Review: The Girl With All The Gifts by M. R. Carey

I could review this book in one word – wow.

Seriously, it’s really, REALLY good.

I hadn’t heard about The Girl With All The Gifts before a friend said he thought I’d like it and another friend said she wanted to read it (who is now following my blog – hi Juliet! Let’s see if she’s paying attention). I know there’s also a film version which I’ve heard even less about (apparently rubbish according to friend-who-thought-I-would-like-the-book) so I’m not sure how both of these things have passed me by, but hey, whatever. They did. But I’m soooo glad that I finally found out about it and had the chance to read it.

If I had read the synopsis to this book I’m not sure that it would have appealed to me. Zombies take over the world and a motley crew of people (ish) have to battle their way back to the safe zone? Surely, I thought rather smugly, there’s only one way that this story can be told; it’s been done a thousand times before. Obviously there’ll be a journey, a few characters will die but the nice ones will make it and probably save the world at the same time. Boring.

WRONG!

Honestly, this is such a meaningful, heartfelt book. It’s sweet and clever and charming in ways I totally didn’t expect. It’s got diverse characters (a sexy black woman! A queer child!) and loads of action and suspense as well as complex relationships, friendships, maternal care… pretty much everything really. I’ve read that other people have likened it to Never Let Me Go and I can see the parallels (children being used by adults for research/scientific purposes) but in a weird way it reminded me more of Let the Right One In, in that it’s a classic horror premise but the focus of the writing is largely emotional.

However, I have to admit that I was genuinely scared in some parts. I’m a total wuss when it comes to horror and sometimes the tension and descriptions of the zombie hordes got to me. Like I said, I have a very low tolerance for these type of things. You’ll probably be fine.

I loved how cleverly written the story was. It’s incredibly well paced and I was utterly gripped from the start. It turns some of the generic horror tropes on their heads – the scientist trying to save the world is a horrible, awful person and I spent most of the book wanting them to die, the military guys are ok, the monsters are largely piteable, even in their zombiefied state. There’s some very touching scenes where a monster (Hungry) is seen sadly flipping through old photographs and another is pushing a pram. This humanising aspect added to the overall heartbreak and sense of desperation that the book created.

Ethically, the book raises a lot of questions. In the same way that Never Let Me Go is a total conundrum of progressive science vs “human” rights, The Girl With All The Gifts poses similar issues – except the “children’s” treatment is more visceral, more clinical and far more torturous – although for understandable reasons. I still don’t know whether I agree with everything that was done to them, but with such high stakes I can at least appreciate that there was a solid argument for the way they were treated.

At halfway through the book I could kind of see where it was headed, but there were enough twists and turns along the way to keep me guessing. The ending itself was so touching, awful and tragic that the small glimmer of hope left within it did little to initially make me feel anything other than total dejection. However, after reflecting on it for a few days, I feel a tiny bit better about the whole thing. I can’t say much more than that without giving the game away but it’s safe to say that it’s not your typical, neatly tied up in a bow, yay for humanity situation. From a purely literary perspective it’s a fantastic idea that cleverly mirrors the story of Pandora’s Box – a story which is told to the children earlier on.

Overall, I thought this was a fantastic book. I would recommend it to anyone who wants a fast paced, engaging horror/dystopian fantasy book that you can really sink your teeth into (you’ll get that joke when you’ve read it).

Rating: 9/10

I read this book as part of the Popsugar Reading Challenge 2017 #11 Read a book by an author with a pseudonym.

Reading Challenge Update

Hello lovely readers!

Now that we are over a third of the way through the year (where did THAT go) I thought I’d review the two reading challenges that I’m taking part in to check my progress and also to look at my Netgalley account to see what percentage my feedback ratio is.

Incidentally, does anyone else get a bit obsessed by their reading stats or is it just me? I digresss…

Ok, so first up I had a look at the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge. This challenge compromises 24 categories, so 2 books a month to be identified and read.

Current progress:

23/24 books identified (with an idea for the remaining novel).
9 books completed.
3 further books started but currently incomplete.

Verdict – winning!

I then looked at the Popsugar Reading Challenge – 40 categories so just under 4 books per month to be identified and read.

Current progress:

35/40 books identified. Struggling to think of a book with career advice and a book from a non-human perspective. Can anyone help?
16 books completed.
1 further book started but currently incomplete.

Verdict – on track.

Finally I had a look at my Netgalley account. Netgalley recommend that you have a feedback ratio of 80% or above. I have 11 books which have already been published that I haven’t reviewed – basically that I’m behind on. I have a further 5 books that are due to be published from June onwards that I’m not worrying about yet but that drags my overall feedback ratio to 54% which is quite frankly rubbish.

