Sealed

sealedTitle: Sealed

Author: Naomi Booth

Summary: Heavily pregnant Alice and her partner Pete are done with the city. Above all, Alice is haunted by the rumours of the skin sealing epidemic starting to infect the urban population. Surely their new remote mountain house will offer safety, a place to forget the nightmares and start their little family. But the mountains and their people hold a different kind of danger. With their relationship under intolerable pressure, violence erupts and Alice is faced with the unthinkable as she fights to protect her unborn child.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: I was given a free copy of this book by the publisher via their twitter account, and i was quite intrigued by the sound of it. Described as an “eco horror” it instantly sounded interesting to me.

I loved the “eco” side of the story, with the mysterious new cutis disease, the smog of the cities, the wild fires of the mountains, and “protected” food. There was also some political aspects, with some cutis cover ups, displacement camps run like prisons, a lack of local resources. It had a lot of dystopian-vibes, but doesn’t quite delve deep enough; it’s more pre-dystopian.

Although it had these themes, they were only really lightly touched upon in the grand scheme of the story. The focus was on our main character, Alice, and her partner, Pete. I’ll be honest–i didn’t like them. I felt for Alice, with her cutis obsession and being cut off from information and updates, but she was also weak and pathetic in the face of Pete’s dominance and control. He tells her to stop thinking, asking, worrying, distracting… he just wants to fit in with his new friends and not have to give a shit about his girlfriend’s fears and emotions. He was a knobhead.

In almost every chapter there is more revealed about the past. The history of cutis, of Alice and Pete’s relationship and childhoods, of the death of Alice’s mother and how this has affected her. And while this was interesting stuff to learn, the segues seemed a little too forced to me. There was a scene with Alice suddenly taking an interest in flowers as a reason for her to rummage for her mum’s gardening books to then start remembering her mum’s garden to lead into the past. I wondered if the strange flower Alice had found was related to the cutis epidemic or the environmental changes, but no. Instead, flowers and gardening are never mentioned again.

The last chapter was where the horror aspect really stepped up, with things happening as i’d been expecting them to since chapter two. The unkempt house down the road, the crotchety old man with a gun, the heavily pregnant woman… I loved how cutis played its part here, i loved the unreality of Alice’s experience and how that came across in the writing, and, as a horror fan, i loved the gore.

Overall, the story was very character-driven and -focused. Too much so for my own personal taste. It was far more about Alice’s psychological state of mind and how she copes (or doesn’t cope) with the events unfolding around her, rather than those events themselves. The end of the book was great–on the cusp of the dystopian future i’d be fascinated to read more about.

Advertisements

TTT: Wish I’d DNF’d

As I discussed fairly recently, i’m not very good at giving up on books, even when i’m not enjoying them. It’s not until i’ve finished, when I have all the information and when the book has not redeemed itself, that I think, “Yeah, I shouldn’t have bothered sticking with it till the end.” So for this week’s DNF-themed top ten, i’ve chosen the top ten books I should have not finished.

Ariel – Controversial right off the bat; I know a lot of people love Plath. I just didn’t get on with her poerty at all. It just seemed so bizarre and unconnected. I could barely make sense of it. Thankfully, poetry books don’t take too long to read!

Man and Boy – The one and only book by Parsons I have or will ever read. I found it dull as dishwater, eyerollingly predictable, and completely uninspired.

High Fidelity – Another so many people love. I just hated the characters. All miserable and selfish and blah. I wasn’t invested. There is one quote in this book that I adored, though—i’m at least glad I kept reading till then.

Weaveworld – This book just dragged with not a lot going on. Some of the language and themes were rather sexist and clichéd… i’m actually surprised I slogged my way through it. Having since read a book of Barker’s short stories and loved it, I can only assume novels are not his forte.

Girl, Interrupted – What a whiny, contradictory, self-involved wanker of a character. And as this is based on the real-life events of the author… I don’t like her much, either!

The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Again with a book so highly regarded. I found it awkward and amateurish. A poor narrative voice (and character—i found him so annoying), and a clichéd “find yourself” adventure. Yawn.

