REVIEW – The Power by Naomi Alderman

The Power follows an interesting premise whereby young girls develop the ability to shock and electrocute men. Discovered by accident when girls feel attacked, it then develops into a worldwide phenomena that can be passed to older women – well really any woman. Many things are blamed for the phenomenon – nerve gases, witchcraft, but the expectation is always that a cure will be found. The source of the power of these women? A stein, located at the collarbone that when working effectively gives the girls these frankly amazing abilities.

Interestingly, the book is peppered with historical ‘artefacts’ and instances to suggest that this had either happened before or represented a shift into the very distant future documenting the present as given to us in the book. It’s fairly unclear which but that developed a fairly interesting dimension.

The two central characters for me are Allie/Mother Eve and Roxy. Allie is taken in by a family and abused, where she discovers her power and a special voice that only she can hear to guide her. She then becomes ‘Mother Eve’ – a prophet of a new type of Christianity-esque religious practice – where the focus turns to the Virgin Mary and the idea of God as a SHE. Roxy becomes her second in command, with a gangster dad and a murdered mum, she is used to the darker sides of life and how far people will go. What I wasn’t expecting was the intimacy/relationship that would develop between the two.

The big question the early chapters in the book tries to address is this – should girls be encouraged to repress their powers, should girls themselves be repressed or should girls be helped to control their power? This is where the NorthStar camps come into the picture – as a facility for helping girls control their power and not to hurt anyone – accidentally at least.

And the massive theme you can find within this book is, as the title suggests – POWER. And the corrupting influence of said power. Long hailed as the gentler and weaker sex, the new matriarchal society that this book forms shows sexual violence reversing and women becoming the aggressors. It takes on a fairly sadistic angle in places and many of the characters are or do become somewhat unstable.

Overall a fairly enjoyable read of some speculative fiction and musings on the notions of gendered aggression and power.

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REVIEW – The One by John Marrs

After a series of challenging reads, it felt nice to get back into a simpler read that was easy to immerse myself in.

The One has a fairly straightforward premise – a DNA test that points you to your soulmate, the one you’re genetically ‘made for’. Whilst I originally thought this might have fluffy overtones, this book was anything but. It follows a series of matched and unmatched couples as some try to fight their connection while others embrace it – with some fairly twisted side stories.

The early interesting couple for me was Amy the police officer and Christopher the serial killer – Marrs clearly has a sense of irony there. It was interesting to watch Christopher grapple with his ‘I was born a psychopath’ demeanour versus a deep set love for Amy that developed. Another interesting couple was Richard and Mandy – but that’s a whole lot of twisted with kidnappings, comas and crazy families. Needless to say that this book was not full of the mushy romance I was half expecting, but that was fine by me – twisted books seem to be my bread and butter since the days I fell in love with Val McDermid’s writing.

Some aspects of the writing were especially heartfelt, with a lot of wrought emotions. What happens if you’re not one of the 92% who instantly fall in love with their matches? What if you’re a straight guy and your match is another straight guy? What if you’re already in a relationship and they’re not your match? These questions are all addressed within the book, and it did tug at the heart strings a little but not in a mushy romantic way.

Overall, it was a fairly dark read in places, but everything was united by a common theme. Is there such a thing as knowing too much? Knowing who exactly you’re meant to be with, placing that pressure on if a match can’t be found – everyone you date you’d feel that there is that missing piece. This for me is summed up in Ellie’s character and her final words of the book – let the world start making its own mistakes again. What I think Marrs may have done here is given us a cautionary tale on the role of science in emotion and decision making, and how that might not always be a good thing. People would then expect something to be fool proof, an easy answer when relationships are far from that. But who knows, maybe I’m sensitive to science and technology advances after my recent foray into the new Dan Brown.

REVIEW – Origin by Dan Brown

So, yes I will admit – I am a bit of a Dan Brown fan. So sue me! I like my conspiracy indulgences and a little bit of intrigue for my trouble, what can I say? Deception Point was probably the highlight of my Dan Brown reading for far-fetched awesomeness. And the most recent instalment of the Robert Langdon series from Brown, ‘Origin’, definitely had some of those familiar tropes.

So Origin follows Robert Langdon and future Queen of Spain Ambra Vidal as they try and unravel futurist and fervent atheist Edmond Kirsch’s announcement that claims to be able to shake creation narratives – his big announcement cut short by his assassination. What follows is a lot of running around Spain, dodging bullets and media frenzy to discover and release Kirsch’s discoveries and share them with the world.

