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.

 

Review: The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

I’ve never read Margaret Atwood before (I know) so this was my first experience of her work. WHY HAVE I IGNORED HER FOR SO LONG???? Seriously, this book (well, audio book) is amazing.

The book tells the story of Charmaine and Stan, a young couple living in a car and struggling to make ends meet since the economy collapsed. Living on Charmaine’s wages in her low paid, dead end job and spending their nights on the lookout for thugs smashing into cars and beating their inhabitants up, they hear about an amazing opportunity to volunteer for a new way of living. The town of Consilience promises full employment, housing, healthcare and a safe environment to live in – and it’s looking for residents. Seems too good to be true? It is – the catch is that you only spend one month at a time there as you have to ‘volunteer’ to spend the next month in prison. Stan and Charmaine have little choice but to sign up and at first they adapt well, but underneath the company endorsed plastic happiness their secret desires fester and manifest themselves in dangerous affairs.   

I found this book to be such an original concept that was amazingly well written and thoroughly engaging. There’s a very small cast of characters but the way that they all interacted and the impact that they had on each other was really fascinating. It’s amazing how Atwood got such a complicated story out of such a simple set up and still managed to tie it all together with a killer ending.

I loved how allegorical the title of the story was. Literally the heart goes last – it’s the final thing to stop working when someone dies (or is killed). In a figurative sense, even when Stan and Charmaine are interested in other people they still somehow love each other. Again, in Stan’s volatile relationship with his brother they always have each other’s backs. When Charmaine is asked to commit terrible acts she still does so with compassion. And at the end – I can’t say too much, but Atwood beautifully poses the question – can we really override our hearts with our heads? Or are our emotions too strong to break?

I also loved how there was a thrilling sense of foreboding throughout the novel. You know that Consilience is going to be a bad idea but the Stepford Wives style township seems to provide safety and security – two things that Stan and Charmaine are in desperate need of. You can tell that the sickly sweet packaging might look pretty now but will make you ill eventually – but what choice do the couple have? The truly terrifying part though is that in today’s political climate, are we really so far away from setting up social housing experiments along the same lines? And do we already have people living in such desperate need that they would willingly sign up? I hope Donald Trump doesn’t read this and get any ideas (no wonder people have protested against him dressed as Handmaids). 

I actually didn’t like any of the characters in the book, but I somehow ended up rooting for them anyway. As I was listening to the audiobook version I think I didn’t fully absorb all of the story because in places I found it a little hard to follow, so I’d like to read it properly. I also found the voices of the actors playing Stan and Charmaine quite annoying (Charmaine in particular was very nasal) but it was obviously intentional as her over-the-top cheeriness belied her underlying unhappiness and at times manic ability to keep putting on a brave face. By the end of the book, I found that this had actually added another dimension to the story (although twelve hours of listening to it is more than a little grating).   

I would recommend this book to anyone and everyone, especially fans of dystopian futures and intricate fantasy. I loved it.    

Rating: 8.5/10

I read this book as part of the Popsugar Reading Challenge 2017 #4 Listen to an Audiobook.

Review: The Yellow Envelope by Kim Dinan

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

I hate giving bad reviews when people are obviously trying hard to write a good book. If there’s obvious gramatical errors, or you can tell that parts have been rushed, or lazy stereotyping, or an obvious lack of research, or glaring continuity problems, or no plot then yeah, I’ll call you out on it. But his book is something worse. There’s nothing that was bad about the story or the writing style, or the editing per se. It’s the characters that I found immensely annoying – and as this is a non-fiction account about someone’s world travels with their husband, there’s not a lot you can do about that.

*Deep breath – tries to remain constructive*

If I were to describe this book in one sentence, it would be ‘one miserable woman’s trek around the world’. There are problems with everything. Her marriage seems to fall apart, then magically get better. At no point does she seem to be excited, despite the whole worldwide trip being her idea and nothing really bad happening. This gets a bit tedious after a while. 

I hate to say it, but I really struggled to sympathise with the author, Kim Dinan. She seemed to find the negative in every situation and even criticised others for being too spoilt and self centered (to be fair, she does seem to meet some horrendous tourists) without seeming to recognise that she had also acted pretty ungratefully. I thought it was a bit rich to be acting like a worldly wise hippy who got annoyed with part time travellers when most of the book is about how much she isn’t enjoying herself. At one point she discusses a situation with a friend where a fellow tourist hands out school supplies and takes pictures with local kids – which she criticises him for. Her friend sees it as a man unafraid to get involved, whereas Kim sees it as pushy and self serving. I would guess that the situation was probably a mix of all these things, but again Kim seemed unable to see the positive side for herself. It was this pervasively negative, glass half full approach that really ruined the book for me.  

I also found the title of the book quite misleading. The actual yellow envelope (an envelope of money her friends gave her to donate to others) itself doesn’t make an appearance until nearly half way through the story, and the whole novel seems to be a more introspective account of Kim’s thoughts and feelings about her life and her relationship. I failed to connect with Kim on an emotional level (I didn’t understand her relationship problems AT ALL) so I wasn’t really interested – I really wanted to hear more about the amazing places and cultures that she was experiencing. I simply couldn’t understand why someone would convince their husband to sell everything (house, car, pretty much all of their possessions), quit their job and embark on a worldwide trip (with no plans to ever return home) if they were unhappy in that relationship – especially as her husband wasn’t particularly keen on the idea and she had to spend months trying to get him to agree to it.  

