This book is brilliant. I read another by Holly Bourne quite recently – How to Be Interesting – and it was okay, but this one is really, really good.
It’s told through the eyes of Evie, who’s just started college after dropping out of high school and getting average GCSE grades despite her smarts, because she has high anxiety and OCD. Not the everyday of thoughtless speak “Oh I’m so OCD, I always have to have my pencils straight!" – but the real 24/7 obstressing (great made-up word) struggling not to wash your hands raw exhausting sort.
So Evie’s story is told using in part through her recovery journal, which details her various coping mechanisms. Which sounds like it might be hard work and dispiriting, but it is so not. Evie is a great character, funny and warm and relatable and bright, and she’s an unreliable narrator (I think). The device works brilliantly, because we understand Evie’s struggles from the inside and are with her as she self-deceives and lies to the people who care about her and gives in to obsession.
But above and beyond the OCD story, Evie is an ordinary teenager struggling to cope with boys and friendships, and the novel explores huge deep contemporary issues, like how to be a feminist without being a ball buster, and the importance of being yourself when you think you need to change to keep a boy, and sticking together and being there for each other even when boys come along, and even – wait for it – patriarchal society and how it impacts on everything. It’s just so refreshing to read a YA book that’s not afraid to be explicit about the things that count, and is brave enough to stand up and shout it’s not just okay, it’s essential to be feminist, when feminism for a while now seems to have been presented by some mainstream media as the last resort of dungaree’d and shaven-headed lesbians. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a DSHL, but feminism’s not just for them, it’s for all of us.
Plus, as well as carrying all the right ideas in the clearest form imaginable, this story is hugely hugely fun. MUST READ!!
I’m a bit torn for this review. In some ways it deserves at least four stars, because it is undoubtedly very well written in a style I often admire: quite literary, very fluid, finely constructed sentences, and a wide precise vocabulary. But in this case, it didn’t work for me. The main problem is a sense of distance, of looking with cool detachment at two not very interesting protagonists. There is no real sense of being inside their lives or connecting with their problems.
But that may be partly because the problems are not ones I could readily connect with.
I don't think I would class this as a chick lit. It's not meant to be fluffy or fun and is definitely not funny; it's about the disintegration of a marriage. The plot: essentially, affluent and disengaged husband Nick has fallen out of love with stay-at-home mum Maya. But wow, who knew divorce was so expensive? So to reduce his losses, he hatches a plan to be a better husband and coax Maya back to work: as a highly-paid lawyer herself, she will no longer be a dependent. But, during the process, he unexpectedly falls back in love with her.
It’s quite a cute plotline and did attract me to read the book. But even apart from the sense of distance mentioned above, the story annoyed me in so many ways. Maya’s parenting style is ridiculous (no boundaries – lets her brattish boy hurt and smash things with no reprimand or consequence; obsesses about food) – and how on earth, with a nanny working fifty hours a week (yes, fifty – five ten hour days – like employees need no life of their own) could she find parenting so hard? I had twins (breast fed) and an older boy not yet four. No Nanny. Yes, it’s hard work – but... what can I say? You just have to be organized, and firm, and patient, and hardworking. It’s really not that hard. Maya’s twins aren’t even around half the time, with all the thousands of activities she (or the nanny) constantly takes them to. I felt sorry for Velma the nanny, who does most of the actual work anyway while Maya swans off to her personal trainer and various other fitness/therapeutic activities.
It’s first world problems writ large. Too-affluent people with nothing to do but screw up their own lives through being self-obsessed and selfish.
And it also annoys me anyway, (rant follows) the way so many books are about super-affluent people. It’s like, 95% of people aren’t super-affluent, but in books the proportion is reversed: we have to read about people who never really have to worry about money. Their worries are at the level of who gets the lion’s share of a really big pot of money, not how to pay the rent so my kids aren’t on the street.
It’s not even escapism, in a book like this. It’s meant to be a reflection of real society, from which we are meant to derive insights about love and marriage and childrearing. Meh.
