Popshot Magazine: The Hope Issue

Title: Popshot Magazine: The Hope Issue

Author: Various

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

Our sixteenth issue, featuring a timeless collection of poems and short stories that explore hope in all its weird and wonderful ways. Nestled within its pages, we’ll find a daughter extracting memories from her mother’s mind, a couple feasting on slices of rainbow, refugees spreading roots in friendlier lands, a woman who begins to disappear from sight and someone with a small, bright bird inhabiting their chest

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: After reading and reviewing The Adventure Issue, I have a few Popshot magazines on my bookshelf to read. I’m glad I finally managed to pick one up to read!

The illustrations are, as previously, outstanding. They set the tone for the individual stories and poems, as well as the magazine itself. They are mellow, lulling the reading into the words at a sedate pace, making you really consider and appreciate every sentence. The detail, the colours, the space… although they are different artists, they fit and compliment each other, pulling the entire magazine together.

My favourite story was The Disappearance, a quiet tale about people fading away. It surprised me how quickly and completely i became immersed in the story, invested in the one character we meet, and how quickly the tale flew by. I Hope This Email Finds You Well and Bird Girl are other stand outs, for the writing, the way the stories are told, and the concepts they are exploring. I found them fascinating. The other few stories were fine, but none quite grabbed me enough to leave a lasting impression.

There were a few notable poems this issue, as well. I’m not a huge poem lover and I freely admit a lot manages to go over my head, but here i found several to love. Small Animals, the last in the magazine, is a clear winner (always saving the best till last). It talks of bad days and good, and sharing your sadness and embracing the happiness… except it’s so much more than that and so, so beautifully written. The Cavern, about the good things we hold within us, afraid to let them out for fear of failure. Ash, about someone helping your burned heart grow something new. Rainbow, Refugee, This World No Deeper Than The Eye… the poems stood out in this issue, far and away.

As much as I loved a lot of the stories and poems, overall this issue didn’t pull me in as much or as strongly as the previous issue. Maybe because i’m too much of a cynical person, and adventure speaks to me more than hope. Either way, i still very much enjoyed it, and look forward to grabbing the next issue soon.

Ash by Kieran Cottrell

I had a heart like an upturned ashtray.

I spoke smoke. People held their breath.
When I found you, ash was all
I had to pile at your feet.

I did not know what you would do
with my dire, dirtying heart
crumbled there, burning.

Would you brush it off, blow it out,
heap it, beating, in your palm
offend the wind with it?

No, you found soil, seeded it.
You poured my heart in, stirred
what I had wasted. And we waited.

Now here’s a sapling. Soon, an ash tree.

Illustration by Leib Chigrin

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The Power

Title: The Power

Author: Naomi Alderman

Summary: All over the world women are discovering they have the power. With a flick of their fingers they can inflict terrible pain – even death.

Suddenly, every man on the planet finds they’ve lost control. The day of the girls has arrived – but where will it end?

Rating: ★★★★☆ 3.5/5

Review: I’ll admit, my expectations were easily and unnaturally high for this one. I loved the premise, and i’d heard so many–so many, maybe that should have given me pause–good things about this book. In hindsight, it was never going to live up to that.

It started strong. I loved all the characters, their individual stories and the way they were spread across the world was interesting, and i was intrigued as to how their paths would cross. Roxy was my favourite, and it was her introduction that revved me up and excited me for what was to come. She had the drive and the circumstances to be powerful with or without “The Power” and that’s what i loved about her. Margot i liked for her cunning and manipulation. Like Roxy, she would have got just as far without “The Power”, but it changed the game she was playing and i loved seeing the moves she made. Allie i liked a lot at the start, but when she became Mother Eve she became less interesting to me. Tunde i found likable throughout. His ambition and motivation seemed limitless, even when his life started to get difficult.

I loved that start of the book. Seeing girls developing “The Power”, passing it to the older generations, and how society reacted and adapted to that. Small almost unnoticeable things at first, before the larger tables began to turn. It was the smaller details and side stories that really worked for me. The chat show host who went from amenable female sidekick to the lead with a compliant male sidekick of her own. Roxy’s brother who is sexually assaulted and forever damaged by the events. The middled-aged women kept captive by men who fight for their freedom after a young girl awakes “The Power” in them. And most especially the letters between the author and pre-reader which frame the book–the subtle ways it illustrates the way men and women treat and are treated differently. I loved those bits.