Verdict – must try harder. 

So overall I think I’m doing ok, I’ll be concentrating on getting my Netgalley score up which will also mean reigning myself in when requesting new titles *sad face*. On a positive note I’m not going to worry about the reading challenges because I seem to be doing quite well in those *happy face*.

How are you getting on with your reading challenges, Netgalley scores or TBR lists? Do you have any suggestions for the two Popsugar categories that I’m struggling with?

Lucinda xxx

 

Review: Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera

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

FINALLY- A book with likeable characters, great person of colour representation, queerness, feminism…and it’s brilliantly written with a super heartwarming story that’ll suck you in so you can’t put it down. Brilliant!

Juliet Takes a Breath is the coming-of-age story of Juliet Palante, a Puerto Rican teenager who lives in the Bronx with her madcap family. She discovers feminism through the book ‘Raging Flower: Empowering Your Pussy By Empowering Your Mind’ by Harper Brisbane (which she reads to freak people out on the subway) and, after writing to the author to tell her how much she enjoyed it (despite not really recognising herself in the text) lands an internship to help Harper research her next book. Moving to Portland, Oregon gives Juliet a total culture shock and living with Harper exposes her to a completely different way of life. She uses the opportunity to learn about being gay, being a person of colour, being female and being a feminist, all whilst trying to figure out who she is and trying to get her family to accept her. Nothing major then.

I really loved reading this book. There’s such great, positive representation and a brilliantly written story which taught me so much about other cultures, history, oppression, feminism, my own body… I could go on. It’s really well written, interesting, funny and sweet without being overly saccharine or having a happily ever after ending that ends up in so much current YA literature.   

I loved the main character Juliet, who was bold and strong but also scared and vulnerable at times. She felt very ‘real’ to me and despite our many differences I identified with her as a chubby, queer nerd girl who finds safety in the confines of a library. Her family members were all amazing, especially her brother cousin and aunt and I loved reading about how close they all were and supported each other no matter what.

I initially really liked Harper, the hippy writer who acted as a kind of queer feminist Yoda to aid Juliet in her voyage of discovery, but my opinion of her changed as the book went on. I loved the way that the two characters were so different and the way that Harper exposed Juliet to so many new experiences, but I hated the way that she made so many assumptions about Juliet and in the end I thought she was actually quite self centered.

Through Juliet’s journey (literally and figuratively) the reader gets to learn so much about topics that you were afraid to ask about – from periods to polygamous relationships to white privilege. Every topic is handled sensitively and the writing is never preachy, only informative. 

There is an awful lot in the book about racism and the differences between being a white feminist lesbian and a person of colour feminist lesbian which I hadn’t really considered before. I’m not sure if this is my white privilege or because I’m British but I’m not used to people talking about their race all the time or referring to themselves expressly by their heritage. Some of the ideas discussed made me a little uncomfortable, like a racist slur said about Juliet’s white girlfriend and a POC only party but through the character of Juliet the ideas are often questioned and both the positives and negatives are discussed. 

Because the main character is Latino it was really interesting to view feminism and lesbianism through her eyes – how it fitted in with her religion, her traditional family, her views on men, her experience of privilege, her sense of self etc. This was a viewpoint that I hadn’t read from before and I thought it was executed brilliantly.

My only criticisms of the novel would be that I think it’s a little unrealistic for almost every character that Juliet encounters or knows to be gay and that perhaps a few straight people would have added another dynamic. I also felt that the negative way in which every white person was portrayed was a little unfair – although heaven knows there’s enough books out there where the only black character is a villain/token gesture/non-existent so maybe the author was just trying to redress the balance.

Overall I loved reading this book and would recommend it to anyone looking to explore feminism and queerness from a different perspective, or just anyone looking for some great intersectional YA.

Overall rating: 8/10

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 Popsugar Reading Challenge 2017 #14 Read a book involving travel.

 

Review – How to be Happy by David Burton

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Don’t be fooled by the title – this is not a ‘How To…’ guide, nor is it the story of someone who figured out the secret to living a fabulous, meaningful life. It’s the story of a young man coming to terms with his own insecurities, sexual confusion, depression and general angst that I’m sure anyone thinking back to their teenage years can relate to on some level. The story Burton tells is interesting, funny and heartbreaking in equal measure, with periods of pretty severe depression and suicidal thoughts thrown in for good measure. Oh, and the bit about it being a memoir of sex is also misleading – rarely have I read an autobiography where the author is so truthful about how they found pulling someone completely, painfully difficult.