And then, when Maya goes back to work, it’s in the full knowledge she’s going to be working a sixty-hour week plus. Now, putting aside poor Velma’s overtime (I’d like to think she gets double time for anything over forty hours, ha ha fat chance), that really annoys me. If you are working twelve-hour days plus, you are not going to be there for your children at all. You are abdicating responsibility. Now, I know that this is supposed to be the dilemma women face, that they are frowned upon for leaving their children to pursue a professional career blah blah – but why does anyone need to work sixty hour weeks, period? So Maya can earn $17,000 dollars for a single court appearance (which bankrupts her deserving client and fails anyway), apparently. Maybe so she can buy more sessions with her personal trainer, or a bigger fatter BMW.
This is all a bit of a rant – but the bottom line is, I really dislike that all-or-nothing working mother approach. If there are no law firms that will let you work thirty hour weeks and pay you pro rata – then there really ought to be. Maybe Maya should have started one herself: child-friendly law firm for working mothers who don’t want to abandon their children totally to the hired help.
So yes, it made me cross. And it was quite slow anyway. So even though it was well-written style-wise, I’m only going to give it three stars (head says more, heart says less, three cuts a deal).
This is an entry into increasingly common genre of historical crime fiction, whereby the author takes a certain period in history and then works on a mystery plot, usually involving solving a murder in the traditional way.
I’ve always thought this was rather a daft way to set about reading/finding out more about a particular period in history: if you want to know, why not simply read about Japan in the 16th century? Silly me: for the obvious reason, that it’s much more fun to read a story, and if that story has interesting historical stuff thrown in along the way, then all the better, because it’s fresh and fascinating. And this is a very entertaining story. Not least because Hiro is a great character, sort of an undercover super-assassin working security: that is, he’s a Shinobi, or Ninja warrior, member of the Hattori clan, who has been tasked with protecting Portuguese catholic priest Father Mateo with his honour and his life. Father Mateo, for his part, is a rather more complex character than he at first appears, and definitely not the fish out of water in Japanese culture that he pretends.
I think the setting here is a little before Shogun, if you know that whopping tome, and it’s more amongst the ordinary folk rather than the Emperor and Shogun types. In this story, the murder victim is from an actor’s guild, and as such is beneath the notice of the official legal system, which in any case has its corrupt members. Plus there is the backdrop of political unrest in Kyoto at the time, as the old Shogun is dead, a new has risen up but is likely to be challenged, and the new guy doesn’t especially like Hiro or Mateo. Which translates to, is likely to have them assassinated.
So a good story, interesting characters, and very importantly in a novel such as this, the author clearly has an in-depth understanding of Japanese culture and history at this period, which gives the setting great interest and authenticity.
This was definitely a page-turner. I found the premise – that the apocalypse comes about because everyone suddenly develops telepathy and can read each other’s minds – at once fascinating and problematic. Despite these contradictory feelings, I whizzed through, so this is an author who is doing something right.
First, it’s set in Sydney in a near-ish future, with a lot of hip hyper-connected teen jargon, which sets the scene for the apocalypse to come while also being really quite clever. Then the “Snap” happens – on Christmas Day, perfect, always a time of goodwill and low stress-levels – and mayhem and mega-death ensues. Our tough and down to earth heroine Danby, who has been mis-diagnosed as kooky because she already tuned into these telepathic waves, is invisible to the crazed majority who feel like ten thousand people are screaming in their heads. Her mission becomes, to get herself and her little brother to hippy mum’s hideaway in the Blue Mountains. She also meets a young med student, Nathan, who is similarly “immune”: ie he can hear others’ thoughts but they can’t hear his.
Their attempts to save themselves, plus assisting and reviving other people, seem to only just be starting, and a good start it is, when the narrative changes and the story becomes a novel of two halves. I won’t say too much because it would be spoiler-y, but the second half introduces a new set of characters. One in particular has unusual talents and the thrust of the story shifts to Danby’s uncertain, ambivalent relationship with this guy.