The overall story didn’t do much for me. It felt like it was trying to be widespread and world-effecting, but seemed very focused in only a small number of places. I felt it jumped quickly from demonstrating the gradual changes in the US to all out war in eastern Europe, and when the focus did shift, we left almost all of the US development behind. When Margot’s voice was lost from the narrative, i found myself loosing my interest as well. As much as i appreciate why Mother Eve and the religious aspects of the story were included and what role they play, that side of the narrative also failed to thrill me.

By the end of the book the story and the writing felt a little haphazard and messy. After such a build up, the end–though fitting and satisfying–came rather swiftly. Narration began switching randomly between characters during the same chapters, despite being clearly delineated throughout the rest of the book. As much as I had some issues with the story overall, it was well organised and plotted until the last 50 pages, where things began to rush along in a tangled mess towards the finish line.

Although i loved the general idea, the characters, and the details and side stories, I found the book as a whole lacked focus and a clear narrative. I think the world created here is brilliant–and i would love a book of short stories set between the emergence of “The Power” and, well, the end of the book. The book itself, though, seems to be telling such a big story, over so many years, that the nuances needed within that story aren’t there.

Mystery Circus

Title: Mystery Circus (Week One)

Author: Verity Hall

Summary: “I guess nobody comes to take the posters down….”

After finding an old circus poster that is months out of date, as well as advertising a performer who is now dead, Malorey Hassan’s curiosity is sparked. When the same circus returns to the town Mal cannot miss the opportunity to find out more about the dead girl.

Dragging her friend Eddie along for the ride, Mal tries to infiltrate the circus and get some answers to her many questions, as well as get to know the performers. However she doesn’t realise that her questioning is starting to annoy people, and that she might not like the answers she seeks.

As Mal keeps digging and begins to see a chance to escape her humdrum life, things get stranger and stranger at Parvati’s Circus.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: First of all: cover love. Art, minimalist, negative space, bold use of colour. The cover is the reason i picked this book up. The circus storyline and the POC main character are the reasons i bought it.

So, the art is great. It’s bold and fun and colourful. It’s got lots of depth and detail without being too much or too busy. It has so much life, and brings so much life to the characters, in their postures and gestures and faces. There are also these large, single panel, location pieces to mark each new day/chapter, and those are wonderful (more negative space–insert heart eyes emoji here).

The characters were… characters. Rocco, the strong man, and Eddie, the best friend, were delightful. Everyone else was pretty nasty, really. Mal, our main character, was interesting in may ways and had a lot of personal stuff going on, but they were also very single-minded and seemed to not care a jot for other people’s feelings. Mostly people were just selfish and intent on hiding things.

I can cope with horrible characters, and i was getting quite into them by the end of this book. However, the start dragged quite a bit. The first two or three days, nothing much happened–the same scenario is repeated, with our inquisitive main character doing the same things and expecting different results. It was only about halfway through that things started moving. Another issue is that this book is only the first part of a longer series. By the end of the book, no questions are answered. We’ve met our cast of characters, we know people are hiding things, and we want to know what’s going on… then nothing. It’s the end. Don’t get me wrong, it’s left me wanting the next instalment, but as a single book it offered no conclusion. In isolation, this book has no story, really. Which is a shame.

Overall, though, i loved this artwork, i’m intrigued by the story, and i love the diverse characters and LBGT+ themes it includes. When is week two happening, please?

The Darkening Sky

Title: The Darkening Sky

Author: Hugh Greene

Summary: Dr Power is recruited by Superintendent Lynch of the Cheshire Police to help him solve a murder in leafy Alderley Edge. Power and Lynch are challenged by a series of intense events and realise that they are both caught up in a desperate race against time.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: I found this book via goodreads and was taken with both the summary and the cover. Since then i’ve entered about five or six goodreads giveaways for it–but it paid off, as i finally won one!

I was taken with the book and the story immediately. I work in the health service, so the hospital scenes and doctor/patient relationships really got me stuck into the story and this world. I took to Dr Power quickly, too. For a psychiatrist–for someone who can read people so well–and for one of the main characters in a crime-solving duo, he’s very laid back and almost timid. He’s not got anything near the ego you might expect, in fact he’s more unsure of himself than anything. And that’s rather endearing. Superintendent Lynch took a little longer for me to warm up to. As a copper and a religious man, the odds were against him, but overall these are only parts of his character, and often an interesting juxtaposition explored well in the book. Neither of these main characters is either what you’d expect or as simple as they may seem to be.

