The Passage

the-passageTitle: The Passage

Author: Justin Cronin

Summary: Amy Harper Bellafonte is six years old and her mother thinks she’s the most important person in the whole world. She is. Anthony Carter doesn’t think he could ever be in a worse place than Death Row. He’s wrong. FBI agent Brad Wolgast thinks something beyond imagination is coming. It is.

Unaware of each other’s existence but bound together in ways none of them could have imagined, they are about to embark on a journey. An epic journey that will take them through a world transformed by man’s darkest dreams, to the very heart of what it means to be human. And beyond.

Because something is coming. A tidal wave of darkness ready to engulf the world. And Amy is the only person who can stop it.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: It’s sort of a thing, now, that i read an epic apocalyptic distopian over the Christmas and new year period; this one was recommended to me by Claire over at Bitches with Books. The synopsis intrigued me, and though i was wary on the vampire front, i clung to their concept in I Am Legend and bought the damn book. So, going in i had very few expectations of this book. It blew me away.

I was literally sobbing by the end of the first chapter and i though, “Shit, this book is going to ruin me, isn’t it?” It did, and i loved every second of it.

Where to start? The book takes its time settling in. It introduces you to the characters mentioned in the synopsis, as well as a few others, before their paths cross. It doesn’t jump straight to the apocalypse, instead we follow its making as we meet our heroes, villains and those in between. This first part of the story is almost a book in itself. An extended prologue. It sets the groundwork for details and relationships and meaning that last literally all the way to the last page. At this point i was enjoying the book, but i wasn’t loving it.

Once the apocalypse comes, the narrative jumps almost 100 years in time, with a new location, a new cast of characters, and a new focus. I barely paused. I was fascinated by this new world and these new people. It was quite an experience leaving behind all the other characters, but i took the leap wholeheartedly, trusting that that first story i’d read would pay off, that the threads would meet. By halfway through the new story, i’m not sure i’d’ve been bothered if they hadn’t, but i was only more sure that they would.

I’m honestly finding it hard to articulate my feelings about this book, because it’s simply the entire book. I guess, with that, the key thing is the writing. I was immersed in it. It read as effortless, though i’d bet it was far from it. Nothing was spelled out, but everything was so clear. What some writers take paragraphs to explain, Cronin captures in a sentence or two. So many times i had to stop and marvel at the perfect simplicity in the writing. I even made note of a few my favourites:

“A blast of quiet that felt like noise.”

“An absence of torment so abrupt it was like pleasure.”

“…to his right, an abyss of blackness, a plunge into nothing. Even to look at it was to be swept away…”

“Courage is easy, when the alternative is getting killed. It’s hope that’s hard.”

I was just in awe of the writing, half the time. The other half i was swept up in the story. The story that encompassed so much, but seemed never to become muddled or confuse me. It was simple enough to follow, but interesting enough to keep me constantly thinking. I am a reader who is always looking ahead; i think about what facts and clues and hints i’ve been given, and where they might lead, what twists and turns are up ahead. With this book, though, i didn’t–i didn’t want to. I wanted to be caught up in the story, and i was. I didn’t try to guess what was coming, i just kept reading until i got there.

A big part of the story i keep coming back to is the relationships–all the different kinds. Family, friends, romance, loyalties, responsibilities… this books has all sorts of relationships, and none of them hog the spot light. None of them are forced or over done or saccharine or meaningless. In a lot of ways, they are all quiet. They are all part of the story, rather than being a story in themselves. There weren’t two characters who were ~destined~ to be together from the start. The focus was never on anyone’s–or any one–relationship. They all simply develop over time, when you aren’t quite looking, until the differences in how people interact and what they mean to each other just make a new sense.

I feel like this review is all over the place and that i’m not making any sort of sense; i’m rubbish at explaining why i loved something–it’s not always able to be articulated (case in point: i wanted to use the made up word “articulatable”).

This book just hits all my likes: apocalyptic, dystopian, sci-fi/horror mix, strong female characters. It’s excellent writing, well constructed and followed through on every point to the final page. I sobbed at the start and i sobbed at the end. The ups and downs in the books were not a punch in the gut of my emotions–they crept up on me, then engulfed me.

I never imagined a book of this length could be this good. The longer a book is, the more chance there is of there being something i don’t like. I was not prepared for this. I was not prepared to love everything about this book. But here i am, ruined and in love. And with the sequel already ordered.