The premise is interesting: that our brains are being re-wired for connectivity through social media, and that this is the natural evolutionary next step. It kind of introduces that idea without fully exploring its implications: 7 billion minds on the planet – and like the internet, 99% plus of each mind is probably stuffed with rubbish no one needs to know. I know mine is.
Connectivity is a buzzword (very big in education: we teachers are meant to be embracing the connectivity of our students as 21st Century learners) but no one seems to ask the basic question: why? Connectivity is good for Connectivity’s sake, goes the C21st educators’ mantra. But I do wonder. Deeply unfashionable view: what good does it do? If you look at it with a cold and cynical eye, the vast vast majority of this sharing and connecting is on the one hand self-promoting, and on the other desperately trivial.
So… my reasons for contradictory reaction: it is a fascinating premise for an apocalypse, but this happening overnight as an evolutionary response is not possible. Natural selection, selfish genes and all that – no great genetic changes can happen to everyone on the planet outside of several generations (or at the very least one, if there’s a plague say that wipes out everyone but people who… can roll their tongues. Then, in one generation, the vast majority of the people in the world would be people who can roll their tongues… boring old evolutionary theory, so widely misunderstood).
So the mechanism by which this occurs is at present not plausible, although it might come clear in later books. But that didn’t affect my reading pleasure anyway.
Secondly, and maybe more importantly, people all of a sudden murdering each other and crashing their cars and fires all over the city – basically, Christmas Armageddon – why? So, your hubby thinks your bum really does look fat in those pants – do you charge outside and drive like a maniac ramming your car into every other vehicle you see? Even if you do drive off in a huff, you wouldn’t want to kill yourself through reckless driving. But they all do.
I think the madness could conceivably have been explained as a stress reaction – people literally going mad with the noise in their minds… I don’t know, maybe it was there but if it was, it’s not very focused or explicit, and the rationale for the madness seemed a little lacking.
In any case, nitpicks aside, I still roared through the story – interesting, gripping read, and lots of potential to explore answers in the follow-ups.
Because it is the first in a trilogy. The story resolves enough for satisfaction, but is clearly primed for instalment #2.
I’ve only read two Nicholas Sparks before and though not a die-hard romance fan, I enjoyed them both enough (and remembered them well – so made an impression) that I gave this one a go.
It’s actually not much of a romance, and is in fact the story of the opposite end of the love and marriage spectrum – a marital breakdown, drawn out over a year plus. The narrator, Russell Green, introduces himself as a marrying one-woman kind of guy (apart from one early and catastrophic blip). He’s loving, romantic, devoted - and also a people-pleaser. Which turns out to be pretty well a disastrous combination when it comes to his wife. Vivian is beautiful, extravagant, demanding, impatient, inconsistent, and slightly psychopathic in her inability to feel any kind of empathy, or to see things from any other point of view but her own (which is warped anyway). Russell tries to win back her love by trying ever harder to please her, but ultimately the doormat approach, far from leading her to reciprocate his deep affection, only nurtures her contempt.
It isn’t an especially uplifting read, in the sense that Russell, although sympathetic, is so clearly put-upon that readers will most likely develop a strong desire to give him a good kick up the bum and yell grow a backbone! Luckily he has a supportive family and has reconnected with a kind, warm and empathetic old girlfriend, who all see things how it is, so provide a refreshing perspective and alleviate his non-stop doormatting.
It is a departure from Nicolas Sparks’ previous novels, whose underlying themes have always seemed to be that love is powerful, and true, and that a man and a woman can be soul mates whose love will last forever… The main protagonist of Two By Two, Russell, believes this, and his actions, desperately clinging on to a relationship which is failing no matter how badly he is treated, demonstrate how he can’t relinquish this belief. Events prove him catastrophically wrong.
