Review – Fellside by M R Carey

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Photo credit: http://www.goodreads.com

Let’s get this out of the way IMMEDIATELY – this book is not The Girl With All The Gifts. It’s not as fast paced, nowhere near as interesting, the characters are not as well developed, the action isn’t as constant and there are parts where it’s just plain hard to believe.

*so tempted to just write rating: 2/5 and leave it at that*

But I wouldn’t do that….

So, Fellside is the story of Jess, a young heroin addict who is convicted of manslaughter. She has very foggy memories of the event (she is accused of starting a fire which kills a young boy) but through a series of visions/hauntings (not really sure what to call it) and with the help of her legal team she unravells what really happens. That’s kind of the main plot but there are lots of other side stories that take over and tenuously link together. Its all a bit confusing to be honest.

Because the multiple storylines are all smushed together, you would think the action would be a mile a minute – like reading two books at once. Well, you’d be wrong. There were some parts of Fellside that really needed expanding upon – in particular I would have liked a lot more character description as with quite a large cast it was easy to get people confused – and some parts where literally. nothing. happened. and it was so slow and boring that I wanted to give up reading it. Apart from not really getting a sense of the main characters, I also felt that the smaller characters were all pretty bland and samey so it was easy to forget their back stories. This did not help when, at the end, some of these bit parts became pivotal to the storyline – I kept having to flick back to try to work out who was who.

Of the main characters that I could get a handle on, they collectively had very few reedeeming features so I didn’t really care what happened to any of them. I suppose I felt a bit sorry for Jess but she just seemed so bland and hopeless early on that by the time she had picked herself up I really wasn’t that bothered.

I found a lot of the storyline pretty unrealistic. I can deal with the fact that its a supernatural thriller, but there were lots of inconsistencies that made me question what was happening. For example, Jess is really badly injured in the fire and has to have reconstructive surgery on her face. By the accounts of the other characters the success of the surgery is limited by the seriousness of her burns and she is left with a weirdly frozen expression that a lot of her fellow inmates find creepy. And yet, despite having limited interactions with Jess (and when they do meet Jess literally says nothing) her lawyer falls completely in love with her. I’m not saying that Jess’ facial features preclude her from having someone fancy her, but I felt that the insta-love was totally inappropriate given that the characters hardly say two words to each other. Or when Jess is at death’s door early on and you know she can’t die because she’s the main character. Yawn.

I also struggled with how random the plot was. Instead of having exciting twists that you didn’t see coming (where the reader would think ‘oooh! I did not see that coming!’) we instead had bizzare plot detours where you were left thinking ‘what?!?’. I really hated that.

Despite nearly giving up on this book a number of times, I did read it to the end because a) it was part of a reading challenge, b) my friend had leant it to me with the warning ‘it drags on’ and c) my momma didn’t raise no quitters. Perhaps crime thriller/supernatural thriller/horror fans would enjoy it more but it just wasn’t my cup of tea. 

Overall rating: 2/5 (but you knew that already).
Disappointing, hard to believe that this was written by the same author as The Girl With All the Gifts.

Please note that I read this book as part of the Popsugar Reading Challenge 2017 #17 Read a book involving a mythical creature.

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Review: I Should be Writing by Mur Lafferty

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Photo credit: http://www.netgalley.com

With NaNoWriMo just around the corner, it’s time to get some inspiration – and what better way than with the bluntly named “I Should be Writing”. My internal monologue reads this as *screams* “I SHOULD BE WRITING!!!” in a harried, overly-caffeinated way so quite why there isn’t an exclamation mark on the end of the title is (spoiler alert) a mystery that is unfortunately left unresolved within the pages of the book. Perhaps I equate a different level of stress to the knowledge that I’ve wasted two hours looking at videos of puppies vs stairs when I know that I SHOULD BE WRITING!!! – and is possibly the reason that Mur Lafferty has a book and I… well, I know all the ways that a puppy can fall down the stairs. So cute!