Rosemary’s Baby – This. Book. Made. Me. Angry. I literally wanted to throw it across the room at points. I was hoping so badly for some awesome turnaround in the conclusion… but alas, it just got worse.

Communion Town – I was just hoping for so much more from this book. The idea is sound—a collection of short stories set in the same fictional city. But the author was trying too hard, and it just didn’t flow or meld for me.

Looking for Alaska – Perhaps the most loved on this list? I’m sorry, but John Green is not for me. The writing is—fine (though full of quotable clichés). It’s just not challenging enough. I’m generally not a fan of YA as I find the genre generally too much of an easy read—i prefer something that will make me think.

The Hourglass Factory – A spur of the moment purchase I came to regret. Mystery, suffragettes, lesbians—it has some great ingredients. But the storytelling was poor, the plot meandered, and the climax not enough to save it.

Do you love or hate any of these books? What was your spin on this week’s theme? Link me up in the comments below!

Save

Everything I Never Told You

Title: Everything I Never Told You

Author: Celeste Ng

Summary: Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.

So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favourite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfil the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos.

A profoundly moving story of family, secrets, and longing, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait about love, lies, and race.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: This book had been on my radar for a while, but i wasn’t sure if i wanted to read it. It was the female POC author and the Chinese-American family dynamic that peaked my interest, and when i saw the book in The Works for a few quid i couldn’t say no. I’m glad. I enjoyed this book in a lot more ways than i thought i would.

The quote on the cover says this book “calls to mind The Lovely Bones“, but for most of the book i couldn’t help but think of the TV series Twin Peaks. It starts with a missing girl and the discovery of her body being pulled from a body of water. It goes on to explore the lives of the family and how little they really know about each other. And with Twin Peaks in mind, i’ll be frank and say i had my eyes on the Dad for most of the book!

What i loved most about this book was its third person omniscient narration. I think this is generally a very underused narrative voice, with most books being told in third person limited or first person point of view. Third person omniscient is pretty tough to pull off well, but Ng manages it flawlessly. I was hooked from that very first line, and knew i was going to enjoy the hell out of this book. The narration flits between all the characters’ thoughts and feelings while also giving snippets of events to come. But none of it in a clumsy way–it still flows and at no point did it get confusing.

All the characters are wonderfully written. All with sympathetic motives and views, but all flawed in genuine ways. None of them are perfect, and all of them fail to communicate enough that wires are crossed, incorrect assumptions made, and pressure piles high on shoulders not strong enough to bear the weight. It is all three children i felt for most, but especially Hannah. The youngest, the ignored and forgotten, the observant and unwitting confidante. Nath and Lydia, bound together by their history and the way the family has dealt with that, but also pulled apart by time and adolescence.

Marilyn and James–Mum and Dad–are perhaps the two most interesting characters, but certainly for me the least sympathetic. Their life experiences, reasoning, and decisions are understandable and i feel for them… to a certain extent. When they become so blinded by their own emotions and selfishness, though, i have to draw the line. Marilyn i have more sympathy for, as a woman in the 60s and 70s with dreams and ambitions, and people at every turn only holding her back. Her only real mistake was blindly projecting that onto her daughter. James, though. As much i can understand his history; how isolating being the only Chinese student would be and how desperately he would have wanted to fit in. I couldn’t forgive how he all but hated Nath for being too similar and idolised Lydia for seeming to be so popular and “normal”. I wouldn’t forgive him holding his wife back in her dreams because of his own inadequacy issues. And i certainly shouldn’t forgive an affair with a teaching assistant that started on the day of his own daughter’s funeral. James is just far, far too selfish to be likeable.

I found the story simple, but excellently constructed, and perfectly emotive. It easily kept me reading, not only to know what happened, but also to see how these characters developed and dealt with their trauma. I wanted a happy ending for them (well, most of them). I wanted Hannah to be loved and appreciated and seen, i wanted Nath to go to college and live his own life, i want Jack’s heart to not be broken. I was happy to see just enough of the future in the last couple of pages that i could close the book happy and satisfied.