The yellow envelope money is just such an amazing gift but Kim and her husband seem to massively overthink the scheme and don’t really engage with the idea. They do give money away, but they seem to struggle to do so and don’t seem to get much pleasure from it. I thought this was such a shame as the money could obviously make a massive difference to the lives of so many people (many of whom were living in abject poverty) but again there was a negative overtone to the process which turned what could have been such a positive into a negative experience. I also got quite annoyed at a situation where a monastry asked specifically for regular donations not one off gifts – which the couple completely ignored and gave a one off donation. There didn’t seem to be any kind of consideration to setting up small regular payments (even for a defined time period). Having worked as a charity fundraiser myself I know how important regular donations are (imagine trying to budget if you randomly got paid differing amounts every month) and it was this complete lack of awareness that really got to me.

I didn’t like the way that Kim and her husband Brian failed to really engage with the locals. They seemed to keep themselves to themselves and didn’t try to understand what life was like for any of the people that they met. Kim seemed to be so afraid of making a mistake that it really held her back, which for me was understandable, but a real shame. Because the couple seemed to just pass through destinations I failed to get any sense of place from Kim’s writing which to me is the whole point of a book about travel.

Some positives – the writing is well structured and flows easily. Some of the places described (albeit briefly) sound incredible and there are some funny moments. There’s also a happy ending which (I think) shows how far Kim and Brian come as a couple.

However – I just REALLY didn’t enjoy this novel.

Perhaps if I had been more interested in Kim as a person and I could engage with her emotionally then I might have enjoyed the book more. If you’re that type of reader, you may enjoy this more than I did – as I said, there’s nothing wrong with the writing itself, its the content matter that simply wasn’t for me.

Sorry Kim.

Overall rating: 3/10

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 #8 Read a Travel Memoir.

Guess who’s back…back again

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Hello lovelies!

Just to let you know that I’ve given myself a bit of a blogging holiday lately – I’ve just taken on a new allotment, plus we’re in the middle of refurbishing our other house and life just got in the way a bit. I haven’t finished any books in weeks (highly unusual for me) because I’ve been completely exhausted and wanting to just watch something that requires no brainpower on Netflix. However, I’ve promised myself that I’ll be back on it next week, so look out for new reviews on Mondays and Fridays.

Hope you’ve all had a fab weekend,

Lucinda x

The Versatile Blogger Award

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Hurrah! A book tag!

Thank you so much to Steph at Lost Purple Quill for nominating me for this! I adore tags, and it’s always lovely to be nominated! 

The Rules:

Display the award on your blog. Thank the blogger that nominated you and provide a link to their blog. Share 7 facts about yourself. Nominate 10 bloggers for the award and provide links to their blog.

7 Random Facts

1. I absolutely love dogs – ALL DOGGIES EVERYWHERE. I don’t own one but I really would love to. Particular favourites include Beagles and Chow Chows. Oh good God, I would die of happiness if someone gave me a Chow Chow puppy. I’m sure they would wreck my house but CUTENESS OVERLOAD!!!

2. My main hobby (apart from reading – more on that in a sec) is gardening. I’ve recently got an allotment which is draining my time and money in all new and unexpected ways. Today my large compost bin arrived and I also bought some strawberries and raspberry canes. There’s a lot of weeding and clearing still to do but I’ve got quite a lot of fruit and veg either planted up direct or living in my greenhouse.

3. I used to play roller derby, until I got super injured. I really miss being part of the team, skating in general and hitting other girls for fun. It never fails to amaze me how people judge you for being a skater – about 50% say “I can’t imagine YOU doing that” and the other half say “you must be pretty badass then”. Nope! I just liked playing roller derby. Get over it.

4. I have a massively high pain threshold… as I found out when I broke my leg in four places playing roller derby, stuck some frozen peas on it, went to sleep then got up and went to work. I only found out it was broken because I happened to see our Occupational Health nurse and she sent me straight to hospital. I now have two plates and a bolt through my ankle holding my leg together. I didn’t even need painkillers after the operation. The nurses called me Iron Woman!

5. I like really heavy music, as well as a wide variety of other stuff. People are always surprised when I drive up listening to Napalm Death! Other favourite bands are everything from the Smiths, Kate Bush and Depeche Mode to Ministry, Metallica and White Zombie. I’m going to see the Flaming Lips in a few months and I seriously cannot wait.

6. I’m a weird reader. I usually have at least five but as many as twelve books on the go at any one time. I like to choose something from each genre and dip in and out of them all. I didn’t know this was odd until I happened upon a blog post last month where everyone was saying that they could only read one book at a time. No wonder I get through two books a week.

7. I own a second property that I’m doing up to rent out. This has meant a huge learning curve for my practical skills. Last weekend I re-pointed a wall (filled in the crumbling cement between the bricks) which was actually really enjoyable.

