Book review: Vox by Christina Dalcher


Title: Vox

Author: Christina Dalcher

Genre: Science Fiction/Dystopia

Publisher: HQ

Publication date: 21st August 2018

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Summary:

“Silence can be deafening.

Jean McClellan spends her time in almost complete silence, limited to just one hundred words a day. Any more, and a thousand volts of electricity will course through her veins.

Now the new government is in power, everything has changed. But only if you’re a woman.

Almost overnight, bank accounts are frozen, passports are taken away and seventy million women lose their jobs. Even more terrifyingly, young girls are no longer taught to read or write.

For herself, her daughter, and for every woman silenced, Jean will reclaim her voice. This is only the beginning…

My review:

As a linguist and fan of dystopian fiction I was hoping that Vox would explore the current climate driving extremist views on sexism while shining light on the importance of expression and autonomy. Although at first it seemed to me that the premise of this book is exactly what I expected,  in actuality there are so many other deep rooted issues examined through the main character’s point of view that my opinion on the book changed quite drastically after finishing it.

Imagine a world where women are deprived of one of their basic rights: the freedom of expression. Suddenly young girls are obliged to follow an outdated curriculum that no longer includes reading or writing. Females are obliged to only speak 100 words per day or otherwise face the pain of electricity shot through their veins as punishment for extending their limit. The concept seems so terrifying and yet at the same time not too far from reality and this combination is exactly what prompted me to read Vox.

By far the most interesting aspect for me was the science behind the linguistics research carried out by the main character, Jean. Not only was it well researched and educational but also relevant to the development of the plot and sudden turn of events during the final chapters. Sudden societal changes and human reaction has been widely diversified in other literature like The Handmaid’s Tale but the focus on language and how it affects our emotional state made this book stand out from others in the market.

Unfortunately I was not moved by any of the characters and felt that some of the other story lines explored, such as Jean’s love interest, were too unimportant when considering the significance of the surroundings. It seemed almost ruthless that instead of focusing on the investigation delivered to her by the government as one of the few specialists on the subject she preferred to attract attention in other ways. My disinterest in her character grew even more towards the end as the confrontation between her team and the government unfolded in what felt like a simple solution to a very complex problem.

Rarely do I have such conflicting opinions on a book but Vox really disturbed me. There is much to love in this book and a lot to think about while reading it however certain elements felt unnecessary and the characters were too dull to fully hold my attention. Nevertheless, I am pleased that I decided to read this book as the concepts explored stayed with me for a very long time.

Book review: Twisted by Steve Cavanagh


Title: Twisted

Author: Steve Cavanagh

Genre: Thriller/Crime

Publisher: Orion

Publication date: 24th January 2019

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Summary:

BEFORE YOU READ THIS BOOK
I WANT YOU TO KNOW THREE THINGS:

1. The police are looking to charge me with murder.
2. No one knows who I am. Or how I did it.
3. If you think you’ve found me. I’m coming for you next.

After you’ve read this book, you’ll know: the truth is far more twisted…

My review:

This book certainly lives up to its name! There were several moments when I was certain that I had figured out each character’s motive but I ran into another unexpected twist which was a little frustrating at the beginning but more enjoyable as I soon discovered that the rest of the story line follows suit. I rarely have such fun trying to discover the plot twists but it is best to enjoy the rollercoaster ride in Twisted as guessing the twists is close to impossible.

Much to my surprise, Twisted is completely plot-driven and extremely fast-paced unlike many recently published books in the genre which tend to be slow burners with the focus generally on character growth. I struggle to recall the last time I read such an intense thriller which I loved despite not caring much for any of the characters. There are three main characters with chapters written from each character’s POV. At first I was convinced that I had already identified the murderer but as I read on it soon became clear that it wasn’t quite as simple as finding out who the culprit is but rather the rationale leading to their actions in the past and their response upon learning that the other two are aware of the truth. This concept was enough to form a deliciously gripping story line that held my attention until the end.

I highly recommend this thriller to all fans of the genre and I particularly advise anyone hoping to read the book to go in blind and enjoy the ride. Steve Cavanagh has created a masterpiece with Twisted and I suspect that a long time will pass until I discover another cleverly plotted and well written thriller like this one.