It does make me wonder, finding out that Sparks’ own marriage failed at this time, how much was based on his own experience. I suspect the main protagonist might well be a true-ish depiction. Hopefully the depiction of Vivian’s contempt and manipulation is more fictional.
Some reviewers found it slow. I didn’t. It’s an interesting and quite unusual novel, I think, in so far as it delves deeply into the minutiae of a relationship and depicts its disintegration. As a character study of a particular type of loving person who can be terribly used, it’s also truthful, and revealing. I am sure many people will look at this and recognise different aspects – so from that point of view, I think it’s a very good novel, in the sense that fiction is meant to tell essential truths.
My significant other, after being told about it, refused to take out his mother-in-law. His excuse? “You don’t want me to be a doormat like that guy, do you?”
In addition, there is a nice blossoming romance with an old ex-girlfriend which gives a dollop of the more usual Sparks-style, plus the relationship of Russell with his daughter and how that develops once he is the main caregiver, is brilliant. Small details of the things they do together are handled brilliantly, and how Vivian attempts to undermine Russell even here – opposing the things he wants to do ever-so-subtly, like bike-riding, but then laying on the guilt when their daughter’s first bike ride happens without her… The signs are there that she is manipulative and mean to him, long before the relationship is officially over.
I have to say that the novel is very skillfully constructed, with blips in time that give a little bits of backstory about Russell, his history, his lovely birth family, gradually building up a deeper and more complex picture of each character and their relationships. I think the subtlety and skill with which this complex story is woven, with so much resting on small everyday events and its depiction of character, is actually quite brilliant.
I would probably give this a 4.5 stars (five star system is so blunt!) but think I'm often a bit on the stingy side - so going up not down.
This is the third Sean Duffy novel I’ve read recently, and I really wish I’d read them in order, because Duffy clearly has ups and downs in his love life and career and his personality definitely evolves, but reading them out of order muddles that progression so one day I’ll go back and read them again, in the right order.
Yes, I WILL READ THEM AGAIN. Adrian McKinty is that good.
Each one is a stand-alone in terms of the police investigation, and the investigations are quality in terms of plotting, twists and turns, high-level involvement, betrayals etc and exciting denouement, but that is not why they are great.
They depict a dark period in history more effectively than any other book I’ve ever read, and make that experience of living in Northern Ireland during what was euphemistically known as the troubles, and was in fact a bitter and violent civil war, come alive in the scariest possible way. To live always with the knowledge that you can be shot at the wheel of your tractor, that every morning there could be a bomb under your car, that there is never never a real chance to be off duty because people out there are really out to get you… the sheer stress must have been unbelievable. The number of Catholics in the UDR is a disgrace, Sean contemplates at one point, less than 5% - but then, the IRA have promised that any Catholic who joins will be targeted first, so that’s one hefty disincentive. Above and beyond the fact many UDR members will be dyed in the wool orangemen.
The guns, the violence, the graffiti, the extreme poverty and despair, the dismal weather, the barefoot kids pointing at him (a Catholic police officer – so something of an anomaly), calling out “bang bang, you’re dead” –knowing that this is what kids learn, it’s real, it’s what people in their community are doing – all paints a devastating picture of grim awfulness.
Then contrast this with a kind of dour and bitter wit which is often laugh-out-loud funny: Sean’s conversations with his rebellious constables when they won’t get in the dumpster, his boss’s moods and rants in between puzzling over the cryptic crossword clues, the bigotry and misplaced religious fervour of so many people (hilarious snippets from the radio), the sheer incompetence of the authorities which, though it can have terrible consequences, is also darkly funny. And integral to the humour are the unique, distinctive Irish voices and vernacular.
The stories are basically a depiction of what a very stubborn, tough, humanistic and decent guy might have ended up doing when trying to work inside an almost impossibly bigoted, divided, and hate-filled country. Sean wants to make his country better, but back then no one really believed it was going to happen; they’d given up hope that things could ever change.
