Wednesday, 24 May 2017

The Fallen Children

As a huge fan of John Wyndham I was intrigued to see what David Owen would do with this Midwich Cuckoos inspired young adult novel. The thing about the original Midwich was its close-knit community, where the village rallied round to help the mysteriously pregnant women. Sadly in this contemporary council estate setting, there is nothing of the sort.

When the residents of Midwich Towers fall asleep simultaneously, Keisha is streaming (on something similar to Twitch) and her viewers witness it but switch off before they can see her being dragged away from the camera. In the end, four young women become pregnant, three of whom are teenagers. You can imagine the assumptions people will make about these teen pregnancies from the estate.

A teenage girl who isn't ready, who should have been able to do better than this, who let herself down. Except that's not quite right and I force myself towards the truth of it: they see exactly what they expect of a girl like me.

The Fallen Children explores how difficult it is for young people to escape their circumstances. In part this is shown through the reactions to the pregnancies, but also through Keisha's ex who borrowed money from the estate's drug dealer to better himself and the alien children themselves. They are good kids but people expect the worst from them just because of where they live.

It touches on the violation of these girls and how they feel no one will believe them. Whilst the characters react to their offspring differently, there is a lack of connection for some. How do you love the child born out of rape? Never mind that they might not be human. It reflects the experience of young mothers in general, who might not be ready for the responsibility or prepared for the practicalities of raising a child.

I can't be to blame for how he turns out. It can't be my responsibility. I was born in the block, and it trapped me into this life. My attempts to escape were futile.

Maida is a young Muslim girl who feels empowered when she realises what the children can do. I think it goes to her head a bit. Unfortunately her influence, combined with a lack of motherly love from another, ends up doing more damage than good. Children are somewhat a product of their environment but a good parent should lead them in the right direction. There is a scene near the ends which is so powerful and moving. Poor Zero, is all I can say without spoilers.

I found it a little slow to get going but loved it by the end. The different narrative voices aren't that distinct so it took we a while to differentiate the characters. I'm not sure we really needed the story line about the inappropriate teacher either.

Oh yeah, and this book has been released with 360 different colour variations of the cover! Go forth and find your favourite now.

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Book Source: Purchased

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Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Summer Reading List

Rather than doing this week's Top Ten Tuesday Summer Reads topic, I thought I'd just share my summer reading list. Bex is encouraging everyone to share them on the Ninja Book Box forum and I created my list a couple of weeks ago so I have actually made some progress. Maybe I shall come back and update this with reviews as the summer progresses!

1. The Lie of the Land by Amanda Craig
2. Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamad (currently reading)
3. The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman
4. Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith

5. One Italian Summer by Keris Stainton
6. Geekerella by Ashley Poston
7. Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
8. Release by Patrick Ness

9. Shattered Minds by Laura Lam (currently reading)
10. The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord
11. Another Day in the Death of America by Gary Younge
12. Shark Drunk by Morten Str√łksnes

13. Moxyland by Lauren Beukes
14. The Next Together by Lauren James
15. Girl Detached by Manuela Salvi
16. The Lonely City by Olivia Laing

17. The Outrun by Amy Liptrot
18. The Little Homo-Sapiens Scientist by S.L. Huang (read 4/5)
19. Dumplin' by Julie Murphy
20. When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

21. The Lines We Cross by Randa Abdel-Fattah
22. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
23. The Fallen Children by David Owen (read 4/5)
24. The Dog Who Dared to Dream by Sun-mi Hwang

As always with these things, I will likely go off-track and there's already some extra books I know I'll read before the summer's out.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Ink and Bone

Imagine a world where the Great Library of Alexandria still stands and Gutenberg's press was suppressed leaving the great institution as the gatekeeper of the written word. That's where Rachel Caine's Great Library series is set. Oh and England is at war with Wales.

There is no place in the world for librarians who lack the will to defend books against wars, rebels, and Burners. Books cannot fight for themselves.

The way the Codex works is a sort of magical ereader, with the Library sending approved texts to a blank whenever the reader wants them. With physical books only circulating on the black market, this raises the concerns many had about a behemoth in charge of ebooks. That when the content and distribution falls to one organisation, they control and censor what people read. Texts can disappear at any moment or the words altered.

It also touches on privacy and ownership by giving every citizen a journal. This is personal and every child is encouraged to pour out their inner thoughts for the rest of their lives. When they die, the book becomes part of the Library. Can anything be truly private with a link to the library though? There are also burners, the terrorists of this world, who believe their words should die with them.

The destruction of Rayy taught us that calculated politics and unthinking rage – make no mistake, the two are sometimes hand in hand – are the greatest threats knowledge can face.