The influence of opening lines and catchy beginnings

Studious Saturday


Without a doubt one of the most important elements of a book is the opening line and first chapter. Publishers crave an impressive and memorable opening line and often base their decision on whether to move forward with a manuscript depending on how well the first few chapters are written. Likewise, a powerful beginning sets the tone for the plot and story line and, as the first point of contact with the reader, a strong connection right from the start is vital.

As first impressions are essential, I wanted to share my thoughts on a few books that had a huge impact on me as a reader due to their powerful beginnings.


Lullaby / The Perfect Nanny – Leila Slimani

The baby is dead. It only took few seconds.

Leila Slimani paints a picture of horror and chaos in the opening chapter of Lullaby (published as The Perfect Nanny in USA). Although I ended up disliking this book for many reasons, the events revealed in the first chapter were shocking enough to pique my interest and encourage me to continue reading. The details in the first chapter almost feel too explicit and unnecessary at times but setting the scene with the murder and revealing snippets of the events building up to it is a very powerful technique which I felt worked extremely well in this book.


The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle – Stuart Turton

I forget everything between footsteps.

“Anna!” I finish shouting, snapping my mouth shut in surprise. 

My mind has gone blank. I don’t know who Anna is or why I’m calling her name. I don’t even know how I got here…

The first chapter of The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is as intense and superb as the rest of the book. What makes it stand out is the precise choice of words and unique writing style that immediately transports the reader to the setting. I was impressed with so many aspects of this book and, although I read it almost over one year ago, the opening chapter stayed with me even to this today.


Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury

It was a pleasure to burn.
It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and
changed…

 

The first few sentences emphasise the essence of this book by exploring the senses through the eyes of the main character. The writing is so powerful that I could almost feel the heat and blaze as I read the first chapter. It is arguably one of the most notorious opening lines in literature and rightfully so.

As a reader, I am immediately influenced by the first chapter of any book, sometimes almost subconsciously. Although I enjoy slow beginnings if the writing suits the genre of the book, unexpected opening lines or unforeseen events revealed in the first pages almost always convince me that the book I am about to read will be a hit and for that reason I will almost always prefer it to a slower beginning.

Question time

Do the first few paragraphs or chapters of a book have an impact on you as a reader? What are some of your favourite opening lines?

Book review: All the Lovely Pieces by J.M. Winchester


Title: All the Lovely Pieces

Author: J. M. Winchester

Genre: Psychological Thriller

Publisher: Thomas & Mercer

Publication date: 6th August 2019

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Summary:

“For nine years, Drew Baker has been running from her brutal husband and the dark deeds of the night she left him. Focused on protecting her ten-year-old son, Drew reluctantly settles into a small town, eager to find proof of her husband’s true nature so she can stop looking over her shoulder.
But Drew is also on the run from her own terrible crimes—ones that mean prison and separation from her son should the police catch up to her before her husband does. If only she could remember that night and what really transpired…
Without warning, the unthinkable happens, and Drew is plunged into the most nightmarish situation a woman and mother could imagine. Desperate to save her child, Drew takes matters into her own hands, proving that anyone is capable of darkness, and nowhere is safe for those who fear themselves.

My review:

All the Lovely Pieces follows single mother, Drew Baker, and her son, Michael, as they attempt to run away from their dark and dangerous past involving emotional and physical abuse from Drew’s ex-husband Adam. It becomes clear from very early on that Drew is running away from an accident that had occurred several years ago which still haunts her to this day so she is eager to hide this traumatic experience from her son.

The story line is set out in rotating points of view: Drew’s, Michael’s and Catherine’s, the only character still in Adam’s life at this point, which I found to be particularly powerful especially when trying to understand Adam’s motive from another perspective. Despite my initial concerns, the writing of Michael’s POV felt raw and thought-provoking and the ideal way to bring up a further set of questions about his mother’s decision to flee from the crime scene. I also found Catherine’s perspective to be a fresh and interesting addition to the story line, especially important towards the end when the pace changed. However, I could not warm to Drew and my sense of doubt grew as more events from the day of the accident were revealed. Although unreliable main characters are often emblematic of the genre there were too many lose ends in the chapters written from her POV for me to truly understand her.

Despite a strong start and an interesting set of characters, there was little build up towards a twist or big revelation as usually happens with other books in the genre. In a way I liked how the author decided to lay out all the facts and reach a conclusion based on all the information provided. However, the last few chapters felt a little too rushed and there were parts involving other minor characters and Drew’s new love interest that felt exaggerated and at times too unbelievable. This book has all the right ingredients for a gritty psychological thriller but I believe that some of the scenes and character interactions in the last few chapters could have been rewritten to create a more realistic ending.