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Through the Woods

ttwTitle: Through the Woods

Author: Emily Carroll

Summary: It came from the woods. Most strange things do.

Five mysterious, spine-tingling stories follow journeys into (and out of?) the eerie abyss. Come, take a walk in the woods, and see what awaits YOU there.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: I’ve had this book on my shelf for quite a while, but saved it as I thought it would be the perfect halloween-time read. It was.

First, and most obviously, this book is gorgeous. The simple-but-striking cover, with creepy branches, limited colours and embossed feel is what drew me to the book in the first place. The art inside is just as striking. The panels are clean and uncluttered, bold in what they show. The use of negative space was incredible and added so much to the atmosphere of the stories (we’re not afraid of the darkness, we’re afraid of what the darkness is hiding). The artwork seems so effortless; it all flows and works so well. It’s not busy, but holds such detail. It’s just amazingly beautiful, and to say that of a graphic horror novel makes me so happy.

The stories themselves are similar, i think, in their simplicity and depth. Nothing is given away easily. The reader is let in on a glimpse of the tale, and it is in the art–the faces, the colours, the settings, the space–as well as the words, that the stories are told. The stories are generally heavy on the build up, on the back story, on the scene setting. A couple of times i found myself awaiting a twist, a big reveal, a spike in the action… but that wasn’t what these stories were about. There weren’t solid conclusions or explanations to these tales–that’s not the point. These stories are about a creeping horror, that crawls inside and makes itself at home. There was no release offered by an explanation or solid conclusion–that would be too easy.

I loved all the stories, but i think my favourite was My Friend Janna.

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The next time i want to feel a chill down my spine and wonder what’s hiding in the darkness, I will definitely re-read this by candle light while the wind howls outside.

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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.

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The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

22740972Title: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

Author: Becky Chambers

Summary: Somewhere within our crowded sky, a crew of wormhole builders hops from planet to planet, on their way to the job of a lifetime. To the galaxy at large, humanity is a minor species, and one patched-up construction vessel is a mere speck on the starchart. This is an everyday sort of ship, just trying to get from here to there.

But all voyages leave their mark, and even the most ordinary of people have stories worth telling. A young Martian woman, hoping the vastness of space will put some distance between herself and the life she‘s left behind. An alien pilot, navigating life without her own kind. A pacifist captain, awaiting the return of a loved one at war.

Set against a backdrop of curious cultures and distant worlds, this episodic tale weaves together the adventures of nine eclectic characters, each on a journey of their own.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: This book, my stars, this book. I received a review copy from NetGalley, but took so long to start reading it. I regret that with every fibre of my being. This books is all sorts of amazing. I didn’t want it to finish, and i dragged my heels reading it so i could make it last as long as possible. I honestly only have good things to say, and that fact surprises no one more than me.

First of all, the world building, or, more accurately, the universe building. It’s so rich, so alive and so effortlessly portrayed. It’s not overly explained to the reader in blocks of uninspiring exposition, but rather sprinkled throughout, in different and interesting ways–it’s more part of the essence of the book and the writing style. It made it such a wonderful reading experience, feeling immersed into the world. Everything from the wider concepts of the Galactic Commons, the different species and their history and cultures down to the small details of a wide variety of food stuffs and the intergalactic postal system–all of it is so obviously well thought out and perfectly brought to life.

How massively inclusive and representative this book is blows my mind a little. I was trying to list the awesome subjects this book addresses, either simply by representing them, or by touching on and exploring them, to my partner and i couldn’t get them all. For the rest of the night i kept remembering more and simply crying out, “Cloning!” “Polyamorous relationships!” and, “Gender neutral pronouns!” at random moments. Every new diverse theme broached made my grin a little wider and my heart a little bigger.

The book reads like a mini series, with each chapter containing enough plot, topics and character development to fill a short story or television episode. This gave my reading experience much more depth, like i was really living with these characters for a time, rather than visiting with them for a single narrative. Each and every character learnt, grew and changed over the course of the book, and were so well-rounded for it.

Talking of characters, i loved them all. That’s such a rare thing for me to say, but it is entirely true. Some i loved instantly, some grew on me over time, but all of them were so unique, so vibrant, so perfectly imperfect. I’m not the biggest fan of character-driven stories, but this book walks the line between character- and plot-driven, and with characters as wonderful, diverse and real as these, it was a delight to have them driving half the book.