I don’t read these books for the investigations, though obviously the murders etc are necessary to drive the plot along. But I read them more for insight into the culture of Northern Ireland at this especially grim time: it’s kind of like world-building, only this world was real. And Adrian McKinty does it very, very well. Plus the wit and characters and human relationships do, somehow, offer a light even in this very dark place.
I enjoyed this story. At one level it’s a fast-moving thriller, but at another it attempts to deal with deeper issues such as the mental illness/emotional and psychological problems of the main protagonists.
Said protagonists are teenagers in therapy, sent to a therapeutic weekend in an abandoned warehouse with only two doors and no windows. Hm. Also no connected water, due to it being a building site in the process of renovations? Double hm. But I can overlook that sort of thing, within reason, and it honestly didn’t bother me too much.
Masked baddies break in and apparently hold the teens as hostages, because one of them has a very wealthy father. But no fear, despite their PTSD and other even more deep-rooted problems, our two main heroes Riley and Max contrive to half-escape, and spend a lot of time running around this fortress-like building before they realize the evil plot is maybe even more evil than they can imagine.
It would be quite easy to pick holes in this story: the set-up is definitely unlikely, the mental illness aspects actually became somewhat repetitive (Max’s uncertain grasp on reality in particular, though I could see where the author is coming from), and the extremely convoluted ultimate solution to the kidnapper’s mysterious motives. But I felt it was a solid, sympathetic approach to the experience of mental illness (and the use of the word “crazy” by Max was entirely consistent with his fears and in context with his attitude), plus it was a highly entertaining, exciting thrill ride. Four stars.
I’d never heard of this, strangely, as it now appears it’s super-famous and a National Book Award Winner. Quite justifiably, as it happens.
This is a terrific book. A story of growing up on the res – and getting out – the darkness of the underlying themes and lives portrayed is sweetened just enough by a thick layering of humour, the kind of humour that’s witty and real and comes from inside unbearable situations and struggling people.
It’s interesting to read some of the reviews on Goodreads, and a bit depressing: the numbers of Americans who express astonishment at the reality of Indian’s lives – and the flip side, the number who primly think the references to masturbation, alcoholism and strong language mean it’s unfit for teenage consumption.
There is only one fault with this novel: it substitutes frick for fuck, when we all know what the characters would really be saying. Even teens will know, unless they’re halfwits. And the nod to pseudo-morality didn’t work anyway, it’s still on the banned list (which, honestly, I was absolutely astonished by).
This is a book people need to read. It portrays truths which are apparently still invisible to many in American culture, but without hate or blame. It’s a story of racism, and cruelty, and disadvantage, but most of all a story of love and humanity and ultimately a wounded kind of triumph.
So you’ve had a hard week, want a lazy weekend blobbing out on the deck and forgetting the stress by losing yourself in a more exciting world? Who better to spend the time with, than a six foot five rootless modern-day Viking hitch-hiking across America? Somehow Jack Reacher never seems to want for money, and he always bumps up against some serious wrongs that need his phenomenally well-informed mathematical brain and ex-military ultra-mesomorph body, to right them.
Lee Child has created one of the greatest heroes of our time in the old-fashioned sense, of a guy with a highly developed ethical sense and a preternatural ability to fight and kill bad guys. Also to work out what the bad guys are doing. The prose is sparse, Chandler-style, and often quietly witty. The story moves along at a cracking pace, the plot is smoothly and expertly worked through and resolved. Tiny quibble: the motivation for the bad guys’ scheming is maybe on this occasion a little-far-fetched – but who cares. No more far-fetched than a white haired guy of six foot five blending into the crowd, and we’ve overlooked that one many a time.
As usual there’s a smidgeon of romance quickly cast aside as our hero moves on in his aimless quest for pastures new, where he will again and always fight for justice, and protect the down-trodden against the powerful. Formulaic maybe, at this stage of the series, but still fantastic fun and a great getaway without leaving home.