This is not the usual kind of book i read–it is heavily character-driven, with personal drama and development at its core. It’s contemporary fiction, and it’s not my go-to. But i fell pretty much head of arse for this book, and i need Ng’s second novel, Little Fires Everywhere pretty much ASAP. I’d also love to read more books in a well-written third person omniscient voice… the only others i can think of are The Book Thief and The Hobbit. Any recommendations?

Three

Title: Three

Author: Annemarie Monahan

Summary: One yellow April morning, a 17-year-old girl asks herself, “Do I dare to eat a peach?” What she decides will send her life in one of three directions.

That morning is long past. Now she is 41.

On one life path, she is Kitty. She’s been happily married for 23 years. Happily enough. Until Faye, her professor, kisses her.

On another path, she is Katherine, a physician. After the death of an old love, she contacts the one lover who still haunts her: a woman who renounced her for God.

On a third, she calls herself Antonia. She’s barely survived the implosion of a lesbian utopian commune, one built on an abandoned oil rig.

Who are we? Who haven’t we been? Have we dared? Three of one woman’s possible lives are about to collide.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: I can’t remember when, where, or how i came across this book, but i’m so glad i did, because i loved it. I was immediately sucked in, instantly fascinated by these three women in their opening chapters and ready to read more.

The chapters alternate between the three women and their lives, sharing their pasts and presents. As different as they all are, there are traits they all share. For example, they are all very observant: Katherine as a doctor, noting symptoms and concerns to easily diagnose the ailment and the patient’s motivations; Kitty as an expert shopper, getting the best bargains and stocking piling while she can; and Antonia as a clairvoyant on a psychic telephone hotline, using her ability to read people so well even over the phone to rack up the longest call times and the biggest pay cheques. I loved all three of them, in their own ways. I was never disappointed when one character’s chapter ended, only happy to dive right into the next.

Although all, originally, the same woman, that peach took them each on different journeys. And despite the fact it is relationships and love that each of them are struggling with in their stories, they are all exploring different aspects of that. Antonia wants to help save the woman she loves from herself as well as a group of well-meaning but self-destructive earth child hippies, but at the expense of herself. Katherine is contemplating lost love, things left unsaid, and the different experiences people have of the same events. Kitty is finally allowing herself to wake up and explore aspects of her own desire she has kept so well-hidden. There is something here everyone should be able to relate to.

The writing is wonderful. It is clever and witty and poetic and meaningful–and i’m still not sure how it manages to be all those things at once, but it does. And it reads so effortlessly that it was simply a joy to pick up. This was a book i didn’t want to put down, but it was also a book i was enjoying enough to want to make it last. I think i managed quite well, finishing at a sedate pace of 10 days. But i still want to be reading it now.

The only place the book faltered was in the final few short chapters, when each woman’s story was, in a manner of speaking, ‘wrapped up’. At this point the writing became overly poetic and lost some of its meaning; it veered from the story and the point a little in an attempt to be sincere and significant, but succeeded only in being vague and inconsequential.

As far as i’m aware this is the only book by Monahan, but it want more of her words. They were, on the whole, perfection.

Instruction Manual for Swallowing

Title: Instruction Manual for Swallowing

Author: Adam Marek

Summary: Robotic insects, in-growing cutlery, flesh-serving waiters in a zombie cafe… Welcome to the surreal, misshapen universe of Adam Marek’s first collection; a bestiary from the techno-crazed future and mythical past; a users’ guide to the seemingly obvious (and the world of illogic implicit within it). Whether fantastical or everyday in setting, Marek’s stories lead us down to the engine room just beneath modern consciousness, a place of both atavism and familiarity, where the body is fluid, the spirit mechanised, and beasts often tell us more about our humanity than anything we can teach ourselves.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 3.5/5

Review: I don’t even remember how, where, or why i came across this book, but it obviously intrigued me enough to add it to my wish list, because i got it for my birthday a couple of years ago. It was recently moved swiftly up the ‘to read’ list when it was mentioned at a short story workshop i attended. One of the exercises was to take two things that you would generally not mix and write a story about them (which his how i ended up writing about a first kiss at an exorcism!). This is, seemingly, what Marek does with these stories.

