The Scorch Trials

mrstTitle: The Scorch Trials

Author: James Dashner

Summary: Solving the Maze was supposed to be the end. No more puzzles. No more variables. And no more running. Thomas was sure that escape meant he would get his life back. But no one really knew what sort of life they were going back to…

Burned and baked, the earth is a wasteland, its people driven mad by an infection known as the Flare.

Instead of freedom, Thomas must face another trial. He must cross the Scorch to once again save himself and his friends.

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆ 1/5

Review: I read The Maze Runner about a year ago, and it left with a lot to say. While i loved the story, setting and mystery of the book, the writing was atrocious. The writing in this sequel did not improve, and unfortunately the story, setting and mystery only went down hill. So much so, i couldn’t bring myself to finish the book.

I gave up a little over halfway through, when i realised there was nothing about the plot that was fascinating enough to keep me reading–to keep me reading a book written this badly. I disliked it so much, i don’t even think i can bring myself to write much about it. I’ll take it one aspect at a time:

The plot: This started well, with the safety the kids think they’ve found turning on them. Things changed quickly and so dramatically it was easy to stay interested, to want to keep reading. This lasted through their time in their limited dorm-type space, through the tunnel of molten head-eating machines and up to their exit into “the Scorch”. After that, things started to go downhill. A few days of the boys slogging through the heat, getting nowhere fast, nothing happening… it was dull, to say the least. When they finally made it to the city, to buildings, to other life forms, i thought things might pick up. But after that, it just seemed like action for the sake of action, rather than anything the was driving the plot. IDGAF about underground tunnels and cranks too far gone–i want to know more about WICKED and what the hell they’re doing to these kids. It was at that point i had to give up.

The characters: Minho was still my favourite. I think because he seems the most real. His emotions seem close to the surface, but he’s also pragmatic and wants to get shit done. Despite there being a smaller number of characters, we still don’t get to know many. In fact Thomas, our (still lack-luster) lead, comments a few times that he can’t even name a lot of them. Way to be a dick, Tommy. I guess that way you don’t have to emotionally develop when they die. Talking of Thomas, i hate him. A large part of that is because we’re experiencing this from his POV, and the writing of that POV is absolutely terrible. Some of that is because he lacks any kind of emotional depth. He doesn’t mention Teresa, the girl he shared such a deep and meaningful connection with who went missing, for several chapters, then suddenly claims she’s all he can think about. He’s sobbing and angry when he finds her but has to run and leave her behind, but as soon as a new girl shows up he’s eyeing her up and getting touchy feeling within minutes. There are a dozen male characters, they can’t get hooked up with the new girl? With each other? You can’t have a female character who isn’t a love interest?

Finally, the writing: It is bad. So bad i have to wonder if this was even edited. Did they accidentally print the first draft? Dashner can not write. It’s all tell, no show. Things stated plainly with no feeling or mood. Questions asked blatantly, outright leading the reader rather than enticing them along. Settings described in unnecessary detail, but the emotional states of the characters and evocative atmospheres are consistently absent. His pacing is off, he fails to use language to immerse the reader into the moment, instead dragging them along awkwardly. While i was reading this sequel, my partner attempted to read the first book–operative word: attempted. He didn’t get past the first chapter, and it took him so long because we were sitting together reading out the best examples of the appalling writing. It was fun for 20 minutes or so, but only when you have someone to share the cringe-worthiness with.

I’m throwing in the towel on this series. I officially don’t care how it ends. Call me when someone opens a kickstarter raising funds for a decent author to re-write the entire thing.




Dead Girl Walking

dgwTitle: Dead Girl Walking

Author: Christopher Brookmyre

Summary: Famous, beautiful and talented, Heike has the world at her feet. Then she simply vanishes.

Jack Parlabane has lost everything: his journalism career, his marriage, his self-respect. A call for help from an old friend offers a chance of redemption – but only if he can find our what happened to missing singer Heike.

Each member of her band has secrets, not least newest recruit Monica Halcrow. Fixated on Heike from day one, she is driven by paranoia, jealousy and fear.

Pursued across Europe by those who would punish him for past crimes, Parlabane must find out what Monica is hiding before it’s too late.