I read somewhere that this book is like a cross between Firefly and Star Trek, and while i see where that comparison is coming from, i don’t think that’s quite fair to any of those three fine and wonderful fictional worlds. Yes, if you look for it, you can see similarities to the rogue and friendly crew of Firefly as well as the varied races and ethical explorers of Star Trek. But if you’re looking for that, you miss what only The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet has.

There is a companion book set in the same universe coming out later this year, and I must have it. I can’t get enough of this book and these worlds and these characters and their adventures. I pretty much wanted to be reading this book forever.

We Should All Be Feminists

wsabfTitle: We Should All Be Feminists

Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Summary: ‘I would like to ask that we begin to dream about and plan for a different world. A fairer world. A world of happier men and happier women who are truer to themselves. And this is how to start: we must raise our daughters differently. We must also raise our sons differently…’

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: At 50-odd smaller than average sized pages, this is a quick read. It’s also an excellent read. It should be a compulsory read.

Whether you’re a woman who has experienced sexism every day of her life, whether you’re a man who recognises the inequality of the sexes, whether you already call yourself a feminist–you will still gain something for reading this. Of course, the people who really need to read it are none of the above.

Adichie has such a straightforward, easy writing style. Not a single word is wasted or superfluous, and even in print she comes across as so calm and patient. Calm is definitely something i find it hard to remain when talking about sexism and women’s rights. But i think that calmness helps her make her arguments, helps get her point across without sounding challenging or immediately prompting a defence. (And having now heard some of her TEDx talk she based the book on–yes, her delivery is perfect and comes across just as well in writing.)

For so few words the book covers so much, starting from childhood, adolescence, relationships, adulthood, socialising, and work. I’ve lived with some of these things all my life, but some i hadn’t considered in great detail, or hadn’t experienced to such an extent. To have things put so plainly really makes you stop and take them in.

Most importantly, i think, reading it didn’t make me angry. I didn’t feel mad at the world, for all its injustices and prejudice and sexist culture. Becoming fired up and ready to fight is the norm for me when discussing these issues. But Adichie’s words and her calmness in laying them out only calmed me in turn. It made me feel less isolated, knowing there are women going through the same things i am, fighting the same fights. And it also gave me hope that it can be talked about, recognised and fought on a broader level.

I want to buy a dozen copies and leave them about at the bus stop, in cafes, on desks. It’s so small and seems so innocuous, that i think people might actually pick it up. Even if they just flick through it and read a page or two, it would offer them something, a thought or perspective they hadn’t considered before. It might make them think and look around them, it might make them see and act.

Howl’s Moving Castle

Howl'sMovingCastle_B_PBTitle: Howl’s Moving Castle

Author: Diana Wynne Jones

Summary: “How about making a bargain with me?” said the demon. “I’ll break your spell if you agree to break this contact I’m under.”

In the land of Ingary, where seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist, Sophie Hatter attracts the unwelcome attention of the Witch of the Waste, who puts a curse on her. Determined to make the best of things, Sophie travels to the one place where she might get help – the moving castle which hovers on the nearby hills.

But the castle belongs to the dreaded Wizard Howl whose appetite, they say, is satisfied only by the hearts of young girls…

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: I’m not sure I know where to start with this review. I guess I start by saying I bloody absolutely loved this book. I did not expect to fall this hard for this book, but here I am. I had seen the film, many years ago now, and very much enjoyed it. But the book. Well, no surprises that it’s better, but. It’s left me barely able to write full sentences, apparently. I’m not even sure how to put words to why I love it. When I first started reading and I was so engrossed and I couldn’t put it down I thought, “What is it I love so much about this books?” And damn it if I could answer.

On reflection, I think the biggest thing I loved was that when I was reading it, I was fully immersed in the world of the book, in the story. I wasn’t sitting in my chair reading words on the page, I was in Ingary with Sophie, I was in Howl’s castle, I was racing across fields in seven league boots. I was all in with these characters and their world. And really, that’s the best feeling any book can give me.