None of these stories are about what you expect. My favourite was Cuckoo, i think, because its elusiveness works so well; it has a well-rounded story that doesn’t give all of its pieces up at once. Robot Wasps and Meaty’s Boys are two that also sit strong in my mind. Meaty’s Boys is one of the longest stories in the book, but seemed to fly by in no time at all. It is also the story with the most well-built world. Though the world we glimpse in Robot Wars was fascinating and left me wanting to know more about it.

These weird little glimpses into strange quirky worlds are what i love about the best short stories. They don’t all make sense, they don’t all have an underlying message or meaning, and they don’t follow any kind of pattern. They’re mostly just light-hearted gems to while away a few minutes while you’re waiting for the bus. And if a few of them have any kind of depth to them, well, that’s a bonus for those who want to search for it.

I mostly dived into this book looking for inspiration for my own short story writing, and while i did find some of that, i also found doubt and uncertainty. What i found these stories mostly lacking was feeling. I found it easy, once i’d finished a story, to let go of it–to move on. I think that’s perhaps not the feeling i want my own stories to leave readers with, but i write things that are also a little off the wall and i’m starting to wonder… but that’s a whole other post.

The only other problem i had with some of these stories were a few of the male characters, who were off with other women, trying to recapture some bullshit emotions or shit, while leaving their long term partners at home literally holding the baby. I just can’t with these characters, and it makes me side-eye Marek a little that this is obviously so easy a character he can fall into writing.

But yes, silly, weird, and inspired short stories that made me laugh, intrigued, and inspired. Definitely want to read more.

Save

TTT: Won’t Re-Read

This was actually pretty hard. Generally, if I like a book, I can say that I would (in theory) re-read it. Looking though my list of books, i’ve come to the unhappy conclusion that realistically there aren’t many i’ll ever re-read, because i’ll more likely choose a book I haven’t read yet. But, regardless of free time and priorities, these are books I liked well enough, but won’t be reading again.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
This is first book I remember finishing and thinking, “I really enjoyed that book, but I won’t ever want to read it again.” I think it was just a nice book to get lost in for a while, but was not so interesting that i’d want to revisit it.

Thirteen
This is the second book I remember having that same feeling about as soon as i’d finished it.

Any Carl Hiaasen book
I’ve enjoyed a few Hiassen books. They’re fine as a bit of escapism, but they all suffer from the same flaws. I’ll likely not read any more at all, let alone re-reads.

Life of Pi
I abandoned this book half-read the first time I started it. Not a good sign, I guess. But I finished and enjoyed it on a second go… still wasn’t thrilling enough to be re-read.

Notes from an Exhibition (or any Patrick Gale)
Gale’s books are not my usual type, but there is something I love about his work. I’ll read them as a little light relief between other books… but I don’t love them enough for a second go around.

What Dreams May Come
This book was lovely in many ways, but it had some major, unforgivable problems. I’ve loved the film for many, many years. Why re-read the problematic book, when I could just re-watch the film?

The Godfather
I loved a lot about this book, but the blatant misogyny seriously fucked me off. Another where i’d rather re-watch the film!

Gone Girl
I got sucked into the hype with this one, and while I enjoyed it even more than I thought I would… once you know the twist, what’s the point?

The Handmaid’s Tale
I loved the world building in this book so much, but honestly… it wasn’t actually as terrifying as I had prepared myself for. The world building takes priority over the story, and while that’s its strength in many ways, it makes a re-read highly unlikely.

High Rise
A fascinating idea and a creepy story… but it didn’t meet the hopes i’d held for it. In a different author’s hands i’d re-read the hell out of this story.

Where’s your TTT list at? Link me up in the comments.