The writing was great. It was concise, without being pretentious or bloated, telling as much as was needed while still being descriptive and emotive. It made the book easy to read, while also being engaging and enjoyable. I also loved the few pieces of artwork in the book. The drawing style was striking and had a lot of character. There were only a few drawings, so the book was not overwhelmed with them, but they added an interesting extra when i came across them. The cover art is also great–it’s what drew me to the book in the first place. I love the style, and it’s the best cover i’ve seen for a self-published book.

Unfortunately, though, the book isn’t perfect. The biggest things i couldn’t forgive were issues i had with the plot. For the fact that Power is brought on a board as a psychiatrist for his insight… he doesn’t actually bring that much to the table. The fact that it was the sight of the killings that was the key was patently obvious to me from the get go. It undoubtedly helped that the reader has insight into the murderer during the events, but after the second killing at a remote place of historical interest, any investigator would look at the locations for some kind of link or pattern, surely? The fact that i had already put it together made Power’s revelation less than climatic. Linked to this, was Lynch’s hard-won support for the idea. I couldn’t understand how he was at first so resistant to the idea, simply because to him it didn’t make sense. He’s been in the job long enough to have made superintendent, i find it hard to believe he’s yet to come across a criminal whose motives didn’t make sense to him, personally. And then, of course, the rest of the police force and the press, who find the whole theory a load of mumbo jumbo, despite the fact it’s the only thing proving any link between the murders. It made me roll my eyes, honestly.

The ending wasn’t what I had suspected, which was good (i like to be surprised), but it did lack a little something. It felt a little too easily concluded after everything that had been put in. (I hate to say it, but i liked my own ending better.) The first chapter was such an excellent set up, it was so intriguing and posed so many questions. But then the end didn’t really tie back to that, or make any further reference to it, which i think was a shame. Even just a last paragraph, alluding to the fact that a Dr Allen or Dr Ashton had been trying to contact Power would have given me a wry grin and rounded the book off perfectly.

Overall, i enjoyed the book a lot. I loved the characters and although it had its faults, the plot was interesting enough. On the whole i think the book suffered with trying to introduce its characters and build on their new relationships, as well as carry the story. I’m hoping that with Power and Lynch’s friendship and respect for each other established, the sequels can fully explore more interesting plots while pulling this new duo along for the ride. I do plan on reading them, so i’ll find out soon!

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The Road Through the Wall

Title: The Road Through the Wall

Author: Shirley Jackson

Summary: In Pepper Street, an attractive suburban neighbourhood filled with bullies and egotistical bigots, the feelings of the inhabitants are shallow and selfish: what can a neighbour do to triumph over another neighbour, what may be won from a friend? One child stands alone in her goodness: little Caroline Desmond, kind, sweet and gentle, and the pride of her family. But the malice and self-absorption of the people of Pepper Street lead to a terrible event that will destroy the community of which they are so proud.

Exposing the murderous cruelty of children, and the blindness and selfishness of adults, Shirley Jackson reveals the ugly truth behind a ‘perfect’ world.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: The first Jackson novel i have given less than four stars to. I’m not sure if i’m more disappointed in the book or myself.

It’s classic Jackson. She takes the suburban setting of Pepper Street with its various families, and simply following them in their daily routines shows them as slightly off. Exposing their idiosyncrasies and private relationships in subtle, slowly creepy ways. Children had budding malice, marriages had simmering hatred, families had rivalries and favourites, neighbours had polite distaste, and everyone had secrets.

I simply found, for my tastes, it wasn’t quite creepy enough. I think perhaps the book has not aged well; the concept of secrets and not all being as it seems beneath the surface of happy families is so common these days on TV and in film. The secrets and lies that have been explored and exposed in modern media has been so much more extreme, that Jackson’s attempt here just isn’t shocking.

The plot was minimal; it was much more of a character study with mini stories throughout. I liked this concept, but overall it didn’t leave me with the drive to keep reading. Long chapters with no arc or obvious advancement of the story didn’t help. Although i enjoyed reading when i did, i didn’t think about the book much when i wasn’t reading.

Talking of characters, there are a lot. Almost all were families, with all adults being referenced as “Mr X” or “Mrs Y”. I found it hard to keep track of most of them, relying on context to remember each character’s story and personality, rather than simply their names. It made for a hard slog, and often I’d be halfway through a particular section before realising who it was about and the full meaning of what was happening. There were only a handful of characters i remembered strongly enough by name alone, and for only this reason, they became my favourites. Though, with the nature of the book, i didn’t like any of the characters–and that’s a positive point as far as i’m concerned!