A lot of what I read in this book reminded me of the way that some of my friends seem to be constantly searching for some external thing that will make them happy – whether that’s a hobby, a partner, a successful career etc. when really what they’re doing is projecting their own insecurities. At some points I just wanted to hug David Burton and tell him that it was ok to be sad and confused, and that it would get better. Luckily, Burton comes to this conclusion on his own and How to be Happy has plenty of great examples of how building a support network is soooooo important for anyone who is suffering from depression/anxiety/low self esteem.

Burton is also very honest about his experiences and initial negativity towards therapy. I think it’s incredibly important to discuss this issue because I know that a lot of people still feel that they’re admitting defeat by seeking professional help for their problems. Happily, Burton finds a therapist that he’s comfortable with and the book shows how perseverance with counselling can have life changing results – but only if you’re prepared to really work at it.

The other thing that I really liked about this book was the way that Burton experienced confusion about his sexuality (to the point where he came out as gay to his parents) but then ended up having to rethink this. I’ve never seen this mentioned in a book before and it was really refreshing to see someone being so open about their changing feelings. This is clearly a very emotive topic and I applaud Burton for his honesty in saying ‘this is what happened to me and how I felt at the time’. I guess some people will see it as fuel for the ‘you’re too young to know how you feel…this is just a phase’ argument but I saw it as an example of how nuanced sexuality and sexual attraction can be and how completely confusing and difficult to understand it often is.

I did, however, find How to be Happy a little tedious in places. As a memoir of a fairly ordinary (albeit depressed) teenager/young adult there aren’t any explosions, zombies or natural disasters and the book is set in Australia, not in a post apocalyptic future.

Overall, I enjoyed reading this book and applaud Burton’s honesty in portraying a very difficult period of his life. I think that anyone suffering from depression could benefit from reading it as it is ultimately an uplifting tale of triumph over
personal demons.

Rating: 7/10

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 #15 Read a YA or middle grade novel by an author who identifies as LGBTQ+.  

One Hundred Followers, Yay!

Hello lovely readers,

It seems like only a few weeks ago since I posted that I had 50 followers, and now I have 100! I can’t believe it!

I don’t get too hung up on how “successful” my blog is (seriously, I’d happily tap away into the nothingness even if no-one was reading it) but it means a lot to me that over 100 of you have taken the time to click that little follow button, as well as read, like and comment on my posts.

Thank you all very, very much.

Lucinda xxx

Review: Hagseed by Margaret Atwood

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I’ve just finished Hagseed and my feelings are mixed to say the least. One the one hand, I really enjoyed Atwood’s writing and the characters that she creates. On the other, I felt like I wasn’t quite clever enough to be able to follow the various narrative threads and layers of metaphors woven throughout the book.

Thanks Margaret Atwood for making me feel thick.

This book (well, audio book) took me a while to get into as I didn’t understand at first if it was a straight retelling of the Tempest, or a story about doing the Tempest as a production. In the end, it sort of turned out to be both – but I wish I had been more familiar with the original Shakesperean text in order to see how Atwood had used it to inform her characters and the way that the plot developed. I haven’t read The Tempest since school so although I vaguely remembered what it was about (mostly fairies and a shipwreck) I felt like I needed a refresh. At the very end of Hagseed there is a summary of The Tempest and I wish that I had read (heard) this first as it would have helped me to understand the plot far better.

I got very heavily invested in the main character, Felix; a producer of plays who, after suffering the death of his wife and child is forced to retire from his job. He clearly suffers some mental health issues which makes for an unreliable narrator and means you’re never quite sure about the whole madnesss/genius thing. He’s clearly very talented but deeply disturbed by the death of his daughter, so you never know how much of what’s going on is fantasy or reality – much like in The Tempest (not too thick to see the parallels there, Atwood). Felix then goes on to get a job in a prison teaching English and Drama to a group of convicts. Far from resenting the scheme, the prisoners flourish under the tutelage of Felix and he casts them in a number of Shakesperean plays with great success. However, his greatest triumph is his production of The Tempest; the play which originally pushed his previous company to retire him early. Through some cosmic synchronicity and by taking advantage of some of the prisoners ‘skills’, Felix is able to use the play to not only get his revenge but also as a release from the mental prison he has created for himself. Again, this is one of the parts where the book gets very meta – Atwood makes it clear the The Tempest has a number of metaphorical prisons in it, Felix is producing the play in an actual prison, he is living in a mental prison and holding his own daughter prisoner within it… aargh! Sometimes I felt that there were three (or more) narrative threads which were all interwoven and I struggled to grasp all of the concepts. See, told you I was thick.   

