The Vegetarian

Title: The Vegetarian

Author: Han Kang

Summary: Yeong-hye and her husband are ordinary people. He is an office worker, she is a dutiful wife. Their marriage is interrupted when Yeong-hye, seeking a more ‘plant-like’ existence, commits a shocking act of subversion: she refuses to eat meat. Thus begins a disturbing and thrilling psychological drama about taboo, desire, rebellion and fantasy.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: It was the title that drew me to this book. I’ve been vegetarian for about 15 years, vegan for the last 2, so a book called The Vegetarian that was getting people talking and was proving popular remained on my radar long enough to peak my interest.

The book is about a woman–Yeong-hye–but told in three acts from the point of view of three other people. The first part is from the point of view of her husband, and details the point at which she stopped eating meat and the immediate aftermath of this. I found this part to be the most interesting, honestly. Yeong-hye’s husband is a selfish, abusive piece of shit, but he is also the closest person to her. He witnesses her daily routines, her unique quirks, and the most subtle changes in her as they happen. He is also the most insecure of the three narrators, and is therefore, i think, the most observant of the people around him–Yeong-hye, her family, and his own colleagues.

The second part of the story is told from the point of view of Yeong-hye’s brother-in-law. He is just as selfish and abusive as her husband, but i think in a much, much more self-centred way. He sees all his actions as necessary in order to create his work, which is the only thing driving him. He doesn’t have the insecurities Yeong-hye’s husband has, and although is aware of other people’s feeling and expectations, doesn’t truly care about them. This leaves him more free to do and take as he pleases, and makes him much more dangerous.

The third part of the book is told from In-hye’s point of view. She is Yeong-hye’s sister, and the wife of the brother-in-law. This part was my second favourite. In-hye is a more sympathetic character. Growing up with Yeong-hye she has similar experiences in life and cares very deeply for her sister. She’s the only one left supporting Yeong-hye, and is starting to really understand what Yeong-hye has been going through. It’s the concluding part of the story, where threads come together and questions are answered (or left intentionally unanswered). While it wasn’t as plot-driven as the other parts of the book, it was the most analytical, and interesting in a unique way.

There is a lot left open to interpretation in this book. Character’s motivations–Why did Yeong-hye stop eating meat, stop eating, want to become one with nature? Why was her brother-in-law so inspired by and obsessed with the Mongolian mark? Why did In-hye carry so much guilt and understanding for what her sister was experiencing? Actual facts–What exactly did Yeong-hye dream? Was Yeong-hye as mentally unwell as people assumed? Did In-hye hold as much of the thread on her own sanity as she thinks she did? And general meanings–Were Yeong-hye’s actions merely a way for her to take control of her own life and make her own choices? Was the brother-in-law a sexual deviant or a misunderstood artist? Did In-hye ultimately understand her sister’s plight, or was she simply projecting her own?

This book is fascinating in a lot of ways, but almost unreachable or inexplicably distant in others. I feel that although this book didn’t make a huge impact on me initially, it’s definitely left me with many questions and may be a story that stays with me for a while, making me think and consider things in new ways. I am definitely interested in reading more of Kang’s work.



The Word for World is Forest

Book Review: The Word for World is Forest by Ursula Le Guin 3/5 StarsTitle: The Word for World is Forest

Author: Ursula Le Guin

Summary: When the inhabitants of a peaceful world are conquered by the bloodthirsty yumens, they find themselves forced into servitude, at the mercy of their brutal masters. Eventually, desperation causes them to abandon their strictures against violence and rebel against their captors. But in doing so, they have endangered the very foundations of their society. For every blow against the invaders is a blow to the humanity of the Athsheans. And once the killing starts, there is no turning back.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: I love Le Guin’s writing, but honestly haven’t read enough of it. I’ve had this book on my to read list since i first read The Dispossessed five years ago. This book had already been next on my to read pile, though it proved timely, coinciding with Le Guin recent and saddening death. The Dispossessed and The Word for World is Forest are the first two books in the Hainish Cycle, and let’s not pretend the third book in the series, Rocannon’s World, isn’t now top of my to buy list. The books aren’t connected by plot or characters, and can be read out of sequence or independently of each other–but chronologically is how i roll.

But this book. This book was interesting and frustrating all at the same time. Set on a world of islands, all completely covered in trees, the human race (as we know it) has arrived, settled, and started a small logging colony. The world and races created and explored here are wonderfully done. The native Athsheans, small and covered in green hair, are Le Guin’s literal ‘little green men’. From the human’s point of view they are a quiet, simple, unintelligent race, barely worth training up for menial tasks such as cooking and cleaning. The Athsheans are actually a lovely, peaceful, extremely clever introspective race who put much stock in dreaming. I found them quite charming.