Rating: ★★★★★ 4.5/5

Review: Well, first of all that blurb is misleading and inaccurate. Finding out what happened to Heike isn’t a chance at redemption–it’s a job. None of the band really has secrets, and Monica was not fixated or paranoid. Parlabane isn’t pursued by people wanting to punish him for past crimes and he only even knows Monica is hiding something in the last 75 pages or so.

Despite the poor summary, the book is good. I had missed Parlabane, and so had a lot of his friends, it turns out, because the man we meet at the start of this book is certainly not the Parlabane we know from previous books. Along with Brookmyre’s writing, Parlabane’s grown up a wee bit. I’d say he’s having a midlife crisis, but as his life is usually so full of comedy, adventure and danger, a midlife crisis for him is having no job, no wife and no hope.

When he gets a call from the sister of an old friend with a job offer, things begin to change. I saw the love-interest angle here from the get go, and from the get-go i did not like it. It seemed forced, and she seems like not at all the kind of partner Parlabane needs; she might be able to corral rock stars, but if she can’t make a sharp exit down a rope or keep her head in a crisis, what good is she to Parlabane? I would be much more interested if Parlabane and McLeod ended up dating. Journalist and copper. They’d disagree on a hell of a lot, but in a fiery wild way, and they’re both able to handle themselves in dangerous situations.

The best part of Parlabane stayed the course, though: his humour. His dry, cynical, straight talking makes me crack a grin every time, with more than a few chuckles.

He had recently heard some chinless Tory fuckpuddle say that London was a world-class city being held back by the rest of the UK. Parlabane had reckoned that if he poured all his money and efforts into fitting out his toilet he could almost certainly have himself a truly world class shite-house. Obviously there would be little in the way of cash or other physical resources for the development and upkeep of the living room and the kitchen, etc… but if anyone asked, he could tell them he had a world-class bog and it was just a shame the rest of the house was holding it back.

Parlabane is only half the book, though. The other half is Monica and Heike. I was ambivalent on the pair of them, to be honest. Throughout I seemed to dislike one or the other of them. I think they were supposed to be in their early 20s, but they often read like teenagers. They were moody and fickle and never properly talked to each other, which lead to many misunderstandings. I just really like it when two female lead characters are mature and get on with each other, so it’s a shame these two couldn’t manage it. I liked that Brookmyre included a lesbian character and a bi-curious character, but i couldn’t buy their relationship because it never seemed consistent enough

The story was fine–typical crime/mystery thriller type with a sex-traffic angle, though the missing rock star and band-on-tour blog added an interesting shade to it all. I looooved the start, in that the only thing revealed was that someone was murdered and someone witnessed it, but you don’t know who these people are. It had me interested and analysing everything right from the first chapter. Unfortunately the twists in the reveal weren’t a shock to me–i’d called most of them.

Ultimately what makes this book, like any other Brookmyre, is the writing. It is witty, relevant, concise and addictive. It might not be quite as crude and immature as his early books, but it’s miles better than your average crime fiction. I’m looking forward to more Parlabane soon!


Why I Write

whyiwriteTitle: Why I Write

Author: George Orwell

Summary: Whether puncturing the lies of politicians, wittily dissecting the English character or telling unpalatable truths about war, Orwell’s timeless, uncompromising essays are more relevant, entertaining and essential than ever in today’s era of spin.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: I loved this book. It actually took me by surprise how enormously i enjoyed it, but i loved this book. I picked it up recently on a whim as a last minute purchase from a secondhand bookshop, and started reading it on a train journey when it was the only book i had easily accessible. For an impulse purchase and a last resort read, this book impressed me spectacularly.

I excepted this to be a simple, easy read about Orwell’s motivations and techniques when it comes to writing. It was actually a lot more. In the first essay his focus is on the writing, including, as he sees it, the main motives for writing and the general disposition of any writer. That’s where the simple stuff that most people will expect ends, though. Right there on page 10. The remaining 110 pages are where things get interesting.

The second, and longest, essay is easily my favourite. Though i can see if you’re not a politically inclined Briton it might not strike with the same energy. Orwell describes Britain and British sentiment and nationality as a context for its politics, before diving right into the politics and the second world war (which was happening around him as he wrote). It is brilliant, and there is no doubt the points he’s making are still relevant today. I underlined a lot of quotes. Most that stuck as incredibly pertinent to current politics, others that were simply magnificent insults, and on the best occasions they were both!