You can see Atwood’s love for Shakespeare shining through in many parts of the book. She discusses a range of devices that are used to teach the play to the group of prisoners in order to engage them with the text, such as asking them to spot all of the prisons in the play, asking them only to swear using Shakesperian curses – it made me wish that I’d been taught like that. Did Atwood use to be a teacher? *checks wikepedia* yes, she did! What a guess.

As I said before, I’m not familiar enough with The Tempest to spot all the allegories that I’m sure Atwood has woven throughout Hagseed and as such I felt like there’s a whole level that I  missed – like watching the Simpsons as a child and not seeing all the adult jokes/political bits. My advice would be to familiarise yourself with the original Tempest story before reading this, or just to read the last chapter first. Trust me, you’ll get a lot more from the book if you do. However, despite feeling like I was missing something, I still enjoyed the book. There was a thread of tension throughout – you knew that Felix was planning his revenge but Atwood kept me guessing as to how exactly it would all play out (hahaha, now I’m getting all meta). Once I got into it I did find the story compelling and because I really cared about the main character I kept listening to find out how everything was resolved.

At the end of the book, Felix asks his students to present their ideas on what happens to the characters in The Tempest after the play ends. I felt like Atwood was trying to allude to something here (were the main characters in the Tempest directly represented in Hagseed? I was never quite sure if Felix was meant to be Prospero) but I feel like I missed it. If anyone has read this book and has an opinion please let me know!

Overall, I think that any Shakespeare fan would love Hagseed and I’m sure they would get far more from it than I did. I’m a big fan of Margaret Atwood and so I enjoyed the book, but I did feel a little lost in places. I think this would be a great book club text because a lot of questions are raised which could provoke some lively discussions. Its just a shame that I have no-one to talk to about it!

Rating: 7/10

  

Review: After You by JoJo Moyes

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I approached this book with some trepidation. I’d read Me Before You and loved it (despite it absolutely Not Being The Kind Of Thing I’d Usually Go For) and I, like a whole legion of other fans, was curious to see what happened to Lou and the Traynor family next. I’d seen a few reviews saying that After You was nowhere near as good and had actually ruined the experience of the first book so I prepared myself for the worst. I’m pleased to report that nothing particularly drastic happened once I had read After You, but only because I don’t have ANY strong emotions about the novel. The best I can come up with is ‘meh’.

I hope I’m not spoiling anything by saying that the thing I enjoyed most in the first book was the dynamic between Lou and Will (the two main characters) and that this was obviously missing in the second installment. The relationship that Lou has with everyone else in her life is in no way as meaningful or powerful as the bond that she had with Will and I felt that this made After You nowhere near as engaging or interesting. The story picks up after Lou has got through her initial grieving and finds herself living in a small flat in London on her own, working in a bar. A major accident, a chance encounter and a very-much-not-by-chance encounter lead Lou to reconnect with her past, face some demons and finally start to live her life again. However, the plot meanders between a variety of other characters (so many that I lost track of who was who) and a number of other scenarios which don’t seem to have much impact – pretty much all the things that happen are once-in-a-lifetime events and could have been fleshed out into entire stories on their own, but Moyes just keeps adding one thing after another with the overall effect of watering down their impact.

I thought that the plot was pretty predictable (excluding some of the bizzare events that kept happening). It was easy to read (although I did notice a few random words like ‘wazzock’ appearing – I’ve not heard that since the 80’s) but I just felt that it was far too long and rambling. I thought that After You should either have been about the Traynor family and Will’s legacy/family, or Lou meeting someone and moving on. By trying to mash everything together I felt that the book lost its way and could have finished a lot sooner than it did. The ending in particular really dragged for me and I kept expecting it to finish, only for another thing to have happened.

I also thought that the relationship between Lou and love interest Ambulance Sam could have been a lot more complex but Lou’s feelings about Will don’t seem to get in the way at all. To be fair, there is an awful lot in the book about the different ways that people grieve but I felt that this was sometimes glossed over and occasionally felt like lazy stereotypes were employed to tie up loose ends – i.e. everyone releases a ballooon to say goodbye to their loved one to signify that they’ve moved on.

I didn’t think that the relationship between Lou and Sam was a patch on the relationship between Lou and Will. I expected a lot more soul searching and a lot more guilt from Lou but she seemed to fall in love again relatively easily. I cared SO MUCH about Will but I just didn’t engage with Sam in the same way. I felt that his character needed far more development which the excessive amounts of action in After You just didn’t leave space for.

I think that if Me Before You didn’t exist and hadn’t been so insanely perfect then I might have judged After You far less harshly – but I thought that it was a pretty disappointing sequel. Its not a bad book, but it seems to be a mish mash of two or three novels squashed into one, leaving events glossed over, relationships formed far too easily and characters underdeveloped. I wouldn’t recommend it.

Rating: 5/10.