Save

The City Of Mirrors

Title: The City of Mirrors

Author: Justin Cronin

Summary: All is quiet in the world. The Twelve have been destroyed, and the hundred-year reign of darkness that descended upon civilization has ended. The survivors are stepping outside their walls, determined to build society anew–and daring to dream of a hopeful future. But far from them, in a dead metropolis, he waits: Zero. The First. Father of the Twelve. The anguish that shattered his human life haunts him, and the hatred spawned by his transformation burns bright. His fury will be quenched only when he destroys Amy–humanity’s only hope, the Girl from Nowhere who grew up to rise against him. One last time light and dark will clash, and at last Amy and her friends will know their fate.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: I went into this book with trepidation. I completely, utterly, five-out-of-five stars loved the previous two books in this series (The Passage and The Twelve), but i had heard of quite a few people really disliking the third and final book. So i cracked the spine with hope in my heart, but fully prepared for disappointment. Either way, i was half right.

This review is, in a word, long. It is also full of spoilers–i couldn’t express my roller coaster of emotions without talking about every damn turn in ride, i’m afraid. So read on at your own peril.

Things started out strong. Reuniting with these characters i have followed and loved over the first two books, discovering what becomes of them over the few years since the end of The Twelve, and finding the strings of where this book will take them. I loved it so far. I also really enjoyed the section of the book given over to Zero, Timothy Fanning, our antagonist’s tale of his back story. Told in the first person, he goes all the way back to his childhood, starting college, losing touch with his family and making a new one with his friends. I got lost in his story, and grew quickly fond of these new (and old…) characters. It was super interesting to discover how the virus had come about, and what people’s goals and motivations had been, even years before it happened. This was, however, also where the first crack appeared in my hope, allowing my disappointment to slip in. With Fanning’s history comes the slap in the face that everything–the entire apocalyptic mess–happened because of a love story. That just… annoys me, honestly. A man falls in love, it’s complicated, there’s a tragedy or two, and then he kills everyone. The moral of this story to me? Men are crazy dangerous and women should never fall in love with one.

The next section of the book skips ahead about 20-25 years, with our main protagonists now middle aged, and their children all grown up with children of their own. And honestly, this part… just… dragged. There was too much of the daily grind, people going about their every days, and too many characters i haven’t seen grow up and have nothing invested in. Action and excitement and development was severely lacking, and really i think the book as a whole would have benefited if we had jumped into the story at this part, with short forays back to see how they came to this point. Juxtapositioning the time lines as well as character- and plot-development that way would have kept the whole thing more interesting.

When things did kick off, with the virals finally making a reappearance and everything going to pot, my enthusiasm returned full force and i was ready for the rest of the book to be action-packed and making up for any lull in the narrative. And for a while, it did. The attacks on the city, the ambush, and the mad dash to the Bergensfjord. That was an example of this book’s story at its best, and i didn’t want to stop reading.

Despite loving the story at this point, there were other things i wasn’t enjoying so much. Plot is only a part of what makes a good book–the characters play a hefty part as well. Unfortunately, by this time, some were starting to wear on me. I’ve never been Peter’s biggest fan, but he was so blind to so much and making the wrong choices–i was left with very little sympathy or patience for him. The characters i did like were not in it enough–Greer, Michael, Lore, Amy. And even Amy sarted to frustrate me, when more and more of her love story with Peter is revealed. No matter how you spin it, she’s over 100 years old in the body of a young girl when Peter is a young man, and she’s still over 100 when she’s in the body of a young woman and Peter is a middle aged man. Despite the fact i get no ~romance~ vibes from their relationship at all and it feels entirely forced for the sake of having it–their massive, confusing, and altering age gaps just give me the creeps.

The single biggest disappointment i have with the entire book–the thing that not only failed to land for me, but actually make me rather angry and terribly, terribly sad–was Alicia. She is, hands down, my favourite character. But Cronin’s handling of her, her journey, and her conclusion is… misjudged at best, and just plain disgusting at worst. Her situation and condition is unique. The only person with any kind of understanding of it is Amy, and i loved the relationship Alicia and Amy share because of that (and honestly, i’d’ve bought a romance between them much more easily). Along with that, she went through some truly horrific events in The Twelve, coming out the other side a different person (again), but still with her heart and mind in the right place. In this book, she gets nothing but anger and violence from the people she once called friends, and the people she believed she was protecting for the last 25 years. At first i thought this anger was an initial reaction to people missing and worrying about her–that they would expunge it and welcome her back into the fold. Instead, it seethes and these people Alicia loves and is still trying to protect give no shits about her. She’s then severely wounded by friendly fire and reduced to a cripple for the rest of the book, kept around solely for information that barely gets used or considered. She gets no goodbyes, no validation for everything she has done, and only a single person caring enough about her to hold a conversation and help carry her trauma and her secrets. And it hurts me that she’s thrown away like that in this story.