I’ve never found myself quite so into politics. Of course, i keep up to date with what’s going on and have strong-to-vehement opinions on it all, but this was the first time i remember being truly engaged on the right level. I think it helps that Orwell comes at it from a good angle. That angle being it’s a fucking mess and a hell of a lot more needs to change than simply the party in power. He’s my kind of reasonable (which is to say, perhaps, not at all)–he’s equally insulting and fed up of it all. He’s not pushing for a particular agenda or trying to persuade anyone of anything, just stating the facts as he sees them, and his opinion on where and how things are fucked up and unfair.

I can’t quote all my underlining (at least not in this review…), but i’ll include one that speaks broadly to one of the larger issues:

“…no one genuinely wanted any major change to happen. The Labour leaders wanted to go on and on, drawing their salaries and periodically swapping jobs with the Conservatives.”

The last essay focuses on politics in relation to language, and how meaningless speeches and literature can become when vague and inflated. A piece of writing that uses long words and fancy-sounding turns of phrase might seem impressive, but if you really pay attention to it, it isn’t saying anything at all. Seeing the examples Orwell gives, how he picks them apart, and comparing it to his own straight-forward way of writing really made me stop and consider my own writing style. (I’m feeling a little apprehensive about this review, to say the least!)

Some reviews i read from people who did not enjoy this book as thoroughly as I did claim it’s not about why Orwell writes, and I’m left wondering if they’ve ever read any of his other books. Animal Farm, 1984… politics is why he writes. Reading him talk in such an honest and straightforward manner about his political views was thrilling. Without the metaphors and refined prose of a fictional narrative Orwell is sharp, witty, and on point. I could have coped with this book being twice as long, honestly.


Castle in the Air

castle-in-the-airTitle: Castle in the Air

Author: Diana Wynne Jones

Summary: Far to the south in the land of Ingary, loves Abdullah. By day he is a humble carpet merchant, but in his dreams he is a prince.

Abdullah’s dreams suddenly start to come true when he meets the lovely Flower-in-the-Night. When a hideous djinn carries her off into the sky, Adullah is determined to rescue her, if he can find her, and if he can avoid all the ferocious villains who seems to be after him. But how can he possibly succeed, with only a bad-tempered genie and an unreliable magic carpet to help him?

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: After being left nearly incoherent by my love for the first book, Howl’s Moving Castle, I was excited to get into this book. I soon came down to earth with a bump–this book is sadly not nearly as wonderful as the first.

My expectations had a big influence on my enjoyment. I wanted to see a lot of Sophie and Howl, after all they were the things i loved most about the first book. The blurb may be about Abdullah and his genie, but I’d imagined a lot of help or involvement from Sophie and Howl. Instead, they were only in it right at the end and not nearly enough to sate my want. Their missing presence is the really the biggest qualm i have.

However, despite the lack of my favourite characters, this book wasn’t perfect. The start dragged too much for my liking, with not enough excitement or disruption to keep me completely engrossed. When things did finally get shaken up, it was far too briefly and the narrative soon settled into doldrums for several more chapters. It isn’t until the final handful of chapters that things finally start happening, but then, because everything is happening, it all happens too quickly!

I did like most of the characters in this. Abdullah is a little timid, but endearingly determined, and his expressive and complimentary epithets were some kind of wonderful, often making me grin. Flower-in-the-Night, other than having a ridiculous name, was wonderful. A level-headed, intelligent female who didn’t need rescuing so much as she needed a few items to aid her own escape. In fact all the princesses were pretty awesome with getting on with shit, rather than bemoaning and waiting to be rescued. The solider was intriguing enough to keep me guessing, and i loved his love for the cats. Of course, by the end of the book, Sophie and Howl steal the show.

Despite a strong showing of capable and independent female characters, there was a certain aspect of the book i couldn’t quite stomach: the subtle sexism. The idea of men ‘owning’ women; of marrying several and giving daughters or relatives away to other men. I don’t care what era or culture is being represented, don’t include aspects like that if you’re not going to critiquing them. Also fat-shaming! Just… so many details that, though small and seemingly throwaway, disappointed and upset me.

