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: 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 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.

Review: Assassins Apprentice by Robin Hobb

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I don’t really know how this  series of books passed me by, but I was surprised to see that they’ve been around since the 90’s (ahhh, the 90’s, my favourite decade…). Having read that they’re similar to Game of Thrones but without the tits and dragons (surely this should be the quote on the front cover) I was quite excited to get stuck in. I love a big heavy fantasy series and I was initially impressed by the heft of the novel, but surprisingly it took me a little while to get into. I found that it was quite slow going at first, and being written all from the main characters perspective it did grind along detailing every single thing that happened every day, which got quite boring quite quickly. However, the pace improved and I found myself getting sucked in to the magical world that Robin Hobb has created. Eventually. This is one of those books where patience really is a virtue.

Being aimed at a slightly younger audience, and with a young main character, there is very little in the way of romance. There is a bit of a love interest but nothing really happens and I felt that if this element of the story had been beefed up it would have made the more mundane sections of the book more interesting. Similarly, certain events occur which would usually be quite upsetting, but because the characters aren’t fleshed out enough beforehand Hobb failed to create any emotional response from me as a reader. I really missed this engagement with the story, and although it did get better later on I felt it added to a fairly flat tone throughout the initial third of the narrative.

I had mixed feelings about the way that the main royal characters were named after their personality traits (i.e. Shrewd, Verity, Chivalry etc.) On the one hand, it made it very easy to remember who was who and to mark out who needed to be second guessed (King Shrewd, for example, would always make a seemingly wrong decision that you knew would turn out to be correct later on). However, this also took away a layer of intrigue – the individuals always acted completely “in character” so their personalities turned out to be a bit one dimensional. There’s also the very real question of what the characters were called before these personality traits developed – were there just nameless children running around for the first ten years of their lives? Or did they change names? And did their name mean that they couldn’t grow and change as people? These little queries really got to me as the story progressed and I never found a satisfactory answer. Grrr.

Overall, I did enjoy this book once it got going although not as much as I had hoped. I found some parts were quite dull and I would have liked more emotive writing, with a greater emphasis on the magical elements. As the main character grew throughout the novel (literally and figuratively) I came to be more involved in the storyline so I would be interested to see what the next book is like – but I wouldn’t go out of my way to read it. There’s so much great fantasy out there that I wouldn’t really recommend this book to anyone unless they specifically wanted “something like GoT, but for an older child”. Even then it would have to be someone with exceptional patience – I imagine most kids would get bored.

For older readers – yeah, it’s missing tits and dragons. That’s all you need to know, really.

Rating: 7/10
Disappointing, but the second book should be better.

Please note that I read this book as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2017 #12 Read a fantasy novel.

Review: One of us is Lying by Karen McManus

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

I’d heard about this book on social media and thought that it sounded like a pretty cool premise. Not only was the initial set up reminiscent of The Breakfast Club (a nerd, a princess, a jock and a rebel all find themselves in detention together) but it was promised to be a big hit. Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy it as much as some others, but then I left school nearly 20 years ago (before the internet was really A Thing – can you imagine?) so I’m not really the target demographic. I thought some bits were good, other so-so.

Let me explain… 

Bronwyn, Nate, Addy, Cooper and Simon all go to the same school. Bronwyn is a stereotypical high achiever, Nate a part time drug dealer barely attending school, Addy the beautiful blonde whose boyfriend is the most important thing in the world and Cooper, whose life revolves around baseball. Seemingly with nothing in common, they all find themselves in detention together for having a mobile phone with them in class. The problem is, none of them know where the phones came from – they appear to have been planted on them to purposefully get them into trouble. But why?

Then there’s the fifth member of the group, Simon. Universally loathed and revered in equal measure, Simon is the owner of the About That app, where school rumours end up…except somehow Simon always manages to make sure that they’re true before publishing them. An incident during detention leaves all of the characters under suspicion and as the story unfolds it seems that they all have something to hide – just not what you were expecting.

See, it sounds like a good premise, right? I was definitely intrigued. However, the way that the book was written kind of spoilt the story for me. For a start, the chapters are short and broken up by character, where each in turn is the narrator. I found this quite confusing, especially when the two girls are quite similar in character – Addy is fairly bland for the most part of the book so it was easy to forget where her storyline was going when you had immersed yourself in the world of Nate. I found it quite jarring sometimes when I had to swap between them all.

