Wednesday, 17 December 2014

An English Boy in New York

An English Boy in New York is the sequel to Boys Don't Knit and therefore this review may contain spoilers for the previous book.

Ben had almost forgot his prize included a trip to KnitFair USA in New York. Now he only needs to decide who to take and clear it with his probation officer, then make it through immigration which is harder said than done when you’ve got a record and are a member of an activist group. Poor Ben just wants a rest, but his trip is turning into PR meeting after PR meeting. The he opens his mouth on radio and says something he is soon going to regret.

An English Boy in New York is a fun follow up to Ben’s knitting adventures. The hoopie is taking off and he’s convinced he’s allergic to the colour cerise. Knitting with it makes his head hurt. So of course there’s a plot which leads him to cerise wool and the discovery of Canadian paracetamol. I thought his opinions on the differences between US and UK teeth were adorable. And it kinda made me wanta Philly cheesesteak sandwich even though I don't like steak. Honestly, these books are such fun and distracting reads, more please!

I don’t really want to say who Ben ends up taking to New York, but let’s just say it isn’t his girlfriend, Megan. It does say on the blurb but I didn’t read that first and I liked the suspense of him going through his contacts. Being separated from his girlfriend makes Ben paranoid of course, maybe her gran isn’t sick after all…

New York provides many an opportunity for Ben’s anxiety to show through. There are plenty of books that make things like paranoia and anxiety into dramatic centrepieces but I like the reality of it in this. It’s the silly little things that makes Ben worry, exactly the sort of things that can make living with anxiety into a daily struggle against logic.

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Book Source: Gift from Ellie @ Book Addicted Blonde

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Returning to his childhood home for a funeral, a man’s memories are stirred by the farm at the end of the lane. A place with a pond that the youngest Hempstock swore was an ocean. He remembers the three women who lived there all those years ago and the creatures that lived in the world beyond.

This is one of those stories that can be read one of two ways. Perhaps it is a fantastical tale of things from another world. On the other hand, there is enough in the way it is told to suggest that this is something the narrator has made up, a story more acceptable than facing childhood abuse. He had forgotten it ever happened until he returned many years later. The mind might try and forget abuse but would you forget such unusual events?

The narrator’s childhood equilibrium is broken when his parents find themselves struggling financially. They rent out a room to bring in more money, inviting strangers into a child’s safe place. When one of those strangers is trusted by the parents but isn’t worthy of their trust, it places the child in an awful situation. He witnesses things he shouldn’t see and feels he can’t turn to his own family for help.

It feels like a world a small, frightened boy might create past the pond at the end of the lane. A childhood world of make believe masking events he was too young to face. Didn’t we all make the landscape we played in more than it was?

The worm in his foot was terrifying. I think creepy crawlies getting into your body is a real childhood fear. I remember thinking earwigs would actually crawl into my ears and eat my brain (or maybe it was Star Trek that instilled that fear). I even felt a bit sick reading how a bit broke off. Bad things are bound to happen…

I’m always a bit nervous picking up a book everyone seems to love. I liked The Ocean at the End of the Lane, but I didn’t love it. The rest of my book group felt the same at least, though some of them felt they wanted it longer, with more fleshed out characters. I liked the fairy tale feel to them and I’m not sure I would have been engaged for a whole full length novel.

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Book Source: Purchased

Monday, 8 December 2014

The Year of the Ladybird

In the searing heat of the summer of 1976, David sets off to Skegness in search of work. He had never known his father, but had one photo of them together on the beach there. He soon lands himself a job in “entertainments” at one of the holiday camps. As the summer wears on, he starts seeing a man on a beach with a child, a man in a blue suit.

A darkened backstage is a place full of ghosts. You expect silence, but things creak.

There’s something about seeing things on a hot summer’s day on the beach that makes it more sinister. However I don’t think the fact the cover says it’s a ghost story needs to be taken literally. Maybe David did see a ghost, or maybe his mind is playing tricks on him as his suppressed memories try to break through.

Graham Joyce’s writing is so evocative, you can practically feel the oppressive heat of the holiday camp. The place is starting to fray around the edges, both in the physical sense and in the tired acts that no longer appeal to the young. It’s like a time warp. It’s strange to think the seaside camps were starting to fade back in the 70s considering they’ve managed to cling on and stay in business even now.