As i own the third (and final!) book in this series, I do think i’ll read it. However my expectations will be suitably curbed following this reading experience. Is more Sophie and Howl really too much to ask for!?


fellsideTitle: Fellside

Author: M.R. Carey

Summary: You will find Fellside somewhere on the edge of the Yorkshire moors. It is not the kind of place you’d want to end up, but it’s where Jess Moulson could be spending the rest of her life.

It’s a place where even the walls whisper. And one voice belongs to a little boy with a message for Jess. Fellside will be the death of you – if it doesn’t save you.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: After the brilliance that was The Girl with All the Gifts, it was inevitable i would read Carey’s second novel. I was prepared for different; different setting, different genre, different vibe… I was not prepared for not-quite-as-good.

This book is a slow burner, setting up the characters, moving them into positions, and setting out several story lines before things really get going. And while that didn’t make the book that exciting, it was still very readable. It was easy to fall into the world and learn more about the characters.

Talking of characters, Carey does a brilliant job with all of them. They all have their faults, but they all have things to appreciate about them; they’re all realistic. Which i’m sure i’ve said dozens of times in various reviews, is the most important thing for me. Jess, the main character, was probably the character i liked the least. It’s not that i hated her, it’s just that she was the most lacking in character. For the protagonist I found her far too reactive (or simply inactive), rather than proactive. She let things happen around her and only did things in response to others. Dr Salazar, the prison doctor, i adored. He felt the most caring in a lot of ways, despite the fact that he was such a push over. I was waiting and hoping all the way through for him make a stand. Sylvie Stock was a self-centred bitch; i loved to hate her. The prisoners, the guards, the lawyers… all of them had their layers and were interesting to read about. The characters, i think, are what i enjoyed most about this book.

The different story threads were intriguing, and I enjoyed following them all. I’d just be getting into one over a few chapters, then it would change back to another one and i’d forget all about the previous to find out what was happening with this one… it was a good way to keep me reading and keep the book engaging. I loved the way the stories slowly began to overlap and then weave together, and how that affected the characters and their motivations. It was some pretty well executed storytelling.

But still, this book was not above three stars for me. I have quite a lot i wasn’t too impressed with, but to talk [read: rant] about them at any length or in any detail would involve pretty big spoilers. Suffice to say… there were no surprises for me in the book. From the very beginning I could guess how and where things were leading, if not the specific details. The trial, the little boy, the roles characters would play in the narrative… i called it all accurately and early enough that none of it was a revelation to me. Generally, i found the book a little too formulaic. The plot–its twists and turns–were very standard, if you know what to look for.

Mostly, though, i wasn’t a huge fan of the supernatural aspect of the story. That’s not a fault of the book, just a way in which we didn’t get on. I love books that could be real, that have their plots rooted in reality in some way. I loved The Girl with All the Gifts because it was science fiction; it gave its horror a biological basis. I find pseudoscience more palatable than the outright supernatural. And i would likely have enjoyed this book more if it had leaned more towards an ambiguous interpretation of certain aspects; the classic ‘is it real or was it all psychological’ get out clause.

I will likely read more of Carey’s work, but will hope for more in the vein of Gifts than Fellside. And with The Boy on the Bridge, a book set in the Gifts world, due out next year, i am cheerfully optimistic!


Popshot Magazine: The Adventure Issue

wp-1472915662992.jpegTitle: Popshot Magazine: The Adventure Issue

Author: Various

Summary: Popshot is an illustrated literary magazine that publishes short stories, flash fiction, and poetry from the literary new blood.

From the pavement to the pubs to the playhouses, our peculiar little planet is full of storytelling. Popshot aims to publish just a few of the more articularte and well-observed versions of these stories, illustrated by some of contemporary illustration’s finest.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: My partner bought this for me randomly, thinking it would be something i’d enjoy. It is. A collection of short stories and poems, beautifully illustrated and brought to life. This magazine is wonderful.

It started off strong with two sci-fi stories. Shadows, the tale of two spacemen who get lost in darkness and time and aren’t quite sure they make it out unscathed. Seventh, set following an unspecified apocalyptic event, follows a girl travelling, trying to find the one person left who means something to her.

