviour that defines OCD.

Evie sees normal as having a boyfriend, so this becomes her top priority. She even starts to believe she is cured when she’s around someone special, despite the warnings from her therapist. It’s such a normal thing to want when you’re a teenager; to be just like everyone else. It’s only when you’re older and wiser (or Evie’s fab little sister Rose) that you realise there’s no such thing as normal.

The stigma of mental illness causes Evie to be scared to open up to her friends. In her eyes it makes her less normal and she just wanted to be accepted. She doesn’t want pity and she doesn’t want to be seen as a freak. It also shows how being stuck inside your head with your thoughts can make you act selfish, even if you’re not a selfish person. There’s too much else going on to stop and think that other people might be struggling too. That’s an important lesson to anyone who wants to help their friends in similar circumstances; give them time and they’ll be thankful for your patience. It highlights the importance of family and friends in recovery, about being open and not keeping secrets.

I liked Sarah. I thought she was a down to earth therapist, where so many mental health professionals are portrayed in a stereotypical manner. She was firm but kind and had some great “homework” for Evie.

Well , that's life. That's not just you. Life is better and then it's worse, over and over, for everyone.

Whilst educating teens on the subject of feminism is an applaudable thing to do through fiction, there were times I thought the lessons were a bit of an info dump. I loved the scene when they realise their conversations aren’t going to pass the Bechdel test and there are other lessons learned which do fit with the narrative, even if a little bit forced.

As for Evie’s presentation at the end, I think it’s a little unfair to blame women’s mental illnesses on men. There’s a tiny concession to the fact that men with depression are more likely to commit suicide, often attributed to gender stereotyping. The fact that men don’t seek help might actually mean the records showing more women suffer from mental illness are skewed. Victorian asylums were not just where women got sent for being hysterical but they were also a great way for a woman to get rid of her husband without a divorce (hard for the average person to do at the time).

If you’ve read Am I Normal Yet? and would like to learn more about OCD, I highly recommend The Man Who Couldn’t Stop, which is part memoir part exploration of the condition by a sufferer.

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Also reviewed @ Jess Hearts Books




Book Source: Purchased

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Incoming!

A little pile of books this fortnight and I'm pretty proud of me reading my bought book straight away; my review of Am I Normal Yet? will be on the blog next week. I've also already read the wonderful The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, definitely read it is you feel emotional warmth has been missing from your science fiction lately.

It's NetGalley challenge month, which I signed up to but this also means I have been looking at NetGalley. We all know that means accidentally requesting titles, don't we? Although not (yet) part of the challenge I am giving myself a goal of getting my ratio back up to 80% by the end of the year. I reckon that's about 10 books and I do have some fantastic sounding titles lined up...

Yes I do have two copies of The Time of the Clockmaker. Keep your eyes out for a giveaway on the blog soon.


For review:

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers (Hodder)
Silence is Goldfish by Annabel Pitcher (Orion)
The Time of the Clockmaker by Anna Caltabiano (Gollancz)*
All of the Above by James Dawson (Hot Key Books)

Bought:

Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne


*Unsolicited titles

Thursday, 6 August 2015

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

Humans would’ve died out, too, if the Aeluons hadn’t chanced upon the Fleet. Luck’s what saved them. Luck, and discovering humility.

On board the Wayfarer is a crew of wormhole builders, literally punching holes in space. On their way to a job of a lifetime, in potentially hostile territory, the crew’s life plays out. Everyone has a story to tell; the new clerk running away from her past; the reptilian pilot living amongst a culture alien to her own; the pacifist captain waiting for his love to return from war. It’s a long way to that small, angry planet so plenty of time to learn about one another.

At the heart of The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is a crew of the most lovely, amazing characters ever to set foot on a spaceship. Rosemary might set off on the wrong foot, being given the tour by the grumpiest member, and worrying that her past will catch up with her, but this isn’t setting the scene for strife. This is a ship of good people.

Fear. Such a throwback emotion, meant to spur primitive lifeforms away from potential predators. Life’s universal constant. Every fear of rejection, of criticism, of failure, of loss – these were all caused by that same archaic survival reflex.

In the future, the human race isn’t at the top of the hierarchy. Quite the opposite, they were only just allowed to be let into the GC, what with many other species looking down on them. As Wayfarer travels towards Hedra Ka, the readers learns about different cultures and quite how absurd some of the things we take for granted might seem to another sentient species.

Why would social structures be the same as 20th century Earth’s in cultures that have evolved independently to ours? Of course they wouldn’t, and we see a variety of different identities and ways of living. The key thing to note about this story is the overarching acceptance of differences. It’s just lovely. The writing uses a variety of pronouns, for those species that are genderless, or to be polite when you don’t know what gender someone identifies as. There is also the use of they for Ohan.

Oh Ohan. I cried over pretty much every part of their story. For some reason I had them pictured as a sort of blue orang-utan though, anyone else? How hard to watch friends waste away, but knowing it’s their own choice, their own beliefs sending them to their grave.

Couldn’t the same be said for organic people? Weren’t they all born running the Basic Human Starter Platform, which was shaped and changed as they went along?

Lovey has got to be the best AI ever. I’m not sure I’ve ever cried over a fictional computer before. Whilst the universe seems so liberal in many ways, there are still prejudices. What about life artificially created, does that not deserve the same rights as anyone else? It’s not just AIs that have this problem, as little glimpses into the characters’ lives will tell.

This book is as far from angry as you can get. It is full of love and emotion, and an endearing loyalty. More please!

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is published by Hodder and is available to buy now in ebook formats with a hardback due for release on 13th August 2015. 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.