The final announcement becomes two fold – humanity’s creation can be explained solely with physics, no role for a divine creator. But the bigger announcement, and I’ll keep schtum on this one for anyone who wants to read it – is where humanity is going and how it is on the brink of extinction. This for me rounded off the book and brought it up in my estimations of ‘oh dear this is so familiar to everything Dan Brown related I’ve ever read’….

In a way, the storyline was vaguely predictable not in the sense of the ending but the general structure that I’ve come to expect from Dan Brown. I would describe this book as nauseatingly similar to the Da Vinci Code – themes of science vs religion, secret sects and societies and rogue assassin individuals with a mastermind pulling their strings and that oh so bitter sense of betrayal at the end. There was one key diversion from stereotypical Dan Brown and Robert Langdon – Langdon didn’t end up screwing the strong female lead! Well I guess she was the future Queen of Spain, that’s definitely a better offer than a Harvard symbology Professor with a habit of being inserted into crazy conspiracy scenarios and being shot at.

Three reviews in 24 hours, check me out! I can confirm that the next book I’m delving into is ‘The One’ by John Marrs which is a dark kind of dystopian science-y type novel. Review to follow once I’ve delved in and come to a judgement.

REVIEW – Austerlitz by W.G.Sebald

My second review in as many days – the joys of reading multiple books at once!

Austerlitz is the tale of Kindertransport child Jacques Austerlitz, who was adopted following his arrival in the UK with a name change and a whole lot of identity suppression. He starts to find out who he is when he takes his exams, where he’s asked to use his ‘real name’ so that he can attain his grades. And that is when Dafydd Elias discovers he is actually Jacques Austerlitz. The story may well be true or have emerged from a true story, but evoking this powerful search for identity and history is an interesting premise.

Where Sebald has fallen flat for me is his monotone writing style and tediously long sentences. I should have guessed this was coming given how I noticed this with Sebald’s other works, e.g. the Emigrants. Many have called it ‘part of his style’ and representing an ‘internal monologue’, but ultimately, the reader wants to be engaged and inspired – and that comes from readable sentences as free from tedium as possible. It may work for some, but I don’t think I am willing to read anything further from Sebald as it is such a challenge to bring myself to get to the end.

The most interesting part for me was the initial revelation about Austerlitz’s real name and past, with a close second his time in hospital following a breakdown of what was felt to be hysterical epilepsy. I think more could have been made of that – the damage inflicted by discovering his history and a whole new identity from that he was raised with.

Overall similar to Everything is Illuminated for me, in the sense that it is a promising storyline that did not deliver.

REVIEW – Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

First of all – I can say that I concur with Anis Shivani’s opinion expressed in the “The 15 Most Overrated Contemporary American Writers” Huffington Post article. In my opinion, this book did not deserve such acclaim.

Everything is Illuminated follows the author’s journey to finding the woman who helped his grandfather escape the Nazi’s. Almost autobiographical in its nature, Safran Foer did not even bother to change the character’s name. Even if a novel is based on an experience you had taken into the literary world and played with a bit, it is a bit of an egotistical indulgence in my opinion.

It was so difficult for me to get absorbed in this muddled structure of a book. I think it is nice when a historical novel has some grounds in earlier history, but frankly I bought the book for the story, and maybe even less than half of it was the story promised in the blurb. Whilst the development of a shtetl would have no doubt been an interesting read – it had minimal place within a novel already trying to straddle the 1940’s and the present day of Jonathan as a 20 year old visiting Ukraine. It could have been a lovely little prequel to Jonathan’s adventures looking into his family history.

The second half of the book begins to contain some sort of composure and coherent structure, with more of a focus on what we were hoping for – the 1940’s events and how they intertwine with the present day. But I’m afraid it was too little too late for Everything is Illuminated and I was already in a bad mood with it.

While I’m at it, it is also frankly unnecessary to keep evoking grandfather Safran as some sort of sexual gods gift to women, with sometimes alarming detail which detracted from the book. It would have been enough to say that he was known for being a bit of a player and a heartbreaker – not how he was a stud at 10 and detail on him screwing women in the 52 positions on a pack of Kamasutra playing cards.

Overall, so much about this book that frustrated me. The blurb gave so much promise that the story simply did not deliver.