By the end, and mostly by the time i became too disheartened by Alicia’s treatment, i just… didn’t care anymore. By the time they arrived in New York i was skipping ahead and see what happened. And not because i was so excited or engaged with the story that i had to know what happened and that everything turned out okay, but because i wanted to find a reason to want to keep reading–because i just wanted it over with. I was ready to give up on the last 150 pages, but the time and love i’d poured into the previous books gave me the determination to see it through, with the compromise of skim-reading the final chapters. By that time, though, i cared very little about anything i read.

Throughout the book, Cronin’s way with words shines through. His turns of phrase and imagery never failed, and i underlined with reckless abandon. I’m so happy this remained, even through parts of the book i didn’t enjoy, and even at parts of the book that made me numb with sadness and disappointment.

Some might have said she fell. Others, that she flew. Both were true. Alicia Donadio–Alicia of Blades, the New Thing, Captain of the Expeditionary–would die as she had lived.
Always soaring.

Honestly, in my heart this book gets two and a half stars out of five, but i rounded up based on my utter and undying love of the first two books. That love remains undamaged, and once i’ve posted this review i will try to wipe the memory of this book from my mind. For me, the series ends with humanity continuing on its journey to grow and rebuild itself, while Alicia heads off to New York to behead Zero and be the big damn hero she is.

Brighton Bookshops

I recently had a few days away in Brighton, and while researching places to eat and sights to see of course I looked up where all the local bookshops were. Finding the bookshops is what I always do in new places (what self-respecting bibliophile doesn’t?), but this was the first time I thought of documenting visits and sharing it on my blog.

Brighton was awesome, with so many places for this vegan to eat, loads of little alleyways and streets to explore, and some really amazing graffiti art. But this blog isn’t about food, exploring, or pretty walls. It’s about BOOKS, so let’s get to it!

The first bookshop I went in was Brighton Books, located on a wonderful pedestrianised street along with clothes shops and cafés. Once inside the hustle and bustle of the people outside faded away. I had a blissful half an hour browsing the bookshelves, eventually picking out a book of essays by William Golding i’ve had on my ‘to acquire’ list for a while.

Next on my list of bookshops was Books for Amnesty, which was hard to miss as it’s painted bright pink! I loved this colour choice—it makes the whole shop stand out, but isn’t at all out of place in the colourful arty Brighton vibes. Although I didn’t buy a book here, the feeling inside was welcoming and put me immediately at ease. I could have browsed there all day, had they had enough books!

A bookshop that really caught my interest, and was backed up by a recommendation from a Brightonite bookstagrammer, was Colin Page Antiquarian Books. Immediately I could tell it was one of those wonderful bookshops, rammed full of books to get lost in, and that old book smell. It didn’t disappoint. The books are down a mental spiral staircase, and the space is quite and still, almost library-like. Most of the books are hardback, with only a table out front covered with paperbacks. There were also boxes of literary magazines on the floor, including one full of old pulpy science fiction—if I hadn’t been getting the train back, that entire box would have come home with me!

The last bookshop I went in was City Books, which is a typical independent shop selling new and modern books of all genres. I loved it. I saw many books i’d never heard of, but was enticed to pick up, read the back, and have a flick through. It’s exactly the kind of bookshop where I could easily spend a lot of money. On this occasion I limited myself to a single book—City of Saints and Madmen by Jeff VanderMeer. At over 700 pages, it was the best value for my money!

On my last, very early, morning, on the walk to the train station, I passed another bookshop that I had somehow managed to miss! Raining Books wasn’t open at the ungodly hour I passed by, but it certainly looks interesting and fun—I can’t wait to explore it the next time i’m in Brighton!

Have you been to any of these bookshops? Are there any more awesome Brighton bookshops I missed!? Let me know so I can add them to my visit list!