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: 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.

Priorities, Plans and New Pencils

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Hey guys,

Well, it’s September (how did that happen?), so new stationery at the ready – it’s time to plan ahead for the remainder of the year. I’ve had some time off from my blog recently but I’m back now and raring to go. I always feel like this time of year means coloured pens, new shoes and timetables, with the promise of starting something new and exciting – so it’s definitely time for me to get back into writing. Do any of you feel the same? I think the academic year has been hard wired into me, like how a lunar cycle makes people go crazy on a full moon (or is that just a myth?)  

Anyway, my colour coded, bullet journalled, super organised plans are:

1. New blogging timetable
I’ve had a look at my blog stats and I can see that anything posted on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday gets far more attention than anything posted in the week. I’ve always said that I don’t care how many followers I have or who reads my stuff, but it seems silly not to take advantage and post when most of you are likely to see it. So, from now on I’ll be posting on Fridays and Sundays, with the option of a Wednesday discussion type post.

2. Complete my reading challenges
I’m doing both the Popsugar reading challenge 2017 and the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2017 and to be honest I’ve lost my mojo a little bit. There’s just so much good stuff coming out at the minute and Netgalley seems to be getting all of my attention. My current stats are:

Book Riot: 12/24 books read (3 books currently being read)
Popsugar: 23/40 books read (3 books currently being read)

*blinks in surprise* that’s actually better than I thought and although I’m a little behind I think I can complete both by the end of the year.

3. Work on making my blog prettier
I’ve always thought that I’m quite creative but other than sticking up a picture of the book cover I don’t bother with graphics. It actually annoys me when other bloggers put a million gifs into their blogs because I think it interrupts the narrative and my crappy old kindle fire struggles to play them. Does anyone else have this problem/bugbear? I’ve got a vague idea of what I want to do but sometimes I just find it so time consuming and tedious – I’ll have to see how this one goes *reads this back and immediately knows this isn’t something I’ll pursue for long*. Does anyone with a super adorable, graphics heavy blog have any tips?

4. Engage more with the blogging community
I’ve neglected you guys lately so I need to show you some love! I’m sorry and I missed you all, but I have been pretty busy (see previous post).

I think that’s all for now, I can’t focus on much more than that without getting overwhelmed.

Are you all making plans and prioritising specific tasks that you’d like to achieve with your blogs, or in your lives in general? Does everyone have that back-to-school feeling? Do you find it a positive motivator or do you get a mild sense of panic? Let me know in the comments!

Super big love,

Lucinda xxx

Review: The Revenant by Michael Punke

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The year is 1823.
Location: the Rocky Mountains, USA.
The task – go with the men of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, find as many wild animals as possible, kill them, bring back their pelts. Oh, and don’t die.

One man takes these instructions far too seriously.

Hugh Glass is one of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company’s most experienced trappers. However, a surprise encounter with a mama bear leaves him seriously injured and fighting for his life. Out in the wilderness, with no medical provisions and only a rudimentary knowledge of first aid, Glass’ fellow trappers do what they can, but they’re fairly sure that he’s a dead man. The only problem is, Glass refuses to die quickly and waiting for him is putting the rest of the team in danger of being found by hostile Indians, as well as putting them behind schedule. Therefore, they decide that the only practical solution is to leave him behind. However, they don’t want Glass to die alone, so two of his colleagues agree to stay with him until the end.

Except they don’t.

The two men wait with Glass for a couple of days, but concerns for their own safety lead them to decide to abandon him. They reason that he won’t need his kit anymore and raid his stash of weapons and personal items before leaving Glass for dead.

Except that Glass STILL refuses to die.

And now he wants revenge.

And his weapons back.

But mostly revenge.

Glass then drags, crawls and limps his way back to the men who wronged him, almost dying on a daily (sometime hourly) basis. Apart from his injuries, Glass has to deal with surviving in a hostile wilderness, alone; having no food; being surrounded by enemy Indian tribes and wild animals completely unarmed, unable to walk, bleeding, with infected wounds and with no definite idea where he’s going. I would have said that the story was completely unbelievable if it hadn’t been based on true events.

The book is a complete Boy’s Own survival adventure – it’s a very literal account with almost no discussion of interpersonal relationships. It seems that every man (and it is all men, the only time women are referred to are in passing references to whores) is out for themselves, as life is so tough and death is just around every corner. This held my attention for a while, but I did begin to get a little bit bored of the endless hardship. The book became a series of descriptions of dangerous situations, near misses and bloody deaths and their frequency meant that their impact began to wane.