Long hours of the happy face. It's dangerous. Doing a happy face when you really want to scream.

The plague of ladybirds is only a small part of the book. In fact it’s been released under the title The Ghost in the Electric Blue Suit in the US (although that might be because they don’t know what ladybirds are). The plague did actually happens and 1976 is known as the year of the ladybird. So it’s about David experiences of that year, where reality became surreal.

If you’re looking for horror or a ghost story, you may be disappointed, but the writing is superb and it’s a wonderful peek into a different time and place. From the simple pleasures of a British seaside holiday to the uncomfortable presence of the National Front, gaining force amongst the working classes in the north, who felt immigrants were to blame for their hardships.

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Book Source: Gift from Ellie @ Book Addicted Blonde

Sunday, 7 December 2014

The Islanders

Following the death of his mother, Olivier is stranded in a snowy Versailles over Christmas. When he goes to ask his neighbour for the phonebook, an old flame opens the door. He hasn’t seen his high school love Jeanne in twenty years. But their past hides secrets, and her blind brother Rodolphe soon works out who Olivier is…

Was Jeanne still Jeanne? Why should life, which spares no one, make an exception for her?

The Islanders is the perfect antidote to saccharine Christmas tales. As with Pascal Garnier’s other books, the tone is dark and the characters on a varying scale of dislikeable. What seems like a straightforward, if a little inconvenient, Christmas soon starts to go downhill. It’s a reminder that Christmas isn’t a time of cheer for everyone and the already cynical may appreciate the dark humour at this time of year.

Olivier is a recovering alcoholic, but he is soon lured back to the drink with devastating consequences. Rodolphe has become bitter at the world, overweight and blind, he might as well be invisible. Something that his sister and Olivier never were at school. But they wanted to be on their island, alone and separated from the world.

Someone had once told him you became an adult the day you started avoiding puddles.

There's a lot of observations about growing up, about getting older. Their imaginary island is a symbol of their youthful naivety. A place they expected to be when they grew up. Instead Jeanne is trapped with her disabled and manipulative brother and Olivier is unfeeling in his marriage but brought alive by drink. Is there any way for them to get back to their island or has it been submerged forever?

I liked the little slice of this Paris suburb at Christmas. How all the shops and cafes seemed to remain open and you could just wander down for fresh croissants on Christmas morning. The book is a little dated, I’m assuming this was written quite some time before it was published, or Garnier never embraced modern life. There’s phonebooks and videotapes and a world in which you can disappear easily by not answering the door. Though sometimes it’s good to be reminded of the days before technology took over our lives.

The Islanders has been translated from the original French by Emily Boyce for Gallic 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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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, 4 December 2014

A Thousand Pieces of You

Marguerite’s parents are the physicists behind the Firebird; a device that makes travel between dimensions possible. When her father is murdered and the prime suspect disappears, Marguerite doesn’t hesitate to track him down. The only problem is, he’s no longer in their dimension.

I liked the concept of souls that span dimensions. We might be different people, but each version of us is has something that defies chance and chaos. Deep down, every version of ourselves is the same, no matter the circumstances. The prose often alludes to Marguerite's love of art and I felt there were some beautiful pieces of writing

The dimension jumping kept making me think of Quantum Leap. Although they only leap into themselves, but they have to learn quickly what kind of life they have landed in. We see a dimension that is ahead of us technologically and one that is behind, and another where sea levels have rose, making the scientific struggle focus on the oceans.

I want my reality painted over this one until I can't see the blinding white any longer.

A large portion of the book is set in a Russia where the industrial revolution is in its early stages (they have trains but not much else). It’s not time travel, but it’s interesting to highlight how easy our world could be different. It’s probably too much to ask for more world-building for each dimension. I wanted more back story. What was the event that made that dimension different from ours? For the idea to work, they can’t be too dissimilar as Marguerite needed to exist in each one.

I just felt A Thousand Pieces of You fell into a few too many young adult clichés. Theo would have been just as an effective character had he been a platonic friend. You can still love and want to protect someone you don’t want to have sex with. But instead, they nearly fall into bed at the beginning. If love spans dimensions, why do we need a love triangle?