Also, I’m a feminist, a comic book nerd and a happy little pokemon trainer (I had to squeeze these in).

I nominate:

Lara
By Hook or by Book
Veronica
Alex
Flavia
Jeyran
Anastasia
Mandy
Keeper of Pages
Alyssa

Sorry if you’ve already been tagged! I look forward to hearing all about you!

Lucinda x

Review: The Chronicles of Narmo by Caitlin Moran

Written by a teenage Caitlin Moran, this hilarious story of a large, dysfunctional family growing up in Wolverhampton was obviously heavily influenced by her own childhood and seems to be the basis for the hit sitcom “Raised by Wolves”.

The Narmos are a normal, working class family just trying to make ends meet. With not much cash but huge amounts of enthusiasm and creativity, the children convince their parents to home school them – with some unexpected and often downright bizzare consequences.

I enjoyed reading about the Narmo’s (I see what you did there Caitlin) although I did have some problems with the text. Good things first: it’s a great book when you consider how young the author was when she wrote it. Some parts (the home made bread that lasts 6 months, the school inspectors, the whole of their holiday) are laugh out loud funny. It’s an easy read as it’s quite short and the language is fairly simplistic. However, I did find quite a few negatives. The book is quite obviously written by a (albeit very talented) 15 year old which means that some parts are a bit unclear and the overall story lacks any kind of plot – it’s just a description of a series of events that occur within the family. There’s no real introduction or ending and the lack of structure meant that I did find myself getting a bit bored. I imagine that Caitlin Moran drew heavily on her own family to write the novel and as such I felt like I already knew the story, having watched Raised by Wolves (the sitcom based on her childhood experiences) and having read How to be a Girl (where she frequently peppers the text with anecdotes from her childhood). I thought that the characters needed more fleshing out and as there was quite a few of them I did get a bit lost trying to work out who was who.

In terms of the rest of Caitlin Moran’s work (which I’m a really big fan of) I don’t think The Chronicles of Narmo is anywhere near as good but it’s still a fun read for a younger audience.

Rating: 6.5/10

Review: Things I Should Have Known by Claire LaZebnik

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

Things I Should Have Known is a sweet, unique and funny YA novel set within the slightly dysfunctional Mitchell family. There’s a controlling, no-idea-how-to-deal-with-teenage-girls stepdad, a pushover Mum who has previously been clinically depressed (so JUST WANTS TO MAKE EVERYONE HAPPY), an older teenage daughter with autism called Ivy and a slightly spoilt, typically stroppy younger daughter called Chloe (the main protagonist). Chloe is one of the popular girls at school, with the jock boyfriend and one dimensional friends. She realises that Ivy has never had a boyfriend and so sets about finding a suitable candidate to date her. Enter Ethan, the adorable, wouldn’t hurt a fly classmate of Ivy’s who Chloe thinks is perfect for her. Unfortunately, Ethan’s brother David goes to the same school as Chloe and is known for being an annoying weirdo. Thrown together by Chloe’s desire to make her sister happy, the unlikely foursome end up coming to some pretty startling realisations about themselves, and each other.

I thought Things I Should Have Known was a great read. I felt that it was such an honest portrayal of what it was like to live with an autistic person, warts and all. It’s unusual to have a story with an autistic character as the sibling of the narrator – everything else that I’ve read in this category is either from the point of view of the parents or the autistic person themselves, which I thought made it unique. It was also nice to see that although the impact of autism features heavily, the book also had another strong storyline (the relationship between Chloe and David) which gave it a bit more variety.

I really liked that there was a bit of everything in this book – LGBTQ+ issues, disability, teenage angst, family problems…all dealt with in a believable and sensitive way. Each character is flawed and to see how they all adapted to a challenging situation was really interesting as a huge range of reactions and emotions were conveyed. I became really invested in the storyline – at one point the main character Chloe makes a huge mistake and I really felt for her.

Unfortunately, some of the comments that Chloe makes about her boyfriend are truly cringeworthy and their relationship seems a little too perfect for two teenagers at high school. Chloe goes from being a bit of a vacuous cheerleader type to a sensitive young woman, who doesn’t care about her boyfriend being the picked on, unattractive weirdo that her friends don’t like. Similarly, David goes from being the weird, bullied, outspoken nerd to the politically correct, feminist, adorkable love interest. Even so, their relationship was very cute and I will forgive the fact that some of the things they said would never come out of the mouths of fifteen year olds because they were just such a sweet couple.

Despite the fact that this was a YA novel it was good to see some difficult issues like full time residential care for autistic adults being discussed. I thought that the issue was dealt with very sensitively, although I expect that in the real world far more problems would have occurred. It also would have been nice for the author to have considered some of the real world implications of long term care, not least the financial element. I guess you can’t have everything, eh?

Despite this, I found myself really enjoying the novel. It’s a nice twist on the standard YA plotline of boy meets girl and it dealt with some difficult issues with sensitivity, even though things turned out to be a little too perfect in the end.

Rating: 7.5/10

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 Popsugar Reading Challenge #13 Read a book by or about a person with a disability.