The other problem was that it was quite easy to work out what had happened. For me, it was very obvious that certain people had nothing to do with the incident, so by process of elimination I had worked out the culprit before half way through. There was also Cooper’s big secret that I worked out way before it came out. Because of this, I found that the book dragged a bit. It seemed quite long for a YA novel, especially when not much goes on for chunks of pages (I didn’t really care about Addy’s hair or what films Bronwyn and Nate were watching). If the main characters were a little more secretive or had more to loose then it would have given them better motives and cast more doubt about them, which would have added to the intrigue.

In saying that, there was some fast paced bits and it had enough going on to keep me interested. I did enjoy reading One of us is Lying but the story could have been so much better if it were just a little less bland. As I previously mentioned though, I’m not the target demographic for this book and so if you’re into YA fiction then you might get more out of it.

Overall rating: 7/10   

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

Review: Leap In by Alexandra Heminsley

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

I really do love Alexandra Heminsley. I read her last book (Running Like a Girl) a few months ago and found it so completely inspirational that I started jogging a couple of times a week. Unfortunately, my enthusiasm for running faded pretty quickly (injury plus having an already dodgy leg) but the book was great and I think it really improved my technique. So, I was expecting great things from Leap In – the story of Heminsley’s journey from could-manage-a-few-laps-of-breaststroke to hard-core sea swimmer. I thought I would immediately be googling wetsuits and finding out where my nearest pool was. I thought I would be filled with confidence at the thought of wearing a swimming costume. I thought I would basically become a part time mermaid. Unfortunately, none of these things happened – which I suppose is good for my bank balance (and legs) but not so much my BMI. It’s a good book, but it just didn’t grab me in the same way that Running Like a Girl did.

Perhaps it’s the slightly less accessible subject matter. Anyone can shove a pair of trainers on and go for a run, but going swimming is a much more considered act. There’s the swimming costume, the hair removal, the finding out when the pool is open…you can’t just put this book down, grab a towel and head off to the baths. Added to this is the fact that  Heminsley is not a natural water baby. She gets claustrophobic in a wetsuit. She’s scared of standing in mud. She doesn’t understand goggles. I just didn’t feel that she utterly, thoroughly loved swimming in the same way that she loved running – and as someone who would happily become semi-aquatic I just didn’t engage with these minor concerns.

Luckily, Leap In is brilliantly written. It’s told in Heminsley’s  usual hilarious manner and includes some excellent descriptions of what it’s like to wear sportswear when you don’t have a “sporty” physique (not that there is such a thing – what I’m trying to say is – when you have boobs and a bum). Her description of the first time she had to wear a wetsuit is knicker-wettingly funny and the phrases “arse-shelf” and “arse cleavage” will stay with me for a long time. Mixed in with the humour are some very candid passages about being scared to walk out in a swimming costume, being intimidated by men training for triathlons and being paranoid about what is lurking beneath the waves. Heminsley is unfailingly, bravely honest about her own insecurities and foibles which make the story much more interesting and human.

There’s a lot of technical information about such things as  techniques for front crawl (seemingly the best stroke for long distance/open water swimming) as well as Heminsley’s own experiences with a range of kit. This might sound a bit dull but she weaves it into her personal narrative so well that it’s easy to get sucked in. At one point I actually found myself acting out front crawl arms as I was reading and quickly had to stop myself from looking like a lunatic. Luckily I was on my own at the time – thank God I wasn’t on public transport!

As a novel, Leap In Is split into two parts – the first being Hemingsley’s own story about learning to swim and the second regarding advice and support for everything from finding out about adult swimming lessons to kit, events and practical advice on everyday swimming issues. This section is really comprehensive and provides a plethora of information. Even if you have no interest in going swimming it’s written in a jovial, friendly tone and is still worth a read (how else will you find out how to conceal a spare tampon if you’re only wearing a wetsuit?)

Leap In really is a snapshot of Heminsley’s life during the time that she learns to swim. She includes some very personal passages about her struggles to conceive, her attempts at IVF and the impact that this has on her body. Far from being just a book about swimming, this is a really touching and intimate portrayal of life as a 30 something woman who just happens to have taken up a new sport. Not as inspirational as Running Like a Girl, but still a great book to read. And if you take it on holiday, who knows – maybe you will just grab a towel and head for the pool.

Rating: 8/10

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