Then there was special snowflake syndrome. Something makes Marguerite able to tolerate dimension jumping better than others. And there’s an evil corporation; OK not just a YA cliché there, and it’s a believable enough one, but it felt too thrown in there without much thought.

A Thousand Pieces of You is published by HarperCollins and is available now in paperback and ebook editions. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

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Also reviewed @ Page to Stage Reviews | Between the Pages

Shelve next to: All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill



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 December 2014

Symbiont

Symbiont is the sequel to Parasite and therefore this review may contain spoilers for the previous book.

The sleepwalkers are rapidly taking over San Francisco, with the threat of quarantine looming. Now that Sal Mitchell has rescued her dogs, she can return to Dr Cale’s secret lab, where scientists are busy looking for answers. Why are the tapeworms taking over and how can they be stopped? And where does Sal, coming to terms with her real identity, fit in? If it comes to taking sides, which should she choose?

You can't be part of nature if you're trying to be clean all the time.

Tansy’s story is shocking and heart-breaking. Her viewpoints are probably the most powerful parts of this story, even if they are limited. The world Sal now lives in is starting to become very cruel indeed and there’s some hard to swallow scenes. Fishy, new to the scene, is delusional, refusing to accept the apocalypse is really happening and he thinks he’s just inside a video game. In some of the final chapters, this becomes endearing and also made me chuckle in the face of imminent doom.

Things had seemed almost hopeful only a few seconds before, even if "hope" had been redefined on the local level to mean "slightly less bleak."

Without giving too much away, I loved the parts that were set in an abandoned chocolate factory that was kitted out to resemble Wonka’s. Apocalyptic tales are usually full of derelict buildings and a limited colour palette. It’s such fun to put in such a contrasting location. There were others living in a mall that gave a nod to Dawn of the Dead.

The sleepwalkers may not technically be zombies, but Symbiont feels much more like a zombie story than Parasite did. The tapeworms are driven by hunger, and they might nosh down on the healthy, but they are killable and they will starve. There’s a point where, through Sal’s eyes, you start to feel pity towards them. They’re not evil monsters intent on destroying humanity, unlike some people she knows. They are simply confused and starving.

Every human was the result of social and cultural recombination, picking up a turn of phrase here, an idea or a preconception there, the same way bacteria picked up and traded genes.

My main gripe about Symbiont that meant it didn’t quite live up to Parasite, was what felt like a lack of editing. There’s a lot of repetition in Sal’s thoughts, going over and over how she has her phobia of cars and it was all SymboGen’s fault. She also keeps telling us how she came to be. If you’re halfway through the second book and haven’t grasped that yet, you’re really not paying attention. I think it would have been a lot stronger book if it were 100 pages shorter.

I’m starting to tire a little of Sal but I love the world and many of the supporting characters. The idea of tapeworms being gender neutral gives Mira Grant a chance to incorporate a trans character. Someone who is trapped inside a female body feeling that they are male. I also loved the dogs continued presence by Sal’s side. Just because it’s the end of the world, doesn’t mean there’s not time for doggy affection.

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Book Source: Purchased

Monday, 1 December 2014

The Month That Was... November 2014

I often surprise myself when I come to do my monthly round-up. I think I've barely blogged at all but then I discovered I've managed to review stuff! Maybe I'm blogging in my sleep... November was quiter than normal though, my boyfriend moved in and I guess I've spent more time doing things other than reading, like disappearing into NetFlix in the evenings. We've been re-watching House and started Under the Dome. We also went to see Mockingjay part 1, and for once I can see the point in splitting the book up.

Anyway, on the reading front, I have to seriously up my game to meet what I thought was a modest goal for the year of 120 books (I'm at 105). So maybe some novellas and graphic novels might get bumped up my TBR. Last year I didn't meet my goal and that means Goodreads doesn't let me have a badge for what I did read. Which is the main annoying thing about not reaching my goal. I know it's just an arbitrary number but I want my badge dammit! ;)

My best of 2014 list will be up at the end of the year. I don't believe in doing it when I still have a month of reading left.

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

Reviews:




Read and awaiting review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, Symbiont by Mira Grant + Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops by Jen Campbell.

Blogged about:

Incoming! (16th Nov)
Incoming! (30th Nov)

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Incoming!