Well, David Almond is obviously highly regarded - huge reviews in the Guardian, prizes galore, so I was quite keen to read Skellig which is super-famous – but this was the one in the library so I got this out instead.
It’s a short read and very well written in a highly distinctive voice, with crisp clear precise sentences. The use of language is both beautiful and readable. Other stuff – not so much. I had a few problems, mainly with the plot, theme and characters. Hm.
The plot was moderately directionless: obviously this is deliberate. This reads like a long slightly magical summer with more or less naughty boys running wild, not going anywhere in particular. Two of them find a baby (a sweet-smelling “child of God” – what could she symbolize?), one is a nutter who chops up snakes in a pit with a spade amongst other revolting activities, and is generally cruel and disgusting (perchance symbolizing the opposite?). But there is no strong narrative drive. Almond is a very skillful writer: if he wanted strong narrative drive, I’m sure he could put it in there. But the novel is meant to be kind of elegiac: it ruminates on deep themes, ponders evil vs good and the pain of leaving childhood behind, evokes hot summers on the cusp of adulthood, and for these purposes absolute realism and a purposeful plot are maybe not crucial. If you’re happy with the elegy, the symbolism, the philosophy and the ambience.
War underpins the evil of man theme, being referred to constantly with planes flying overhead etc (Bush and Blair vs Iraq), along with the horrors of which man is capable. Are we all monsters under the skin? Is the veneer of civilisation a fragile thing with violence ever ready to explode through? Are we born evil, original sin being the true state of man? And so on. Psycho friend Gordon Nattrass embodies the arguments in favour of: we all love death and pain and torture, we just pretend we don’t. Plus we have an unlikely duo of foster kids, a Liberian ex-child soldier and a burns and foster care system self-mutilator. And herein lie the problems I have with really investing in this story, despite the quality of the writing which is in many ways a delight.
The theme is laid on in spades, for my taste. But above and beyond that – I am a big fan of plausibility.
Nattrass becomes an exhibited artist. His age is left vague, but at some point we are told Liam’s age is fourteen. This also was slightly problematic: in many ways he felt very immature, galloping around the countryside in sticks and mud more like a ten-year-old – but his friend and peer Max, looking to the future of careers and girlfriends, seemed more like a sixteen or seventeen year old. At least. And Liam’s age wavered, which I suppose could be construed as realistic: fourteen year olds can be grown up one minute, infantile the next. But… On the whole he felt like an immature, rather privileged, bratty older teenager.
So Nattrass becomes an exhibited artist – at fourteen? Or is he meant to be older? (He ‘s a friend, so the original assumption is that they’re close in age). It just doesn’t work for me: it’s not real world. Real world is: there are thousands of talented artists out there struggling for recognition – and yet some psycho kid gets support from a gallery to show his grim ideas, even if he has the verbal skills to make the pitch…
So, plausibility dead in the water on that one.
And then the two foster kids lack credibility, in particular Crystal. Oliver, the child soldier, is probably equally unreal but I have no experience with child soldiers so I could just about – barely – buy into his reality.
But I have worked with abused kids, foster kids, self-harmers… and the waif-like, dreamy, highly articulate, super-poetic and profoundly philosophical Crystal, is a hard creation to swallow. Neglected/abused/abandoned kids are more usually angry, inarticulate (neglect does that) and even more angry. Self-harm is anger turned inwards and mixed up into an unhealthy cocktail with self-loathing (because at a deep down level kids blame themselves – mum left me, so I must be bad and unlovable). Rage is a defining characteristic. Sweet dreamy poetics not so much.
To me, this reads like a skilled writer who deliberately chooses a drifting plotline and lack of narrative drive in favour of developing his themes through atmosphere and symbolism. I’m sure worthy critics, librarians and English teachers will love this story as a juicy subject for discussion, and because they think it’s the sort of meaningful thing teens should be reading. As for the teens themselves? I think I would have found it boring, and run back to Harry Potter or the Hunger Games.