Although this is far from my favourite, it is so quintessentially Jackson. A slow-moving, quiet, unassumingly sinister tale. I would have just liked it to be a little more sinister.

Lagoon

lagoonTitle: Lagoon

Author: Nnedi Okorafor

Summary: A star falls from they sky. A woman rises from the sea. The world will never be the same.

Three strangers, each isolated by his or her own problems: Adaora, the marine biologist. Anthony, the rapper famous throughout Africa. Agu, the troubled soldier. Wandering Bar Beach in Lagos, Nigeria’s legendary mega-city, they’re more alone than they’ve ever been before.

But when something like a meteorite hits the ocean and a tidal wave overcomes them, these three people will find themselves bound together in ways they’ve never imagined. Together with Ayodele, a visitor from beyond the stars, they must race through Lagos and against time itself in order to save the city, the world… and themselves.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: Science fiction, gorgeous cover, female POC author–i was all over this book! I also already had my eye on several other books by Okorafor, and really wanted to enjoy her writing enough to want to rush out and get them. Suffice it to say, my hopes and expectations were high, and i think it was those expectations that let it down the most.

The opening was great. Being in the point of view of a sea creature, but not fully knowing which, why or what they were doing was intriguing. It was these small, seemingly random points of views throughout the book that i enjoyed the most. The swordfish, the bat, the monsters, spider the artist, the unspecified humans and aliens amongst the chaos of Lagos. I could have read and enjoyed the entire book told this way, to be honest. On the flip side of this, I found the point of view shifts between the main characters a bit choppy. Sometimes the point of view would switch mid-chapter or even mid-paragraph, which could be jarring and hard to following. Though overall i did enjoy getting to know all the characters through their own points of view.

The characters were… lacklustre, honestly. Adaora, Anthony and Adu all felt rather composed (both in themselves and as works of fiction). They expressed emotion, but in very muted and controlled ways–i never felt it along with them. Ayodele i enjoyed much more. She was also quite dispassionate, but as part of her character. She was rational, pragmatic, and realistic about events (most of the time…). After Ayodele, my favourite character by far was Kola. She was so curious and brave and lovely.

There were a lot of characters, but despite reading it quite bitty chunks and not picking up the book for stretches of days, i had no problems remembering who was who and what their story lines were. And of course, as the book’s cover suggests, the ocean creatures are important characters themselves–ones i would have liked to get to know a little more!

There is a lot going on in the book, a lot of threads and themes and ideas. They don’t all get fully explored; some are dropped in with little explanation and others barely hinted at. The concept of the monsters that were already here on earth and Udide Okwanka was one of the threads that interested me the most. The idea that they are here, that humans didn’t even know it, but the aliens seemed to understand them perfectly. We get very little information about them, and that both pleases and frustrates me.

In some ways, i was annoyed that the main storyline took away from these other themes and ideas–the parts of the book i wanted to know more about. The bulk of the book focused on our four main characters, but the plot did not seem to move very quickly. At times it felt like a struggle to pick up the book, not because i didn’t enjoy it, but because there was nothing driving it; i was not often left needing to know what happened next.

I definitely think i would have enjoyed this book more without putting so much of my own hope and expectation on it. And with that in mind, I do plan on venturing into more books by Okorafor. The question now is, which ones?

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The Invisible Man

timTitle: The Invisible Man

Author: H G Wells

Summary: There are good scientists and there are bad scientists, but Griffin is out on his own. A dazzling mind and a driving ambition have carried him to the very frontiers of modern science, and beyond into territory never before explored. For Griffin has pioneered a new field, the science of invisibility, and dedicated his life to the achievement of a single goal – that of becoming invisible himself.

With such a prize at stake, what sacrifice could be too great? What personal tie would not seem trivial; what ethical scruple not pale into insignificance? Through long, lonely days and nights Griffin has pursued his fantasy of invisibility, yet even as he attains his dream, his nightmare begins…

With undreamt power comes an unimaginable price: out of the ordinary, out of society, out of life – can an invisible man be a man at all?

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3.5/5

Review: I’ve read two books by Wells before–The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds–one i loved and one i hated. I was nervous about reading another, to say the least. It was my review of the latter where someone recommended The Invisible Man as another i might enjoy, so when i spotted it in a charity shop, i decided to give it a go.

