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.

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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 Knitting Circle Rapist Annihilation Squad

knitTitle: The Knitting Circle Rapist Annihilation Squad

Author: Derrick Jensen & Stephanie McMillan

Summary: The six women of the Knitting Circle meet every week to talk, eat cake, and make fabulous sweaters. Until the night they realise they are all the survivors of rape—and that not one of their assailants has suffered a single consequence. Enough is enough! The knitting circles becomes the Knitting Circle Rapist Annihilation Squad. They declare open season on rapists, with no licenses and no bag limits. With needles as their weapons, the revolution begins!

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: I think my expectations were too high for this one. I knew of some of Derrick Jensen’s non-fiction books, and his general political leaning. So a book by him about a group of women forming the Knitting Circle Rapist Annihilation Squad had to be amazing, right? Not so right.

Let’s start generally. Generally, this book reads like it’s written for 9-13 year olds. At several points i considered giving this book to my 9-year-old niece, the only thing that stopped me was the fact that she wouldn’t understand a lot of the references. Generally, the humour is trying too hard. It’s past funny and into cringe-worthy slapstick territory. It’s not clever humour, it’s not even well done humour, it’s loud and poorly written humour. Generally, none of the characters were well-developed or likeable. They weren’t hateable, either, they were just two dimensional and there to serve an obvious point. Generally, the plot progression was ridiculous. Nothing was believable. Maybe i was being to logical and rational in a book that had neither of those things, but i’d like a story about the eradication of rape to be somewhat based in reality.

More specifically, i like that the book broaches important topics that are not often discussed in day-to-day life. Rape, exploitation of women, women’s rights, media influence, police brutality, how fucked up politics is, religion, extremist groups and more. It broached these topics, but it did not discuss them. Instead, it tried to use humour and over the top caricatures to make their opinion of these things clear. Key word in that last sentence: tried. Rather than making their opinions clear, they shoved them into the reader’s face, while using such awful humour, i’m sure anyone who didn’t share the opinions would laugh it all off as a bad joke.

Ultimately, that’s my problem. That this book isn’t doing anything. It could have provided readers with an opportunity to think about things, things they might not have considered before, because they are told by the world that those things are normal. It could have helped a lot of people start to think about their life and the world around them a little more. Instead, it’s a poorly written book of bad humour. Wavering close to offending me, and allowing others to laugh at what they should be thinking about.

Purely on quality, this book is really only worth two stars, but i felt obligated to throw on an extra, because it is at least trying to write about subjects that should be written about–read about–more. But really, it’s a book about rape. I think this book could have been so much more well written, and with witty, intelligent humour. I think this book could have been written with a lot more respect.