REVIEW – Maus by Art Spiegelmann

Well it finally happened – I have waded into reviewing something Holocaust-y. I guess given my PhD is on Holocaust survivors I would be hard-pressed to avoid writing something review like.

But I want to avoid the academic style review and just be very free with how Maus made me feel.

So Maus is a tale of Art Spiegelmann’s discussions with his father about his time in Auschwitz, before Art’s birth, told in graphical novel form. The childlike quality of using this medium really did feel inspired, as Art explored his own resentments towards his father Vladek and what made him that way. Exploring what Vladek and Anja did to survive, the strokes of luck that may have saved their lives, and the trauma to live with afterwards, to varying levels of success.

Past and present were beautifully interwoven as Vladek’s health and personal life deteriorated in the present and he mourned his beloved Anja, to the detriment of Mala. In fact, we don’t see much of Mala except from Vladek’s skewed perspective and I would have loved to see more of her personality rather than Vladek’s unreasonable view of her. She seemed like she dealt with a lot when it came to him! Anyway, I digress with my rantings about unreliable narrators and miserable albeit traumatised men…

Maus is an evocative glimpse into the struggles between the first and second generation when it comes to survivors – which is something that gets oral historians like me fairly excited (don’t get me started on identity formation and historical trauma, I’ll never shut up). And there has been SO much written about how a parents trauma can weave its way into the lives of their children, and Art Spiegelmann captures this with his reflective look on his parents’ time in Auschwitz – ‘I know this is insane, but I somehow wish I had been in Auschwitz with my parents so I could really know what they went through…I guess it’s some kind of guilt about having had an easier life than they did’. The thought of a survivor’s child, completely distant chronologically from the event, never experiencing it first hand, can feel the remnants of those emotions, no matter how well their parents hid their feelings and threw themselves into family life is so poignant and that is what stayed with me.

You’re taken on a journey with Art and his father, where the present tries to reconcile itself with the past and the second generation feel this sense of frustration of trying to understand what their parents experienced during the Holocaust. In Art’s words – ‘I feel so inadequate trying to reconstruct a reality that was worse than my darkest dreams’. And recently, I can’t help but wonder whether his sentiments are the same as many Holocaust historians.

REVIEW – The Last Safe Place by Ninie Hammon

Gabriella Carmichael is a poet/songwriter turned author who springs to fame as the author of a novel focusing on the Beast of Babylon, whose mission is for ‘Zara’ to come willingly to him and become his bride. Yesheb Al Tobbanoft is a troubled man with a troubled history, from a rich billionaire oil-baron type family. He believes he is the Beast, and Gabriella his Zara, her son Ty being the innocent human sacrifice needed to seal their union.

What I really loved about this book was how Yesheb was able to use his money, power and influence that stemmed from his family to stalk Gabriella. It adds a rather scary dimension to know that not only is this guy unstable and determined to find you, but he has the resources to track you down no matter how well you’re hidden, and the know how to clean up after himself and make you look crazy.

Gabriella’s flight from Yesheb takes her to a small Colorado town called St Elmo’s Fire, a place from her childhood with memories she would rather forget. But it’s secluded, protective and safe. Her company is her father in law Theo. her son Ty and their exceptionally intelligent and protective dog PD (Puppy Dog), along for the extremely bumpy ride.

The novel unwraps that each character has their own secrets and their own personal demons to deal with, and to a certain extent everything does come to the fore in the end, occasionally quite tragically as we’ve grown to expect from psychological thrillers.

The ending for me was second to none, as it didn’t fall into the stereotypical tropes – Gabriella didn’t submit herself to Yesheb, Yesheb didn’t just give up on his delusion and leave and it all got wrapped up rather nicely. I admire the courage Gabriella conveyed in the ending, as she realised as the author of the book, she had the power – Zara had to come willingly, it was a central strand to the plot. Of course things are rarely that cut and dry, I would have been disappointed had it been so simple.

A lovely little departure from my Game of Thrones binge reading, I thoroughly enjoyed this little escape into a different world.

Brief Respite

Been a bit absent so thought I would post a quick blog post with an update.

I moved back to Canterbury to start my PhD a couple of weeks ago, and have been labouring to get our flat sorted and start getting some work done.

I’ve also been rereading the Game of Thrones series, which I don’t think I’m going to review because they’re just so long, with each story arc hard to follow on top of chronology. Anyway, people already know so much about the books and the TV series that it almost feels redundant writing a review.