All the Lovely Pieces is out to buy now!

Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for providing a free advanced reader’s copy in exchange for my honest review.

 

Book review: The Humans by Matt Haig


Title: The Humans

Author: Matt Haig

Genre: Science Fiction

Publisher: Canongate Books

Publication date: 9th May 2013

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Summary:

One wet Friday evening, Professor Andrew Martin of Cambridge University solves the world’s greatest mathematical riddle. Then he disappears.
When he is found walking naked along the motorway, Professor Martin seems different. Besides the lack of clothes, he now finds normal life pointless. His loving wife and teenage son seem repulsive to him. In fact, he hates everyone on the planet. Everyone, that is, except Newton. And he’s a dog.
Can a bit of Debussy and Emily Dickinson keep him from murder? Can the species which invented cheap white wine and peanut butter sandwiches be all that bad? And what is the warm feeling he gets when he looks into his wife’s eyes?

My review:

On the surface The Humans appears to be a witty tale of an alien who is sent to Earth to possess the body of serious Professor Andrew Martin in an attempt to prevent one of the biggest mathematical riddles of being revealed and chasing the future forever. However, a deeper look is enough to understand that this book is really about human nature and a reflection of all the small and big things we may not even realise we do that make us special. Here are some examples that portray the beauty of this book:

“I have to admit that humans waste a lot of their time – almost all of it – with hypothetical stuff. I could be rich. I could be famous. I could have been hit by that bus. I could have been born with fewer moles and bigger breasts. I could have spent more of my youth learning foreign languages. They must exercise the conditional tense more than any other known life form.”

“Oh, and let’s not forget the Things They Do to Make Themselves Happy That Actually Make Them Miserable. This is an infinite list. It includes shopping, watching TV, taking the better job, getting the bigger house, writing a semiautobiographical novel, educating their young, making their skin look mildly less old, and harboring a vague desire to believe there might be a meaning to it all.”

“Now, consider this. A human life is on average 80 Earth years or around 30,000 Earth days. Which means they are born, they make some friends, eat a few meals, they get married, or they don’t get married, have a child or two, or not, drink a few thousand glasses of wine, have sexual intercourse a few times, discover a lump somewhere, feel a bit of regret, wonder where all the time went, know they should have done it differently, realise they would have done it the same, and then they die. Into the great black nothing. Out of space. Out of time. The most trivial of trivial zeroes. And that’s it, the full caboodle. All confined to the same mediocre planet.”

The atmosphere and mood changes swiftly as the plot moves from the alien arriving on Earth and trying to understand human nature to slowly getting used to his new family and finally feeling like a human. There are too many funny and special moments to count, from the brave and remarkable scene of the alien saving Gulliver the son and the amusing occasion where he shares peanut butter with Newton the dog. I laughed and nearly cried out in surprise several times while reading this book and enjoyed reflecting on the little quirks that make us human which were so well represented through the eyes of the alien.

The only downfall for me was the ending which felt a little rushed. Although it celebrated human life in its truest form I would have liked to see more on Andrew Martin’s life rather than an overview. Nevertheless, this didn’t devalue the remaining part of the book and I believe was still the best way to end the story line on a positive note. I highly recommend The Humans to everyone as this is not a book that can fit any category but rather one that can be enjoyed by readers of all ages, backgrounds and interests.

Midyear reflection on my blogging and reading goals

Studious Saturday

The end of June is fast approaching which means that we are almost halfway into 2019! I can’t believe how quickly time is flying past; it almost feels like I was celebrating the new year yesterday! As I am slowly starting to organise my shelves and planning out some posts for the coming months I thought that this week’s Studious Saturday post would be a perfect way to look back over the past six months and tie in with my reading and blogging goals for 2019.

Read 55 books

My first goal was quite simple – I wanted to slightly increase the amount of books I read from 50 last year to 55 this year. I must say that I am managing to keep to this goal and have read 28 books as of today so I am 1 book ahead in the challenge. I am still adamant to only stick to books I really want to read as the TBR list is piled way up high with a mixture of backlisted books and new releases and I know that there is never enough time to get through the entire list.