All the stories here include–i’m hesitant to say twist, as it’s not always as shocking as that implies, but they have something. The end reveals enough to change to mood of the entire story, to give more meaning and depth to everything you’ve already read. And that is how the best short stories are told.

A young girl accused of being a spy, or an elderly lady in a hospital? A shipwrecked man gradually exploring a trail of islands, or going backwards and forwards between two? A young boy leading his little sister into a dangerous situation, or attempting to share a touching moment they’ll remember forever?

My favourite story was Bucket List, in which a group of strangers share a balloon ride that turns dangerous. One of them saves the day and completes his bucket list at the same time. It actually brought tears to my eyes, which is quite a feat for a short story!

I’m not a poem buff, and they were more hit and miss for me here. I enjoyed several, while others feel flat for me. Without a doubt, though, the last poem–and final piece in the magazine–was the best. Some Other Day just captured something wonderful about personal growth, about change, and about leaving parts of ourselves behind.

Standout throughout the magazine is the artwork. Each piece is gorgeous in itself, but they both give and receive so much in relation to the words they represent. They string the stories and poems together and make the magazine as a whole a piece of art.

This was issue number 15 of Popshot magazine, and i’m extremely tempted to subscribe for future issues. They seem so wonderfully light, interesting and beautiful; i want more.

Stop What You’re Doing and Read This!

Stop-What-Youre-ReadingTitle: Stop What You’re Doing and Read This!

Author: Various

Summary: In any 24 hours there might be sleeping, eating, kids, parents, friends, lovers, work, school, travel, deadlines, emails, phone calls, Facebook, Twitter, the news, the TV, Playstation, music, movies, sport, responsibilities, passions, desires, dreams.

Why should anyone stop what they’re doing and read a book?

People have always needed stories. We need literature because we need to make sense of our lives, test our depths, understand our joys, and discover what humans are capable of. Great books can provide companionship when we are lonely, or peacefulness in the midst of an overcrowded daily life. Reading provides a unique kind of pleasure and no one should live without it.

In the ten essays in this book some of our finest authors and passionate advocates from the worlds of science, publishing, technology, and social enterprise tell us about the experience of reading, why access to books should never be taken for granted, how reading transforms our brains, and how literature can save lives. In any 24 hours there are so many demands on your time and attention – make books one of them.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: I love books about books, about reading and about the shared joy i experience with others who love books. This book, unfortunately, didn’t really live up to my expectations.

Very few of the essays in this book really stood out for me. Considering most of the authors are professional writers, i felt they did a pretty poor-to-average job of capturing the unique joy of reading we bookworms experience. Some of the essays focused on the author’s childhood and experience with books and reading as they grew up. A few included another focus, instead of the simply enjoyment reading brings, some chose to highlight how vital the ability is, how access to books is key. And though these were interesting and i agree with them, they didn’t evoke The Feeling or make a lasting impression on me.

The two essays i really enjoyed were the last two.

The Dreams of Readers by Nicholas Carr, though somewhat awkwardly written and including an abundance of direct quotes from others, captured the idea of books being both an escape to lose yourself in, and also an influence which transforms the reader. It talks about each reader bring their own experiences and interpretations to a book, and therefore each experiencing a different reading of the narrative. It’s a pretty simple and acceptable idea, but not one that’s often thought about or discussed.

To me that leads to questions about the subtleties and unique aspects of language; with such an array of connotations to words, meanings and inflection, can we ever know if we’re truly understanding each other?

Then Questions for a Reader by Dr Maryanne Wolf and Dr Mirit Barzillai takes the concept of reading transforming the the reader even further. They consider the history of the written word, how philosophers feared it spelt the end of individuals thinking for themselves, or thinking critically about the information presented to them. As we’ve proven since then, that’s not the case. But they also ponder the future of reading, with more reading happening online. When more words and information is only a click away and adverts and cat gifs are vying for the reader’s attention, how will this affect critical thinking?

In this case, I think the essay gives far too much credit and influence to the work and to the web. It assumes how the presentation of information changes is the only factor, rendering the consumer passive and easily influenced. I would argue the result depends more so on the reader. The reader has to want to critically engage with what they’re reading, and if they do, no amount of reddit or wikipedia links will deter them from that.