I’m reading A Feast for Crows at the moment, then I’m going to take a break and read something different. My next book I will write up a review for.

It’s been a crazy couple of weeks, learning a lot about myself on the way and trying to get back to the old me one little baby step at a time. It’s a work in progress!

REVIEW – Insidious Intent by Val McDermid

There’s nothing like a book that hits you straight in the feels, as my late demented fangirl self used to say. The most recent instalment in the ‘Wire in the Blood’ series from McDermid does not fail to disappoint.

We join Tony Hill and Carol Jordan for a tenth instalment after, let’s face it – a whole lot of crap that could never happen to two people in the real world (at least I hope not). She’s lost her brother and future sister in law in the most savage way possible, she’s hit the bottle and is losing control. And Tony, well he is the same as ever, trying to prop up Carol and figuring out what role he should play – therapist, friend or something more.

Carol is facing a lot of demons, not just those that lurk in the bottom of a bottle. Death features heavily on her conscience, the deaths of Michael and Lucy because of a killer she hunted, drink driving deaths in a cover up to protect her and bring her back to the sharp end of major incident policing. She’s taken a lot out on Tony in past books, to my eternal sadness, but this book she really has jumped down the rabbit hole, to the point where Tony considers she probably has PTSD.

In this entire Tony/Carol centric universe, a murder case brings them together again with a slightly revamped squad – ReMIT, a regional major incident team that rush in and solve the big cases so locals don’t have to. Their first case is a potential serial who’s interested in romance – picking up single, lonely women who want love at wedding receptions, and killing them in someone else’s place, setting up a credible pattern that this person will follow – the person he really wants to kill. Which, according to Tony’s analysis, makes him ‘not your typical sexual killer’.

The seemingly random choice of victims and scattered locations, combined with the forensically savvy killer, makes ReMIT’s job ridiculously difficult, providing it with a baptism of fire and making no friends upstairs or in power. This is a recurring strand within McDermid’s Hill/Jordan series, as what they do is expensive, and in a climate of budget cuts, cheaper options are always preferred and ReMIT essentially becomes a law unto itself.

But that’s what I love about this team of loveable rogues. They have unconventional methods yes, expensive ones probably, but whatever twists and turns the job does get done. I loved the little diversion that Paula’s young ward Torin brought to the book in the midst of murder and Tony/Carol drama and the unfolding notion that DC Sam Evans never deserved his place on the team with his betrayal and me me me attitude.

So the ending, I was not expecting. And I won’t talk about it because its mean to those who want to read it but haven’t yet. But I sense that the end may be in sight for this series, but I really really hope not. Probably going to have to wait two years for the next instalment, you’ll find me wailing in the corner about how life is unfair and how its a torturous existence being a Tony Hill/Carol Jordan Val McDermid fan.

REVIEW – The Boy In Her Dreams by Laekan Zea Kemp

The second book in ‘The Girl in Between’ series show a sort of rehabilitated Roman and a rapidly spiralling Bryn on their German odyssey seeking more information and a cure into Bryn’s KLS – or at the least more answers.

This book hinges on a more supernatural twist to the concept engaged in the first book of Bryn’s condition, KLS and the physicality’s of it, with a brief interlude in the idea of shared dreaming between her and Roman. That leaves you sort of open to the possibility of what the second book brings you – the idea that Bryn’s KLS might not be KLS but something grounded more in inheritance, birth and mysticism.

This book was more confusing than the first book, but I’ve found that can happen with series, especially as there’s an underlying thread that will be explored in further books. So we have been enlightened further as to the shadows, but as to what they want and why they want it – it’s still somewhat of a mystery. We’ve been introduced to the idea of Dreamers and Rogues, those trapped in their dreams and sleep like Bryn and those destined to protect their sleepers like Roman. But what the shadows want from them, whether to trap them or to kill them, I guess we will be treated to that in Kemp’s next instalment. Some more context around the idea of Dreamers and Rogues would be nice, but I suspect the audience is playing out the story with the characters – in that no one really seems to understand the notion of who they are and what it all means.

I would say that Dr Banz is the most intriguing character so far as I’m not entirely sure whether his motives are true or whether his grief for his daughter is causing him to do something stupid, or even how he may have been corrupted by a shadow, as this book showed us with other characters.

This book still maintained my interest, the characters and their relationships are still developing and I’m looking forward to see how the story moves on and how the loose ends will be tied up.