I got a bit annoyed by the occasional different points of view that the text was written from, especially as some short chapters were set in different time periods. Most of the characters had kind of merged into one by this point so I kept having to refer back to see what was going on.

Don’t you just hate it when that happens?

I know a lot of people didn’t like the ending, but I didn’t really have a problem with it. I won’t give away too much but things don’t turn out exactly as planned – but fine, whatever, more dangerous situations, blood and guts, blah blah blah. It was a bit of an anti climax but I’d kind of lost interest by that point.

Overall, this book was definitely not the kind of thing I’d usually read. I have very, very little interest in historical novels (fact or fiction) and the relentless struggle for every meal, every mile travelled and every search for a shelter to sleep in became quite tiresome. I did enjoy learning about various survival techniques and some of the characters that Glass encountered were quite interesting but overall it just wasn’t my cup of tea. If 19th Century American history is your thing then I’m sure you’ll get more out of the book than I did. Oh, and it’s apparently quite different to the film (which I haven’t seen) so don’t let Leonardo DiCaprio put you off.

Rating: 3/5

Neither hated nor loved it, found some enjoyable parts but didn’t really engage with the subject matter.

Please note that I read this book as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2017 #11 Read a book that’s set more than 5000 miles away from your current location and the Popsugar Reading Challenge 2017 #24 Read a book that’s set in the wilderness.

The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Loveitt by Chelsea Sedoti

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

Wow, so, like, this is like a totally annoying way to write, right? So, like, you probably wouldn’t have the main character of a book, like, totally talk like this, right? Well, not if you’re Chelsea Sedoti.

In fairness, this weird Valley Girl vernacular drops off pretty quickly, but after reading the first few pages of The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Loveitt I really wasn’t sure if I could keep going. I did, and it did get better, but unfortunately there was plenty of other things to get annoyed about.

The book itself is about a girl called Hawthorne, who gets completely hung up on the disappearance of Lizzie Loveitt, a girl she vaguely knows from school. I didn’t understand exactly why Hawthorne got so involved in the case (we’re told she has an active imagination – more on that later – and Lizzie does sound like a very engaging individual) but I don’t get why she got so wrapped up in events. Was it a girl crush? Was it just the excitement of the disappearance? I’m still not sure.

Through Hawthorne’s own investigations, she meets Lizzie’s boyfriend and begins a kind of relationship with him. That might sound all sweet and adorkable but frankly, it was just a bit odd. Normally I’m firmly in the corner of the weirdo’s but as a character, Hawthorne was just too random, even for me. She had the most bizzare ideas about what had happened to Lizzie and seemed to want to convince herself and everyone around her that she had figured things out, even when her solutions were ridiculous and she knew that everyone would laugh at her. I found Hawthorne to be so lacking in rationality that it was impossible to follow her train of thought, which got on my nerves.

Lots of the other characters in the book weren’t really fleshed out properly so it was hard for me to engage with them. Lizzie’s boyfriend, Enzo, was a stereotypical tortured artist type, Hawthorne’s best friend was a stereotypical nerd, her mum was a stereotypical hippie. They all had side stories that didn’t really go anywhere and their relationships with Hawthorne seemed quite flimsy. A chunk of the story was dedicated to some gypsies turning up and camping on Hawthorne’s lawn, but nothing really happened except a couple of conversations where Lizzie was given advice.

Yawn.

As the title of the book suggests, I thought that Hawthorne and Enzo would uncover some exciting/horrifying/salacious information about Lizzie that would add intrigue to the storyline – but – SPOILER ALERT – instead they just discovered that Lizzie had changed a lot since high school and lived a very minimal life. Quite a lot was made of this (Lizzie was empty inside, always changing herself to fit in with others etc.) but really, who hasn’t changed from their high school self? And so what if she had a minimal apartment? I felt a bit cheated by this.

The ending of the book was pretty anti-climatic and after that I thought that the story dragged. Luckily, it ended pretty soon after.

All in all, I didn’t totally hate the book but I couldn’t really engage with the characters or the storyline. The only thing that kept me reading was the certainty that at some point, something would happen…but it kind of didn’t. Perhaps if you’re more of a fan of YA you might get more from the storyline or relate to the characters better, but it just wasn’t for me.

Rating: 2/5

Bland, unremarkable fiction, vaguely annoying characters, no real storyline. Not truly terrible, but not a book I enjoyed or would recommend. 

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 #17 Read a book that’s published in 2017.