I digress…

I Should be Writing (bet you screamed that in your head) is part self help book, part constructive guide to get you to, well, write. There’s a big focus on motivation (“You’re a writer. Get over it” (seriously, what does Mur have against exclamation marks?)) with plenty of tips for avoiding common mistakes, improving your manuscript and a brief discussion on the different ways to sell your work. There’s also lots of writing exercises to spark your imagination, should you be a bit stuck. The book is pretty brief, but it’s the sort of guide that you can dip in and out of to get an overview on a particular topic, because, you know, you really should be writing…

I found the actual advice given in the book to be pretty useful, if a bit basic (my favourite thing that I learnt was if a character can be replaced with a sexy lamp, you need to make her have more agency). There was some good stuff on character development, passive language and plot devices that helped me to think about the structure and direction of my work (I say that as if I have actually written something – I haven’t – but I do have ideas) which again was quite useful. I’m sure that if I do actually sit down and write something I will become immediately sidetracked by the pretty shiny on Pintrest so knowing that I have some constructive advice to fall back on is quite comforting.

I found that when I was reading the writing exercises at the back of the book I was immediately trying to answer the prompts in my head. I think it was the way they each headed a blank page – it felt like I was in an exam and I had to draw a spider diagram to get all of my ideas down before I forgot them. I might still get a mark even if I don’t get round to writing about them! After all, I’ve only got an hour! Aargh! How many points is the question worth? I’m going to need extra paper! Why is Clara using a highlighter pen? It never leaves you…

I could easily have smashed out a few hundred words for each of the writing exercises so I’d recommend this book on the strength of these prompts alone. I think they could definitely help authors with writers block as they were all clear, non-repetitive and easily relatable; no weird shit like “you look out of the window and there’s a dinosaur in your garden. Write about what happens next” (Answer: you die from the seizure which initiates such  bizzare visions) or “A horse opens its mouth and…” which makes you churn out such nonsense that you question your integrity as a person, let alone a writer. Top marks for Mur. They probably used highlighters too.

The only thing that this book was missing was advice on literally how to write; where you should start, how you can plan a novel out, how to remember which character is which etc. I would have liked some input on these topics over and above “just start writing”. For me that way madness lies but I guess I just enjoy having a proper structure to stick to. To each their own.

Overall, I enjoyed reading “I Should be Writing” (punctuation optional) and I think it would be a good, basic guide for the aspiring novelist. It’s a fun, quick read that avoids all of the dry, textbookyness (I know that’s not a word but Mur said I’m a writer so I can do shit like that) of other writing guides. The focus on motivation and procrastination could be really useful and the writing exercises gave me some great ideas. All in all, a great introduction to writing and a useful book to have around. 

Overall rating: 3.5/5
Solid, basic advice written in a light hearted style. Fun to dip in and out of when you need inspiration.

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley! I also read this book as part of the Popsugar Reading Challenge 2017 # 20 Read a Book With Career Advice.

Review: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

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Well, I’m stumped. It’s not often that I read a book and still have no idea how I feel about it by the end. However, Lolita has made me feel…well…I don’t know. Confused. Sickened. But I still read it, and on some level enjoyed it. Am I a terrible person?

Before I start the review proper, I have to say that there are huge trigger warnings for child abuse and paedophilia. Lolita is a graphic account of the grooming and rape of a minor and is not for the faint hearted. I’m morally opposed to banning books but even I can see why this novel caused such uproar and was removed from sale shortly after its release.

There are a lot of things to hate about this book. There are some incredibly uncomfortable parts regarding the main character’s feelings and actions towards young girls which genuinely made me feel a bit sick. His descriptions and what appear to be justifications for his behaviour are utterly abhorrent. He refers to girls that he finds attractive (and I mean girls literally – he specifies that they should be around age 12-13) as ‘nymphettes’ – a disgusting term which seemed to suggest a deliberate coquettishness by the girls which some men were unable to resist. Apart from this inference that on some level the girls were teasing the men on purpose, there were also mentions of how the age of consent is far lower in some cultures, that Lolita was fairly happy with the situation as she had a crush on him, that she willingly initiated some physical acts, that she had done it before…bleurgh. No. Just no.

Added to this is the fact that all of the characters in the book are absolutely horrible. Lolita is vapid and annoying. Her mother is even worse. Mr Humbert is a predatory paedophile. Therefore, it’s difficult sometimes to garner sympathy for Lolita, despite the awful circumstances that she finds herself in. She’s clearly been groomed but instead of being damaged by the abuse she seems almost indifferent to it. I’m not sure how realistic that is and for me this was one of the worst parts – the inference that she was getting something out of the relationship.