It was all the little things really. It was all the things, really. I loved the way you get thrown into this world and are expected to keep up. There is no explanation for anything, it’s just presented as fact—accept it and keep reading or GTFO. I hate to be bogged down in too much talk around and about things, and this book has none of that. There is magic and curses and a floating castle and fire demons, oh and also Wales and electricity and computer games and cars. No reason as to how or why all these things exist, no in depth details about the world.

The characters. Oh, yes, I loved them all. Sophie’s determination and strong-will, yet also her insecurities. Howl’s aloof allure and harsh words, yet also his kind actions. Calcifer’s tricky ways and grumbles, yet also his need for company. Everyone was so real and fleshed out, but it was all done so well and so subtly, so as never to be too obvious about it.

This might be a book for a younger audience (I don’t like to say ‘young adult’, as that comes with connotations of genre and subject matter, for me), but it is definitely a book that can be enjoyed by anyone who wants to get lost in a magical adventure.

This knocks three squares off my Bookish Bingo: About a curse, kiss-ass female hero and purple on the cover.

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Breakfast of Champions

breakfast-of-championsTitle: Breakfast of Champions

Author: Kurt Vonnegut

Summary: In a frolic of cartoon and comic outbursts against rule and reason, a miraculous weaving of science fiction, memoir, parable, fairy tale and farce, Kurt Vonnegut attacks the whole spectrum of American society, releasing some of his best-loved literary creations on the scene.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: This book is… i’m not sure ‘weird’ covers it, to be honest. But it’s not just weird. It’s funny and insightful and astute and 100% on point. This book is brilliant.

If you can look past the strangeness–the odd, round the houses tale of the two main characters and the chain of events that lead them to meeting… the multiple random asides that go on for several pages that are then referenced several chapters later… the interweaving details and history of the characters, the characters’ family, and things that happened to them many years ago… the author-insertion into his own book… If you can look past all that, or, perhaps more accurately, look deeper into that, Vonnegut is making some relevant, sharp and witty comments on life.

My personal favourite was when he started giving the length and girth of the penis of every male character he introduces, and the bust/waist/hip measurements of every female. Oh, and the average number of orgasms each character has in a month. Because this is the real information people care about, right? How big your dick is and how much sex you have. Of course, this information allows you to draw zero conclusions about these characters. Another example of the same thing would be the way he introduces characters by telling you whether they are black or white–because far too many people think this is relevant when it isn’t–it adds nothing to the characters…

…Except of course when Vonnegut has a point to make about racist and class divides, then things become very relevant. And Vonnegut has a lot to say–a lot of points to make–about a lot of things. By framing them slightly off, by showing them from a slightly odd character’s point of view, he points out the slightly odd things about society, about humans, about life. Those points could be missed if all you’re thinking about is how weird the story is. In a way, the story itself is lost without the astute details Vonnegut is slipping in.

I think this is the kind of book you either get, or you don’t. And while i’m sure there was plenty of things i missed (and do believe a re-read would be in the book’s favour), there was so much i loved and took away with me from this book. So many smiles and laughs and wry nods of the head.

This knocks one square off my Bookish Bingo: A memoir (okay, maybe not exactly, but the blurb does say: ‘a miraculous weaving of science fiction, memoir, parable, fairy tale and farce’ so i’m totally having it).

Animal Farm

anifarTitle: Animal Farm

Author: George Orwell

Summary: The animals on a farm drive out their master and take over and administer the farm for themselves. The experiment is entirely successful, except for the fact that someone has to take the deposed farmer’s place. Leadership devolves almost automatically upon the pigs, who are on a higher intellectual level than the rest of the animals. Unhappily their character is not equal to their intelligence, and out of this fact springs the main development of the story. The last chapter brings a dramatic change, which, as soon as it has happened, is seen to have been inevitable from the start.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: This was one of those books i always figured i’d get around to reading eventually, but never consciously made the effort to. For whatever reason, one day, i saw it in a charity shop and i bought it. Then, after the monster that was the last book i read, i thought a little 120 page book that i was almost guaranteed to love would be an excellent chaser. It was.

I’m not really sure how to review this book, though. Written as an allegory of the Soviet Union, it can, and does, also provide insight into politics and class and society in general, that is still (and will always be) relevant today. It is written in a very simply language, which makes it hard to misinterpret. I can’t do a better job than Orwell does himself at explaining what this book is about. It’s a bloody masterpiece, really.