Our three main characters are two humans–the selfish, egotistical, and cruel Davidson, and the reserved, observant, and kindhearted Lyubov–and one Athshean–the headstrong, confident, visionary Selver. Davidson, as Le Guin acknowledges in her introduction, is 100% the bad guy. He has no redeeming features, and is there solely to cause trouble and be hated. And oh, was he so easy to hate. I hated him unreservedly, and though that was really the point, and i loved to hate him, it also felt hollow and disappointing, to know he was written in that way and for him to have nothing but hate to give or receive. Selver was a smart man, and i don’t blame him for any of the choices he made–he did the best and smartest things he could given the situation, and he handled it marvellously. For someone who acted so emotionally to trauma and loss, he also seemed, on the whole, quite emotionless. Though i wonder if that may be a byproduct of introspection, of dreaming, of knowing oneself–being able to acknowledge your emotions and make conscious decisions rather than gut reactions. Lyubov, though. Lyubov was my favourite. He was the middle man, the one trying to bridge the gap between the humans and the Athsheans, with very few people on either side going along with that. I found him to have the purest heart, the most interesting perspective, and to be the only one not quite sure of himself.

The book is not without problems. Women treated as objects and commodities by the humans and all the main characters being male are two of the biggest. While the Athsheans have a more equal society, it still rubs me the wrong way that women have their assigned gender roles and men have theirs–it’s not fair to anyone. And while the women as sex objects and baby producers in the human society is certainly a negative commentary, it is never discussed or explored enough to be openly critiqued in the story, and i find that a huge blow.

Stand out in the story is the concept of violence and change. How people and societies develop in ways they need to to their surroundings and threats, but how that change is permanent. Although the threat might have passed, the actions taken are irreversible and will shape the development of things forever. It is, like every Le Guin book i have read so far, exceptional world building and exploration of ideas and themes and characters. I can’t wait to read more.

Station Eleven

Book Review: Station Eleven. 3/5 Stars.Title: Station Eleven

Author: Emily St. John Mandel

Summary: What was lost in the collapse: almost everything, almost everyone, but there is still so much beauty.

One Snowy night in Toronto famous actor Arthur Leander dies on stage whilst performing the role of a lifetime. That same evening a deadly virus touches down in North America. The world will never be the same again.

Twenty years later Kirsten, an actress in the Travelling Symphony, performs Shakespeare in the settlements that have grown up since the collapse. But then her newly hopeful world is threatened.

If civilization was lost, what would you preserve? And how far would you go to protect it?

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: I’ve had this book on my to-read list for a while. It has glowing reviews and the premise is spot on for what i love to read. I was so happy to finally pick it up and get reading. As happens far too often with books the general population seem to rave over, though… i was left a little disappointed.

There was plenty i loved about the book. I love the setting–20 years after an apocalyptic virus wipes out most of humanity. So often books deal with the very immediate fall out and/or 100 or more years after an apocalypse. It was interesting to see this 20-year stage. Long enough that there are children and young adults who remember nothing of “before”, there are adults who remember very little and have adapted easily, and there is an older generation who had jobs and families and remember everything of a life “before”. It’s the stage where things have changed, but the ‘old’ world is still very much remembered.

I loved (most of) the characters. My favourites were Miranda, Clark, and Frank. I loved Frank from the moment we met him, when his brother shows up on his doorstep with seven overflowing trollies of food and a stricken expression and Frank’s only comment is, “I see you went shopping.” Clark was slower to make an impression on me, as he is quite a side character for most of the book, but the more he showed up and the more i learnt about him, the more i liked him. Miranda was wonderful from the get-go. A strong, but wonderfully lovely character. She was kind and thoughtful, but never at the expense of herself. Her mantra–“I repent nothing”–are words i might start saying to myself more often.

I have two main issues with the book, and they are both simply personal preference. The first is the dual focus between the time lines–one 20 years post-apocalypse, one stretching back many years in the life of famous actor Arthur Leander. And the crux of my issue with this is that… i gave exactly zero hoots about Arthur Leander. The book is, on the whole, a character-driven narrative, and generally they just aren’t my favourite kinds of stories. I didn’t care about Arthur. I didn’t care about his life, his career, his multiple marriages and divorces. That his life served as a tenuous and improbable link between various characters in the post-apocalyptic time line was irrelevant to me. His life and its inclusion in the story felt simply like a device for that link and little more.