The story follows Jess Brightwell, the son of a book smuggler, who is sent to the Library to compete for a coveted position as a scholar. It is a bit slow to start, with the emphasis on world-building over characters in the first half. I'm not sure I ever really connected with Jess, but I loved some of the other characters and the whole concept is plenty of fun. It definitely picks up a lot near the end and there are loads of little snippets that are really quite relevant to our modern world. I already have the second book and I'll definitely be giving it a go sometime.

The truth was what the Library wanted it to be.

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Book Source: Purchased

Monday, 15 May 2017

The Power

I saw The Power on so many best-of lists last year and with its inclusion in the Women's Prize shortlist, I bumped it up my TBR. The premise is that girls have evolved to give off electrical shocks and they pass this on to older women, where the power lies dormant. This is used as a vehicle to explore what would happen if women had an advantage over men.

The shape of power is always the same; it is the shape of a tree. Root to tip, central trunk branching and re-branching, spreading wider in ever-thinner, searching fingers. The shape of power is the outline of a living thing straining outward, sending its fine tendrils a little further, and a little further yet.

The patriarchy doesn't magically disappear straight away. Women still see their jobs at risk because their male bosses are scared. The girls are segregated from the boys out of fear of what they might do. The women have to justify their existence, placate the men that they mean no harm. Gun and bombs can still hurt them. Yet eventually, it shows how women can be just as corrupted by power, or misogynistic, as men. Some scenes are really quite uncomfortable reading as the women repeat the crimes of men.

It says a lot about the male reaction to feminism too although it does seem to feed into the paranoia that women would mess things up or make life bad for men. This fear that women having more rights will make men obsolete, no longer at the top of the food chain, is explored. UrbanDox is a 4Chan-esque website where "men's rights" activists lurk, sharing their conspiracy theories and hatred of the opposite sex. Many see a gender war emerging, where violence is the only answer to keep the women in their place.

I think it's important that the journalist is a man. Tunde sees how women are freed from tyranny, from oppressive cultures and slavery. He doesn't feel like the women are against him and he relays this to the world through his reporting. Yet as the story goes on, the tables are turned.

When he walked past a group of women on the road - laughing and joking and making arcs against the sky - Tunde said to himself, I'm not here, I'm nothing, don't notice me, you can't see me, there's nothing to see here.

It also touches on religion, with the rise of a new evangelical faith. I thought it was an interesting use of the power but was a bit of a side act as so much was going on. The power also serves as a metaphor for sexual enjoyment at times, with women thinking they could never experience it, then feeling what it's like, and then there's also something that's akin to female genital mutilation if you see the power in that sense.

The format is reminiscent of World War Z and it doesn't really have a gripping character arc (no pun intended). It is bracketed by correspondence between a fictional male writer and his female editor (Naomi), implying this is a historical text. This and another event includes a little dig at how literary types have often been snobbish about women's fiction. I think there's a lot of ideas and the story is built up around them, which meant it sometimes lost momentum.

A part of be felt a little let down by my gender. I don't believe women would run a perfect world but I would hope we wouldn't just repeat the same mistakes either. However, maybe that's the secret to equality, we're all just as bad as each other.

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Book Source: Purchased

Saturday, 13 May 2017

The Dream Thieves

The Dream Thieves is the second book in the Raven Cycle and therefore this review may contain spoilers for The Raven Boys.

These books are real slow burners, I would usually expect to get into the second book in a series so much quicker, but it takes a fair while to get to the gist of what The Dream Thieves is all about. I think this is partly because there are a lot of characters and there doesn't appear to be a single protagonist.

In that moment, Blue was a little in love with all of them. Their magic. Their quest. Their awfulness and strangeness. Her raven boys.

There is more focus on Ronan and his ability to bring objects out of dreams, hence the title, and there's some moments of genuine kindness creeping through Ronan's persona. Nefarious types are hunting for the Greywaren, an object that can do just what he maybe they are looking for a person not a thing? One of these is the Grey Man who has taken a romantic interest in Blue's mum.

I think it's a lot less of a romance than the first. Blue is starting to think there probably wouldn't be much risk to kissing Adam, he just isn't the one. Her refusal to kiss him is becoming a real sticking point. Maybe, just maybe, she is starting to like Gansey, which is a real problem. Remember in The Raven Boys she saw his ghost, which means he'll die before the year is up. But there is some weird time stuff happening as well so it's all up in the air. This is why I feel the need to hurry up and get the third book.

Just her and the pink switchblade. They were a good pair. Both incapable of opening up without cutting someone.