Despite this, Lolita is a classic for a reason and despite the content it is, without doubt, brilliantly well written. The dense, flowery language makes it seem almost Shakesperian in places and adds to the air of poetic tragedy which permeates the text.

Challenging to read, sickening in places but weirdly compelling, this is the kind of book that you’re glad to have read, even if most of the satisfaction comes from the knowledge that you’ve finished it.

Overall rating: 2.5/5

Please note that I read this book as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2017 #16 Read a book that has been banned or frequently challenged in your country.

Review: Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

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Photo credit: http://www.netgalley.com

I’d been hearing about the HBO series Big Little Lies for a while now, but not being much of a TV fan it kind of bypassed me. Imagine my excitement when I found Netgalley had the book the series was based on available for request! Yay! (Word of warning – this was a while ago now, I have no idea if it’s since been archived.)

The book is based around three women whose children are all starting at the same school. There’s Madeline, the down to earth, making-it-up-as-she-goes-along mum; Celeste, the beautiful, rich, slightly vacant mum; and Jane, the downtrodden young mum. The three women become friends, but an incident involving Jane’s son and another little girl creates escalating tension between all of the parents at the school. Everyone seems to have their own take on the matter, and as the parents form allegiances they’re forced to act in a way that protects their own secrets from becoming public knowledge. As the parents become more polarised, emotions are heightened until everything comes to a head at a fateful school fancy dress party – the scene of a terrible crime.

Big Little Lies is written partly in the format of a police investigation, so the reader instantly knows that the story is going to end in some kind of criminal incident. I really liked the way that the narrative was often juxtaposed with a witness statement from another parent which put a totally different spin on the situation – it was really cleverly done and showed how perceptions can be so distorted based on our own prejudices and preconceived ideas.

Despite the playground politics and petty bitchiness, there’s a central theme of strong female friendship and loyalty which was really refreshing to read about. I loved how different Madeline, Celeste and Jane were, yet they all found common ground and faced many of the same issues. I also loved how the different family types were shown – the single parent, the blended family and the traditional two parent setup, and the problems and pitfalls of each.

The book is very female-centric and there’s a fantastic portrayal of lots of different female relationships – as wives, friends, parents, enemies, grandparents, step parents, victims…the list goes on. All of the characters were totally unique and I loved watching their lives unfold based on the way that they reacted to each other.

I loved the ending to the book and the big plot twist that I didn’t see coming. I can’t believe the novel is 480 pages long – I tore through it as it was really fast paced and the characters were all really interesting and well developed.

I’m sure that Big Little Lies will get tarred with the “chick lit” brush but this isn’t some silly romance, it’s a really unique psychological thriller – that just happens to be based at the school gates. It reminded me a lot of Desperate Housewives (season one, before it went downhill) so any fans of that will definitely enjoy it, although I think there’s something in it for everyone. It’s a big thumbs up from me.

Rating: 4.5/5

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley!

Review: All Day by Liza Jessie Peterson

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Photo credit: http://www.netgalley.com

Bugger me, America is messed up. I’m sure the UK has some pretty shocking practices when it comes to children awaiting trial for criminal offenses but as far as I’m aware we don’t lock them all up together and stick them on an island, like some kind of Lord of the Flies for black kids. However, that’s exactly what happens in this true-life account of incarcerated children – children! – who are awaiting trial for seemingly minor misdemeanors on Rikers Island, New York.

The book is the account of one teacher’s perspective on what it’s like to work with these kids. Locked up, far from their families, with just the clothes they were wearing when they were arrested, the full extent of what happens to these poor (in both senses) young men is portrayed with brutal honesty. From gang fights to mental health issues everything is recounted with no sugar coating. It’s a morbidly fascinating glimpse into a world very few of us (hopefully) will ever get to see first hand.

*At this point, I am going to have a little bit of a rant. This is tenuously linked to my review but only because of my involvement in the UK justice system. You have been warned*