Overall, though, this book lacked the magic for me. It felt forced. It felt a little gimmicky. A “look, a book about books, you should read it!” attempt at selling a book, rather than a book that was genuinely about exploring people’s love of reading and trying to capture that feeling we get.

No Monsters Allowed

nomonstersTitle: No Monsters Allowed

Author: Various

Summary: Horror has a human face…

In a world over-run with vampires, werewolves and zombies, No Monsters Allowed goes back to the very roots of horror – humanity itself. The vile acts of our fellow men and women, the fears that hide in our own minds, the nightmares that inhabit our everyday lives . . .

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: This book caught my eye from the shelf in the library. I love horror and i love short stories, but what really got me interested was the human-horror element. So often the horror in fiction is represented as “other” be it in the form of monsters or disease or some such. But horror that draws on the cruelty and evil inherent in the human race is a horror you can’t tell yourself doesn’t exist when you’re trying to sleep at night. It’s scarier because it could be real–because it is real.

Overall the stories here were hit and miss. It’s not that any were outright bad, but that some didn’t hit as hard or leave an impression on me. And overwhelmingly the stories read as quite amateurish, which isn’t a criticism, per se, but the inexperienced writing didn’t help in the stories that were also weaker, and unfortunately did effect how seriously (or not seriously) i took the stories.

One story i really enjoyed was the second one, The Silence After Winter, which was about a woman and a young girl getting by following an apocalyptic event. Really, though, this story didn’t read as horror to me. I loved it because of its post-apocalyptic setting, and it certainly explored human nature and its drive to survive in various ways. But horror? Not so much.

Another great story was Puppyberries, about a new food stuff that takes a small town by storm for a short while. They don’t know what it is or really where it came from, but they can’t stop eating it. The thing is with this story, i was waiting for the human-horror twist for the entire narrative… and it didn’t come. I’m still baffled as to what the human-horror aspect was intended to be, as ending on the insinuation that the puppyberries had living things inside them that burrow out brings this story back around to a monster.

Bred in the Bone, Killer Con, and Precious Damaged Cargo are three excellent stories that hit human-horror spot on. For the first, i could feel the anticipation and the hidden horror throughout, and was perfectly satisfied when it was revealed. The second i loved as a commentary on society’s fixation with murderers and serial killers, with newspaper articles and books written about all the gory details–this story took that to a place and exposed the horror of not only the killers, but the public obsessed with them. The third one surprised me–i did not see that end coming, and i loved it!

My favourite story, and i think the one that struck me the most, and will likely stay with me a while, is Some Girls Wander By Mistake. I loved it because it explores sexuality and transgender topics, but within a horror setting. And the fact that it’s human-horror suits it perfectly. I also loved it because i knew where it was going, what the twist would be, but i don’t know how i knew. I just kept thinking, “This seems that,” and “It would be so good if this happened” and then it did. I just. Loved it.

Despite the stories being hit and miss, i did enjoy this book a lot. Mostly because the stories i enjoyed, i really enjoyed. I might actually have to re-read (and even photocopy?) Some Girls Wander By Mistake before i return it to the library. Damn, i really loved that story.


Show Me the Map to Your Heart & Other Stories

comix-coverTitle: Show Me the Map to Your Heart & Other Stories

Author: John Cei Douglas

Summary: A collection of stories ranging from nostalgic coming of age tales to long distance relationships, being stranded on desert islands, coping with mental health problems and the childlike wonder of exploring fantasy worlds.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: I picked this little book up at my local comic shop on a whim, and I’m utterly delighted with it. The whole book has this quiet, slowness about it. Reading it, i felt safe and warm and understood.

Several of the stories don’t have any words–no narration or dialogue–just the images of each frame to progress the story. I loved that, because it made me focus on the images more, to tease out what was happening through visuals alone. It also leaves the details of the story much more open to interpretation. Footnotes, for example, shows a couple in a long distance relationship gradually drifting apart, but without insight into their thoughts or conversations it’s left to the reader to decide how and why they ended up drifting apart.