The second main issue i had was that… not a lot really happens? This typically goes hand-in-hand with character-driven stories–the focus is on the people and their feelings and experiences and growth, rather than on any circumstances or events. And like, okay, an apocalypse happens, but for the post-apocalyptic time line, there is not much tension or eventfulness. What there is, unsurprisingly, revolves around an individual–it is this character and his links to the past, to Arthur, and the other characters, that are the focus. And for me, that’s not enough. The story just never feels like it really gets going, but that’s because–for me–there just isn’t enough story.

The other niggle i can’t really shake is that the book is coming from quite an entitled place. The characters are rich actors, successful business people, theatre goers, classical musicians, and Shakespearean thespians. It didn’t sit quite right with me, and honestly didn’t enamour me to their post-apocalyptic plight. But honestly, with a name like St. John Mandel, a privileged upbringing on a remote Canadian island, and studying at a dance theatre… it shouldn’t be surprising that she’s writing what she knows.

I enjoyed the concept and ideas in the book, and found the emotive use of language quite lovely–the book is infinitely quotable. But nice one-liners and being meaningful in isolation doesn’t a brilliant book make–it takes more to impress me. What i enjoyed here i enjoyed a lot, but i won’t be rushing out to read more of this author’s books.

The Princess Diarist

Book Review: The Princess DiaristTitle: The Princess Diarist

Author: Carrie Fisher

Summary: When Carrie Fisher discovered the journals she kept during the filming of the first Star Wars movie, she was astonished to see what they had preserved—plaintive love poems, unbridled musings with youthful naiveté, and a vulnerability that she barely recognized.

Including excerpts from these handwritten notebooks, The Princess Diarist is Fisher’s intimate and revealing recollection of what happened on one of the most famous film sets of all time—and what developed behind the scenes. Fisher also ponders the joys and insanity of celebrity, and the absurdity of a life spawned by Hollywood royalty, only to be surpassed by her own outer-space royalty.

Laugh-out-loud hilarious and endlessly quotable, The Princess Diarist brims with the candour and introspection of a diary while offering shrewd insight into the type of stardom that few will ever experience.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: I’m not a Star Wars fan. Wait–that came out wrong. I enjoy the films, i go to see them at the cinema, i quote them on occasion. I don’t know what all the spaceships are called, i don’t watch the cartoon series, and i don’t play X-Wing (don’t even really know what it is). You know, i’m not a fan. But i enjoy Star Wars, and i like Carrie Fisher, and the idea of this book appealed to me. So, i bought it.

I actually read it as a read along with a friend when we discovered we’d each bought a copy. We were texting each other over the few days we were reading it, comparing notes and exchanging thoughts. It was a fun, interactive way to read the book and brought a lot to the experience.

Fisher is a great writer. I mean, she’s a great actor too, but i feel like she has the soul of a writer. Or maybe i just really connected with her voice and style so it struck a particular chord with me. Whatever, i think her writing’s great. It’s light and funny, but also astute and perceptive–often in the same breath. The diaries from when she was 19 are incredible; it’s hard to imagine a 19 year old writing such insightful, clever, and beautiful things. She’s so eloquent, and it makes this book an effortless read.

Despite her amazing writing, the book isn’t flawless. And i think a large part of its flaws lie in Fisher’s insecurities. She laughs and jokes about them, and about herself, frequently enough that it starts to wear. And ultimately it does nothing but shine a brighter light on them. She wears her humour and self-deprecation like armour, but it’s herself who’s inflicting a lot of the damage. It’s clear from what she writes about being a 19 year old thrown unceremoniously into the celebrity limelight (despite her familiarity with fame and her mother) and how since then she has simple been Princess Leia, that Star Wars has screwed her up a little bit.

Another thing that i thing deeply affected her was the less-than-romantic tryst with Harrison Ford. I’ll skip the details, but suffice it to say in my eyes Ford has no excuses here. He took advantage, plain and simple. Fisher’s diary entries are all about him, wanting him, knowing she can’t have him, and still wanting him anyway. There are some things she says at the end of the book that make me think, somehow, she actually still wanted him–was still punishing herself with that fact.

As much as i enjoyed her writing, for a book pegged as Fisher’s diaries while filming Star Wars, there really wasn’t enough Star Wars. Half the book is about “Carrison” (as she so nauseatingly calls it), the first few chapters about her early life and previous career… really, there is very little Star Wars in here. Despite that, i did enjoy the book. In future i would be tempted to read more of Fisher’s books–with the hope they are less insecurity-filled–but i won’t be rushing out to buy them.


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

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!


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.


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?