As someone who spent a few years working in the UK police force at a time when they had just been branded “institutionally racist” I have a little bit of experience of the ways that we worked to change the organisational culture. We aimed to include diversity in everything we did, not just with training (a full two day session that was actually really fun) but by embedding it into everything we did, from appraisal and job interview questions to marketing and branding. We had area Diversity Action Groups with targeted action plans. We attended events like the Caribbean Carnival and Pride. We targeted recruitment adverts to specific interest publications to increase the number of female, LGBTQIA+, disabled and minority ethnic applicants. We had support groups for all the different diversity strands that reviewed all of our policies and procedures to ensure fairness and transparency. We monitored the ethnicity of anyone stopped and searched and published the figures on a monthly basis (if anyone is interested, they were always overwhelmingly white men). Of course there were still problems, but I witnessed myself the amount of work and the dedication of many, many officers and staff to really engage with the idea. And things changed. Slowly, teeny tiny bit by bit, things got slightly better. We recruited record numbers of females and minority ethnic staff. We had awareness days for religious and cultural celebrations where staff and officers brought in food and talked about what the day meant to them. It was really fun (and the free food was a huge, yummy bonus). Everyone seemed really positive about the changes that were being made. I believe (obviously I can’t prove this) that as a result, Drtection rates for hate crimes increased as more emphasis was put on outreach work within communities that were previously very hostile towards the police. I really felt like the actions that we took were having an effect on the community that the police force served.

So I was horrified to read that almost every single inhabitant at Rikers Island was black or Latino – and that it was just accepted that if they had been white they would have been let off with a slap on the wrist. I literally can’t believe how blatantly racist the system is -and that no-one is doing anything about it.

*Ok, rant over. Back to the book review…*

It was really interesting to see how working in such a place was incredibly difficult for the staff – something that often gets neglected in such stories. Peterson is understandably frightened at being left in charge of a class of potential criminals who are disinterested in learning – what’s the point when your life will forever be tarnished with a criminal record? The way that she engages with the kids, enlightens them about their options and inspires their creativity is really impressive. However, the anxiety that she has about taking the job, the sheer effort of designing interesting ways to teach the curriculum and the massively long hours (not to mention the incredibly low pay) all take their toll and I really felt for her when she had to make tough decisions about continuing in the role.

It’s a shame that, as a reader, you don’t get to understand more of the back story about the inhabitants of Rikers Island. Understandably, Peterson has to maintain a professional distance but it would have been fascinating to understand what the young men had been through in order to end up where they were. There are certain issues that get alluded to (violence, drug abuse, sexual abuse etc.) but you never get to find out a full back story.

Despite the fascinating subject matter, I also found the storytelling a little clunky. There were parts that went into massive detail and parts which were skimmed over. I thought that with better editing the book could have been really great, but as it was I gave it…

Rating: 3/5
Could have been more engaging with emphasis on the background of the inhabitants and needed editing – but worth a read for a glimpse into the murky world of reform for minors.

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley! I also read this book as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2017 #19 Read a book in which a character of colour goes on a spiritual journey and the Popsugar Reading Challenge 2017 #32 Read a book about an interesting woman.

Review: The Summer of Impossible Things by Rowan Coleman

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Picture credit: http://www.netgalley.com

Oooh, 1970’s New York. That’ll be crime and corruption, disco, rap and punk, the emerging gay scene, social unrest, racism and violence and drugs and gangs and prostitution. What a rich tapestry to pull some threads from, I thought to myself. You could write a brilliant novel in that setting. So I was pretty disappointed when Rowan Coleman chose to pretty much ignore all of those things and instead wrote a fairly bland story about time travel between then and the present day, where the characters mostly hang out in someone’s house.

The story begins with Luna and Pia, two sisters who go back to Brooklyn after the death of their mother to tie up the loose ends of her estate. They find that their mum has posted them a box of films of herself from years ago, telling them the secret which has haunted her for her whole marriage. But – and this is where it gets weird – Luna discovers that she can time travel. At first she thinks she’s having some kind of hallucination but then decides that it’s happening for a reason – and that reason is to stop the events that lead to her mother’s depression. The story then bounces about between the present day and the 1970’s, where Luna gets to know her mum as a young woman and starts to work out who was involved and how to stop it all from happening.

I found this premise pretty ridiculous. Everything else in the book is set completely in the real world so the whole time travel thing came out of nowhere and didn’t really fit into the story well. For example, Luna tells Pia about her newly acquired skill and with very little persuasion and no evidence Pia accepts it. Surely any normal person would be convinced that their sister was ill?

There’s also a love story between Luna and Michael (who she meets in 1970’s Brooklyn). I thought their relationship was very sweet but nothing much happened between them, so I felt the whole thing fell a little flat. I also thought it was a bit far fetched for a couple to fall completely in love with each other when they’d only met a few times.