One of my favourite stories was Living Underwater, which uses the idea of living underwater as a metaphor for depression and mental health problems. How you can slip into the water without realising it’s happening, how it can become an isolating ocean, and how you might be able to find the direction to dry land.

The title story, Show Me the Map to Your Heart, is wonderful. It puts a fantasy adventure twist on a new relationship, to explore the ideas surrounding discovering each other and yourself. The middle pages of the book are a large fold-out image mapping the trail the lovers take, it’s quite beautiful. And this story included my favourite line of the entire book:

Her heart was hole but lost

She was so caring she had left pieces of it behind, not thinking that one day she might need them herself.

This book was as comforting as a soft blanket and a cup of tea. I felt like I had those from reading alone, and for a book to evoke that kind of calm feeling was lovely to experience.


The Girl in the Road

26200137Title: The Girl in the Road

Author: Monica Byrne

Summary: One day Meena gets out of her bed covered in blood, with mysterious snakebites on her chest. Someone is after her – and she must flee India at once. As she plots her escape she learns of The Trail, an energy-harvesting bridge across the Arabian sea. It has become a refuge for itinerant dreamers and loners on the run. Now it will become Meena’s salvation.

With a knapsack full of supplies, Meena sets off across the bridge to Ethiopia, the place of her birth. But as she runs away from the threat of violence, she is also running towards a shocking revelation about her past.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: ‘Weird’ and ‘What’ were the two words i thought when i’d finished reading this book. And currently one of the most positive things i can say about it is that it still has me thinking. There are plenty of things to ponder on, in hindsight, if you choose to.

On the face of it, this book is about two women, each on a journey. Alone, their stories were somewhat interesting, but not interesting enough. It was clear to me from the start that their lives would overlap at some point and i spent most of the book waiting for it. Meena, with her strong will, fierce independence and sexual freedom, i liked a lot at first. Then she started showing how shallow, selfish and reckless she was and i didn’t care any more. Mariama intrigued me enough all the way though, and the fact that she had a set of supporting characters that were not simply memories helped her story a lot.

Set in the foreseeable future, the science fiction aspect of the book was subtle, believable and very interesting. It was also simply a setting for the narrative; the advanced technology plays no intrinsic role to the plot (other than that of The Trail, which still is a setting and could easily be switched out without affecting the core elements of the story). I both loved and regretted that the science fiction wasn’t a larger part of the book. Loved, because it allowed the focus to fall on the characters while allowing the narrative as a whole to be more than contemporary. Regretted, because it was interesting and i would have loved to see more of this world.

I found the first 200 pages really hard to get through. I felt no drive in the story; there was nothing intriguing enough for me to want to pick up the book and keep reading. The book starts out strong, throwing the reader into the lives of these women immediately after something terrible has happened to each of them and we’re left trying to keep up. But after the initial chapter or two the time in both narratives, though particularly in Meena’s, moves very slowly. Days and week stretch out, and we see them make slow, slow progress on their journeys.

It’s only at the last 100 pages where both the plot and the pace pick up. By this time there were overlapping elements in both narratives, but how, exactly, the two women were linked was saved until the last few chapters. The questions the revelation brings are numerous, and the role these women play in each others’ lives and the magnitude of that is only given the last 10 pages or so. It’s a shame in some ways, but an excellent place to finish for others.

Or, it would have been an excellent place to finish, were it not for the epilogue. I’m generally not a fan of epilogues–of dragging a book out and wrapping it up too thoroughly–and this epilogue wasn’t even the worst. It was open ended, it left the reader with something to think about. The thing is, the book does that well enough without the epilogue! There are plenty of elements to think about and pull together, without throwing in another one in the epilogue. I think the book, as a whole, is stronger without that extra intrigue; it feels a little self indulgent of the author (as most epilogues do).

The details and symbolic parallels between the two women’s lives are scattered throughout the book, and it is this aspect that i am mostly still pondering on. Some details are small, seemingly insignificant things like names and brands. Other are larger and more important concepts and themes. These are the really intriguing parts of the book for me.

It’s a shame that the first two thirds of the book wasn’t independently stronger–it hinges so much on the revelation at the end of the book. I suspect the best way to enjoy it and get the most from it would be on a re-read. Unfortunately, it was such a slog to get through it the first time, that i’m disinclined to read it again.