Adam is still just as obsessed with finding Glendower and his relationships are starting to suffer, not just with Blue but things are also strained with Gansey. There is clearly something going on here. The contrast between him and Gansey isn't just class and money, but Adam is doing everything to escape Henrietta, whilst Gansey would rather leave his life behind and stay in Henrietta forever. Adam feels like he has to be like the Gansey he doesn't even like to succeed.

I wasn't too keen on all the street racing parts and Kavinsky, but later on it's revealed why this is important to the rest of the story. I'm really starting to like Gansey and Ronan's turning into a better person too, so yeah, I'll be carrying on with this series.

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Book Source: Gift

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Down the Rabbit Hole

Read the World: Mexico

Down the Rabbit Hole is both a story about a lonely boy who wants a pygmy hippo and a glimpse into the world of a drug lord. Tochtli lives with his father in a secluded and secure palace. His only friends are the men who work for his father. He loves hats and admires the French for their efficiency in inventing the guillotine.

If I counted dead people I'd know more than thirteen or fourteen people. Seventeen or more. Twenty easily. But dead people don't count, because the dead aren't people, they're corpses.

There is a dark humour to this little book but it has a sad undertone too. Tochtli's perspective is warped as he has no context as to what is normal. He has seen dead bodies and is fascinated by death and the means with which men are killed. Yet he still is innocent to the wider world. He loves learning, but he never leaves the house, never knows what people think of what his father does.

Mexico has a strong tradition of narco fiction and this book approaches the sub-genre from a different angle. The drugs business isn't described first-hand, but Tochtli isn't shielded from much. His dad wants him to be macho and he feels the need to hide signs of weakness. He's not a likeable little boy but you can feel sorry for him. He is a product of his upbringing.

Books don't have anything in them about the present, only the past and the future. This is one of the biggest defects of books. Someone should invent a book that tells you what's happening at this moment, as you read.

With its proximity to the US, sadly much of Mexico's modern culture has been greatly influenced by drug trafficking and the glamourisation of cartel life. It's said that narcoculture is based on honor, bravery, family loyalty, protection, vengeance, generosity, hospitality, nobility, and prestige, and plenty of these things are seen through Tochtli's eyes.

Whilst not the same country, I'd be surprised if it wasn't a little inspired by Pablo Escobar's life. The Columbian drug lord had hippos and wanted to keep the drugs away from the people of his country (something inferred by Tochtli's father). A lot of the Mexican cartels had links to Columbia too, as the source of a lot of the drugs.

Juan Pablo Villalobosis a Mexican writer who now lives in Spain. Down the Rabbit Hole was translated into English by Rosalind Harvey for And Other Stories.

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Book Source: Purchased

Monday, 8 May 2017

American Street

Read the World: Haiti

Fabiola is travelling from Haiti to live with her aunt and cousins in Detroit when her mother is detained by immigration. Her new home is on the intersection of American and Joy but her new life is far from perfect. Her new family always seem to have money despite never working and they don't appear to be doing much to help free her mother.

Suddenly, I feel so alone in this house. I am surrounded by family, but none of them really knows me or understands what happened to me today.

I liked how elements of Vodou were interwoven into a contemporary tale. It's left up to the reader to decide whether or not the man on the corner is really Papa Legba or if Fabiola is just projecting her beliefs onto him. Still, she believes in him and she takes guidance from the songs he sings. She also sees her deities in other characters, those who represent the same things as them.

In Vodou, death is seen as a transition from one life to another, and Fabiola talks to Papa Legba about crossing over. Emigrating is a huge transition too, and she doesn't feel like she can settle in her new life until her mother is freed from the detention centre. In a way she is seeking help from the spirits to help her mother cross over, not to the afterlife but to America.

Bottom line: no one around here is gonna talk. So this all becomes like some sort of chaotic cycle. Bad people stay on the streets, good people die; bad people make a shitload of money, good people have to scrape pennies.

Vodou has got so mixed up in popular culture with the fictional depiction voodoo, it's great to see a book from a Haitian author (albeit one who left Haiti as a little girl). You'll be pleased to hear, there's not a single doll or zombie in sight.

It also shows a little how immigration isn't a magic ticket to a better life. Immigrants often end up in communities with existing problems. Fabiola brushes up against the drug culture in her neighbourhood. As soon as she is in her new home she hears how the cops are taking interest in the overdose of a white girl. She sees how being on the wrong side of the business is dangerous as much as being on the right side provides protection of a kind.

I did feel Fabiola's voice was a little younger sounding than sixteen but this might be intentional to portray her naivety. No one has told her about the immigration process and that there was a real danger her mother would be detained. She doesn't seem to understand what being detained even means.

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Book Source: Purchased