The pigs are nasty, selfish, lying sods who abuse the other animals. The other animals are short-sighted, naive, simpletons who don’t even realise they’re being abused. I feel immense pity for the lot of them, really. There was pretty much only one character i really liked. Old Benjamin is truly my spirit animal. Getting on with life, taking it as it comes, seeing it all, but knowing real change is an impossibility. Cynical to the core, Old Benjamin has already made it on to my short list of best characters ever.

It’s so short, you could read this book inside of an hour, if you wanted, and i strongly recommend you do. This is definitely one of those books i would recommend to everyone. Though, it would seem the high majority of people who dislike the book, are those that were forced to read it at school, which is a terrible pity.

For such a simply, short book, it made me think, pull grim faces in acknowledgement of awful truths and nod sagely along with Old Benjamin.

This is the eight book i’ve read from my Classics Club list.

This knocks three squares off my Bookish Bingo: A modern classic, a banned book and non-human characters.

Write

writeTitle: Write

Author: Various, The Guardian

Summary: Liberate your inner writer with insights and inspiration from some of the world’s finest contemporary authors.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: I picked this book up randomly as i walked passed it in the library. I’m glad i did. Generally, i love books and quotes and reading about writing. I find it incredibly fascinating and inspiring. I don’t necessarily agree with everything said, or all tips and rules preached, but it is always interesting to hear about other people’s methods and thought processes.

This book is split into three main sections: Fundamentals, which includes a series of short essays focusing on different aspects of writing (characters, voice, dialogue, plot, editing, etc). Rules, which is a collection of practises different authors follow in their writing. And a ‘How I Wrote’ section, where authors wrote short pieces on their inspiration and method of writing a particular novel. At the end there were a few more essays on the more general topics of deadlines, stationary and copyright.

I was, predictably, hooked from the start. There is perhaps nothing i enjoy talking or reading about more than writing. Seeing other people put into words things that resonate so strongly with me. Seeing concepts and ideas shaped in such a way that it makes perfect sense, that i would never have been able to verbalise myself.

Sensitivity to language is [a] quality that really matters in writing; it is also, perhaps, the most resistant to any kind of formal teaching.

Good novels are completed by their readers. Bad novels by their authors: overwritten, over-detailed and over-plotted.

…to me fiction seems too important to professionalise. Leave it to the amateurs.

All the way through, i was itching to pick up a highlighter pen and a pencil to mark quotes and make notes i the margins. The fact that this was a library book made me refrain, but the urge was strong enough, that i’m looking to buying a second hand copy for myself to vandalise to my heart’s content.

Ultimately, this book has me thinking of ideas, plans, inspiration and generally just desperate to get writing. Definitely one to have, fully highlighted and scribbled in, on hand when i’m writing. To pick up and dive in at a moment’s notice.

The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil

beardTitle: The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil

Author: Stephen Collins

Summary: The job of the skin is to keep things in.

On the buttoned-down island of Here, all is well. By which we mean: orderly, neat, contained and, moreover, beardless.

Or at least it is until one famous day, when Dave, bald but for a single hair, finds himself assailed by a terrifying, unstoppable… monster!

Where did it come from? How should the islanders deal with it? And what, most importantly, are they going to do with Dave?

The first book from a new leading light of UK comics, The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil is an off-beat fable worthy of Roald Dahl. It is about life, death and the meaning of beards.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: This was a recent and accidental purchase. It is also my first (certainly not last) graphic novel. But, evil beard, how was i supposed to resist?

Knowing i could read this very quickly, i purposely paced myself. I wanted to savour it; i didn’t want it to be over too quickly.

It was fun, just the idea alone, a gigantic beard, sprouting from the face of an unsuspecting man. A man who, by the way, is called Dave. This book was just perfection.

It’s set Here. That is, an island called Here. Where everything is neat and tidy and organised and, well, dull, let’s be honest. Dave is more of an observer of Here, drawing the people and scenes of his street from his living room window.

The story is simple enough, but wonderfully told. And Dave’s musical taste is still stuck in my head.

And the artwork, of course. It’s all in black and white, and so, so beautiful. The detail, in the mass of Dave’s beard, particularly, is amazing. And the layout and strategic development of frames feels so natural, but is also interesting.

The world of Here is capture so evocatively with so few words and such understated art. And Dave’s story, well, i like to believe this is just the beginning.