There’s a further additional side story where we find out that Pia is a recovering drug and alcohol addict. Because this was mostly glossed over I wasn’t sure why it was mentioned within the narrative – I thought that the author could have done a lot more with it (or not mention it at all).

However, the one thing that stood out for me was the character of Luna’ s mother, Riss. I loved how she was depicted as a young girl, full of sass and excitement. It’s just a shame that the other characters weren’t written as vividly as she was.

Overall, I felt that by adding in storylines which the entire novel could have been based on, the narrative became a little confused. To me, it felt like five or six different stories all mashed into the same book, with no room for any of the ideas to be properly explored. I would have loved for the characters to get out more, with better descriptions of Brooklyn in both time periods. I really struggled with the time travelling idea and thought that the situation was dealt with in quite a clumsy manner. However, as the novel progressed the main storyline picked up pace and I was genuinely interested to see how things turned out. It’s just a shame that I had to get two thirds of the way through the book before it really grabbed my attention.

Rating: 2.5/5
Fairly indifferent to the book, the annoying/far fetched elements were balanced out by a decent ending and a well written prominent character.

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley! I also read this book as part of the Popsugar Reading Challenge 2017 #6 Read a book with a season in the title.

Review: We Are Data by John Cheney Lippold

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Photo credit: http://www.netgalley.com

Well, it’s not often that I hate and love a book in equal measure – but that’s what happened with We Are Data. On the one hand, it’s a completely fascinating, sometimes scary and often unbelievable text but on the other it’s super dry, technical and complicated. I suspect it was conceived from the embers of a Ph.D thesis – and as someone who was forced to review their partners Ph.D write up let me tell you, those things are no fun to read.

The book looks at data in the modern world – how it is created, stored, captured by third parties, analysed and ultimately put to use. That sounds quite abstract, but when you realise that the data we’re talking about is the stuff you create yourself by searching the web, using social media, reading a blog…yeah, the fact that you’re reading this right now means that you’ve left a data trail that someone, somewhere is recording. Now you’re interested, right? Maybe a little creeped out? That’s how I felt for pretty much the entirety of the book.

Because We Are Data focuses on the information created at an individual level, it suddenly makes it much more relevant to real life. For example, did you know that just by owning a mobile phone (even one that’s turned off), you create data through it’s inbuilt GPS? And that not only will your movements be tracked by your phone company, they will also know who you spend time with in real life (through your proximity to other mobile phones)? If you use a smartphone or computer, your data will also include who you talk to (via calls and texts), who you’re friends with (via social media like Facebook), what your interests are (via your web searches), where you work (via phone GPS co-ordinates and logging on to certain sites from your unique IP address during working hours) etc. Basically, everything we do digitally is monitored at some level, and is used to infer all kinds of things about us as individuals. If you don’t believe me, or think this sounds a bit far-fetched (and you have a Google/Gmail account) you can read who Google think you are by going to http://www.google.com/ads/preferences. This information hasn’t been volunteered by you – it’s been discerned by algorithms using the data the company has logged about you from your online activity. Pretty scary stuff, right?

We Are Data explores how analysis of the metadata of daily life can be algorithmically interpreted to deduce “facts” about us (gender, age, socio-economic background, income, education level etc.) and how that impacts on us. This can be seemingly innocuous, such as Facebook placing adverts in our news feeds targeted to what it believes our interests are to the utterly terrifying actions of the US military sending drone strikes to kill individuals based purely on the data they have created. I know this is all starting to sound like a dystopian fantasy novel or a crackpot conspiracy theory, but We Are Data is meticulously researched and referenced. Big Brother really is watching.

Personally, I found the information contained within We Are Data to be completely fascinating BUT it does read like a textbook. There are so many technical phrases and bits of theory used that I can easily see the book being used as a core text for a number of degree programmes, in everything from Sociology to Technology. It’s not light reading, it definitely would only appeal to a small number of people and if you’re not used to reading scholarly articles then you’ll find it a total slog to get through – but there was just enough mind blowing research contained within the pages to keep me reading to the end (well, not quite the end, as the last 15% is references). If dataveillance is your thing then you’ll love it. It’s not really my cup of tea so I gave it…

Rating: 3/5.

Technical, complicated, scholarly text with just enough gems hidden within it to keep me interested – but I did struggle to read it all.

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley! I also read this book as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2017 #13 Read a nonfiction book about technology.