AKA Showcase Sunday

I imagine this will be my last incoming post before Christmas. Symbiont was a pre-order, but other than that, I'm not allowed to buy books in case someone has bought them for me already. So I just have to buy books for others ;)

I took part in the non-fiction book swap this month and got a very generous three books that have been on my wishlist for ages. So I'm looking forward to making some time for them over the holidays.

Our Endless Numbered Days arrived in a mysterious survival kit tin, which left me confused for a few minutes until my brain kicked in and went of course it's book post! Sometimes I love the weird ways publicists present proofs more than getting the book.


For review:
Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller (Penguin)
Murder by Sarah Pinborough (Jo Fletcher Books)

Gifted:
Brother Mendel's Perfect Horse by Frank Westerman
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops by Jen Campbell

Bought:
Symbiont by Mira Grant



Showcase Sunday is hosted by Books, Biscuits & Tea.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Waiting for Doggo

Dan’s girlfriend has left him. She’s also left him their dog. They never got round to naming him so he’s just been known as Doggo. Dan’s life doesn’t really have time for a dog, but somehow the two bond over work and love.

Awww, poor Doggo, everyone keeps calling him ugly. I’m not sure I’ve ever looked at a dog and thought they were ugly, even if do have mismatched body parts. Anyway, I did like the parts about Doggo but, despite what the marketing blurb says, he’s not the star of the show. It’s really a story about Dan, a freshly single, advertising man.

There was a point in my life where I might have enjoyed the ad agency storyline more but I found myself not really caring about Dan’s work. When they get the pitch for the ugly but functional car, it’s so obvious what’s that is set up for. They didn’t come across as very clever creatives for taking so much time over it. Dan jumping into bed with his ex’s sister straight away also got me off on the wrong foot. It just felt a bit off, especially for a book that I was expecting to be about a lovable dog. It’s not even like Doggo causes that much trouble.

Doggo does have some great moments though. His story is a sad one and he’s clearly an intelligent little dog. Dan decides he can’t possibly hand him back because that means the snip. He couldn’t do that to a fellow male. Actually Doggo’s a little bit laddish himself at times, including a crush on Jennifer Anniston. Maybe Waiting for Doggo is meant to be a doggy book for blokes.

I’ve seen a lot of bloggers really love this book, which makes my disappointment greater. It’s an easy read but was lacking that fuzzy feeling I’d expect from an underdog story.

Waiting for Doggo is published by Headline and is out now in hardback and ebook editions. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

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Also reviewed @ Uncorked Thoughts | Beadyjans Books | Page to Stage Reviews

Shelve next to: Who is Tom Ditto? by Danny Wallace



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, 20 November 2014

The Infinite Sea

The Infinite Sea is the sequel to The 5th Wave and therefore this review may contain spoilers for the previous book.

Holed up in a derelict hotel, Cassie is waiting for a promise to be kept. It might be impossible but she will wait for Evan Walker, the impossible boy. Her companions aren’t so sure, with danger lurking around every corner. And the aliens aren’t letting up their assault on humankind. They are unleashing new, more despicable, weapons onto the planet.

If there was any hope left, it lay in love's hopeless promises.
I feel I should have had a proper recap of The 5th Wave before I started this. I had forgotten who Ringer was so couldn’t place the first narrator. I just knew it wasn’t Cassie but it meant it took longer than it should to get into the flow of the story. The viewpoint changes a lot, and I did have difficulty keeping track at times, the voices weren’t that differentiated.

However, I did still enjoy the second instalment. If it’s possible, things are more bleak than before. For some reason unknown to the few surviving humans, the aliens are determined to torment them, drive out all humanity and make them trust no one. They can’t even take in a poor defenceless child without doubting them.

I’m not convinced that a bomb triggered by carbon dioxide could be hidden in someone’s throat. Wouldn’t they be breathing out carbon dioxide all the time?

There’s a lot of important information given out near the end and it seemed a bit rushed. This is much shorter than the first book and I have a sneaking suspicion there was a looming deadline. I went through stages of thinking what a cop-out to not understanding and then going back to where we started like maybe it was all a big con. You know how you can’t trust anyone? So maybe it’s all genius but I was left feeling bit confused.

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Book Source: Gift from Ellie @ Book Addicted Blonde
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