Branch out to other genres

Despite my wish to start reading a mixture of other genres I always tend to run back to thrillers or contemporary fiction when I’m wondering what next to read. I have definitely improved since last year and have read some interesting Science Fiction books with reviews soon to come, but I want to make it a habit and not an exception so please leave me your suggestions of books that are not categorised under the Mystery/Thriller, Contemporary Fiction or Historical Fiction genre!

Discover Spanish Contemporary Literature

Oh, I have definitely discovered it! (If you don’t know what I am referring to you may want to check out my last Studious Saturday post Feria del Libro Madrid ’19 for more details). However, even after buying a book by Julia Navarro that I really want to read I am still putting off reading in Spanish and I am not sure why. This is definitely the goal I am most planning on working on in the upcoming half of 2019.

Schedule my posts in advance

This is the other goal I am hoping to work on. I use a calendar to schedule my posts but writing has been hard recently and I have found myself slowly retreating back to writing and editing posts the day before they are supposed to be published. As summer is now in full swing here in Madrid (it is 41 degrees outside right now), writing posts is the perfect way to spend the hot afternoons after work and I plan to make full use of it.

Design a new look for my blog

One goal is out of the way! I must admit that this is the goal that I was most worried about which is probably why it took me so long to publish my new design. As my one year blogging anniversary approached a few weeks ago I finally decided to publish my new theme and I am much happier with the new look of my blog.

Do you have any goals for 2019 and are you any closer to reaching them as we approach the midpoint of the year?

Feria del Libro Madrid ’19

Studious Saturday

June is the month of longer and warmer days, summer vibes and of course reading! Here in Madrid it is also the month where books are celebrated and promoted during the festival Feria del Libro which spans over two weeks and takes place in Retiro, one of the most relaxing and beautiful parks in Madrid.

Each year the Feria del Libro hosts publishers big and small and invites authors from all over the world for book signings and more. The organisers work to promote reading by holding talks, round tables and readings from journalists, authors and publicists in order to encourage reading as a hobby for the younger generation as well as advertising some of the recent publications of all genres.

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At the end of Retiro park, stands are put up, displayed with books from all genres and beautifully decorated. Each publisher receives their own stand and it is wonderful to see how different the decorations were according to the type of books they publish, be it comics, children’s books or romance. One of the more ornate stands as pictured above had ribbons and cages descending from the ceiling. Others decided for a more contemporary look with books stacked within reach and displayed by popularity.

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The organisers this year did a wonderful job of providing leaflets to everyone with a layout of the festival and list of author visits and signings so that all its attendees could decide which stand they wanted to visit depending on the event or books they are interested in. Despite the ordered system, the amount of people made it impossible at times to get bearings right. We visited on a Saturday afternoon where Camilla Lackberg was holding a meet and greet and book signing so naturally the queue was already very long but even after getting around to the main entrance we found that it was extremely difficult to get close to some of the more popular stands and at times it was impossible to even walk around the crowds.

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We already discovered that we would have to be strategic as there were too many people that afternoon to allow us to visit every stand. After much thought we decided to start with the ones we were most interested in, comprising of adult contemporary fiction, classics and crime and skip the stands specialising in non-fiction and other sub-genres of fiction. Needless to say, these were some of the most popular stands so, after struggling to walk to the front of the stand, we spent a long time browsing books. Although we didn’t talk to any authors or publishers, we could see that they were all very pleased to be at the event and willing to answer questions and speak to people interested in their books. It was also wonderful to see many people buying books for themselves and discussing with their friends and family or even starting to read already on the grass or under the shade.

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By far the most popular stands of all were those specialising in children’s books as here most authors were hosting readings of their recently published books. I was pleasantly surprised to see so many children interested in books and it was also great how encouraging their parents were. Spain is a country where reading is very popular amongst adults but I am happy that it is also becoming a widespread hobby amongst children.

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Our visit came to an end with our final stop at the stand where Julia Navarro was holding her signing. I was so pleased to see so many people interested in her newest book but disappointed that I came unprepared and didn’t bring my book from home for her to sign.

Although the crowds made it difficult for us to enjoy the Feria del Libro fully, we had a great time and discovered some more books that are going to our TBR lists. I have already decided that next year I will plan my visit better by checking when authors are holding signings on the website and going at a quieter time during the week.

Feria del Libro is on until tomorrow 16th June and I highly recommend it to anyone that is in Madrid  this weekend!