Thankfully, i loved it!

The start had me hooked. Instead of meeting the scientist and discovering how he turns himself invisible, we meet Mrs Hall, the proprietor of an inn, who welcomes her newest lodger. He’s a strange fellow, but she’s friendly and accommodating. Discovering the invisible man along with the entire population of this small town was a delight and a much more interesting way of following the story.

At first i sympathised with the invisible man right alongside Mrs Hall; it was only once he’d had to flee the town and move on that i began to question his tactics and state of mind. By the time he’d stumbled upon Kemp, i was rooting for his downfall.

Talking of Kemp–i adored him; he’s second only to Mrs Hall. His grasp of the entire situation, how to handle it, and how he teased out the back story we were missing was wonderful to read. I feared the worst for him by the last couple of chapters, but i saw it through.

This is perfectly the kind of Wells i want to read more of. There is science, with fudged but sensical enough facts for it make sci-fi sense. But it’s more than just the science. It’s a good story, with interesting characters, well told. So well told! It being self-referencing and omniscient point of view made the reading casual and fun.

I’ve already taken the plunge and bought more Wells. For as disappointing as i found War of the Worlds, The Time Machine and The Invisible Man are brilliant and I wouldn’t hesitate to read more like them. Fingers crossed i pick the right ones!

The Girl on the Train

tgottTitle: The Girl on the Train

Author: Paula Hawkins

Summary: EVERY DAY THE SAME
Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning and night. She knows it will wait at the same signal each time, overlooking a row of back gardens.
She’s even started to feel like she knows them. ‘Jess and Jason’, she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. If only Rachel could be that happy.

UNTIL TODAY
And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough.
Now everything’s changed. Now Rachel has a chance to become a part of the lives she’s only watched from afar.
Now they’ll see; she’s so much more than just the girl on the train…

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: This has been on my to read pile for a while, so long, in fact, that my SO got to it first. With the recent release of the film, i decided it was time (though i didn’t, and still don’t, have any plans to see the film–i’ve heard it’s terrible).

It’s a gripping book that definitely kept me reading. The chapters were quite short and often had a teasing or slightly revelatory end to them which made starting the next so easy. The plot–the mystery–is established well with plenty of scope and lots of avenues to consider. Although the draw for this book might be the plot, i felt it was more the string tying the characters together, because it was the characters who stand out.

As seems to be the theme with popular thrillers these days, none of the characters are exactly likeable. Mostly, though, i’m sick of readers moaning about not liking characters. To me, readers who just outright dislike all these characters aren’t looking deep enough. Yes, they are all extremely flawed, but they all have their own motivations, vices and shortcomings. They’re all complex individuals, and we get to see them trying to live and be better people, but we also see them failing at their worst moments. That’s more real and interesting to me than likeable but only two dimensional characters.

Rachel, our main character, i mostly didn’t like because she comes across as very weak, needy and desperate. She’s also an alcoholic who i preferred much more when she was sober and talking honestly about her issues. I’m glad the road wasn’t easy for her in this regard, though, because that would have been unbelievable. As much as i wanted her to get sober, i wouldn’t have bought it if she hadn’t fallen off the waggon and fucked up a few times.

Megan, our missing girl, i neither liked nor disliked. I felt like she wasn’t getting the chance to be who she wanted to be, and that maybe that person could be someone i’d like. Anna i very much disliked, i think mostly because there was nothing about her i could relate to, but a few of her actions later in the book more than redeem her in my eyes. Cathy was nice, but a bit too nice–i dislike too nice. And the men, well. I found them less fleshed out, less complex, less… just less.

The plot was simple enough, and the narrative devices standard and formulaic. The narrators were unreliable, but only in ways the author wants them to be. Missing, misleading and vague information is just as telling as what is clearly presented and discussed. If you know what to look for, this book holds no surprises. If you’re encouraged to consider X, instead take a closer look at Y. I had my suspicions by chapter four, my bet placed on the ending by halfway through, and every new revelation from there just made me more confident i was right. I half hoped i wasn’t, though, because i like being surprised!

Overall this was an okay book. What it did it did well, but it played it too safe, stuck to tricks and tactics so well-used they are easy to spot if you know to look for them. But it kept me turning pages, kept me hoping there’d be something i’d missed, something i’d not considered. When there wasn’t, i couldn’t give it more than a solidly average three stars.

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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!?

Fellside

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!

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