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 Suddenly young girls are obliged to follow an outdated curriculum that no longer includes reading or writing.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.

Book review: Devotion by Madeline Stevens


Title: Devotion

Author: Madeline Stevens

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Publisher: Faber and Faber

Publication date: 15th August 2019

My rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Summary:

“Ella Crawford is 26, lonely, and so broke that she seduces strange men when she suspects they’ll buy her dinner. Her fate changes the day she begins nannying for a rich and beautiful Upper East Side mother. Both women are just 26 – but unlike Ella, Lonnie has a doting husband and son, artistic talent, and old family money. Ella is mesmerised by Lonnie’s girlish affection and disregard for the normal boundaries of friendship and marriage, but resentment grows too, alongside this dizzying attraction.
Crackling with sensuality and heart-quickening suspense, Madeline Stevens’ searing debut novel explores themes of class, aspiration, female friendship, sexuality, and obsession.

My review:

Despite a strong start, the story line in Devotion lacked focus and the characters failed to impress as they engaged in several events that were purposeless and not really explained. I expected Devotion to explore a wide range of topics related to class, opportunity and friendship, which it did to an extent, but was ultimately left questioning the plot and each character’s intentions.

As soon as Elle starts her new job as nanny to Lonnie and James’ son, it becomes clear that her world is about to change drastically. It is not long until she realises that they lead a lifestyle she can only hope to mirror some day and this concept, together with Lonnie’s mysterious and bold nature, is enough to drive Elle to obsession. For me this aspect felt somewhat sluggish as most of the first half of the book was spent analysing Elle’s thoughts and reactions with little background to her previous life. Introducing Lonnie’s thoughts through her diary entries was a successful way of delving into her world of secrets and regrets and I was hoping to experience the same through her manuscript but unfortunately it felt too detached and irrelevant to the main story line.

There was little direction and focus on the plot which ultimately led to further indifference and disregard for the characters. I spent the first half of the book trying to understand the path the author wanted to take with these characters and setting and the second half of the book puzzled at the turn of events during the scheduled holiday. I struggled to understand the final few chapters which felt disjointed from the story line and also a little sudden and rushed.

This book raised some key issues related to friendship and the difference in class and lifestyle but fell short of my expectations. I would have preferred a deeper focus on the plot and an insight to Elle’s past as a way to connect with the main characters and understand their purpose.

Devotion 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: 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 Great Alone by Kristin Hannah


Title: The Great Alone

Author: Kristin Hannah

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Macmillan

Publication date: 8th February 2018

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Summary:

“Cora Allbright and her husband Ernt, a recently-returned Vietnam veteran scarred by the war, uproot their thirteen year old daughter Leni to start a new life in Alaska. Utterly unprepared for the weather and the isolation, but welcomed by the close-knit community, they fight to build a home in this harsh, beautiful wilderness.

At once an epic story of human survival and love, and an intimate portrait of a family tested beyond endurance, The Great Alone offers a glimpse into a vanishing way of life in America. With her trademark combination of elegant prose and deeply drawn characters, Kristin Hannah has delivered an enormously powerful story that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the remarkable and enduring strength of women.

About the highest stakes a family can face and the bonds that can tear a community apart, this is a novel as spectacular and powerful as Alaska itself. It is the finest example of Kristin Hannah’s ability to weave together the deeply personal with the universal.

My review:

A poignant story of survival, Kristin Hannah weaves a tale of a world so different to ours without losing authenticity. Just like in The Nightingale, this book comprises of a series of beautifully developed characters and a setting so well illustrated that it’s easy to get lost in the story and read the book in one sitting.

My personal favourite element of The Great Alone was the perseverance that was injected into each character. Conditions in Alaska are rarely suitable for normal life and everyone has to get accustomed to the harsh temperatures and predators around yet endurance played a big part in this book which created a genuine and profound atmosphere. The storytelling from Leni’s life prior to Alaska through to her struggles with her father and desire to escape is brilliant and the sentences flow freely, painting a picture that the reader can easily imagine. The moments of despair and fear, although difficult to read through at times, were part of what made the survival aspect so realistic and played a huge role in the character growth.

Another key factor that I believe led to the widespread success of this book is the setting. It becomes clear right as the Allbrights drive towards their new home that the author has done a lot of research into life in Alaska. The characters and setting complement each other extremely well and it is easy to see how the Allbrights are both in awe of the Alaskan wilderness and also somewhat frightened by its magnitude. It was especially interesting to follow the family through the years and support Leni through her struggles (and there were many of all sorts but I don’t want to give too much away!).

For me, the storyline went downhill at around the 80% mark. Suddenly it felt as if the author was in a rush to end Leni’s story even though prior to this point each moment was beautifully detailed and savoured. So many events occur towards the end that it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly which parts irked me but as I finished the last few pages I was left with a feeling of disappointment despite the bittersweet ending.

Kristin Hannah is an incredibly talented writer and it truly shows in The Great Alone. I hope that all readers who decide to pick up this book are just as satisfied with this book as I was and are able to find closure in the ending.

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.

Book review: Changeling by Matt Wesolowski


Title: Changeling

Author: Matt Wesolowski

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Publisher: Orenda

Publication date: 24th January 2019

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Summary:

On Christmas Eve in 1988, seven-year-old Alfie Marsden vanished in the Wentshire Forest Pass, when a burst tyre forced his father, Sorrel, to stop the car. Leaving the car to summon the emergency services, Sorrel returned to find his son gone. No trace of the child, nor his remains, have ever been found. Alfie Marsden was declared officially dead in 1995.
Elusive online journalist, Scott King, whose ‘Six Stories’ podcasts have become an internet sensation, investigates the disappearance, interviewing six witnesses, including Sorrel, his son and his ex-partner, to try to find out what really happened that fateful night. He takes a journey through the trees of the Wentshire Forest – a place synonymous with strange sightings, and tales of hidden folk who dwell there. He talks to a company that tried and failed to build a development in the forest, and a psychic who claims to know where Alfie is…
Intensely dark, deeply chilling and searingly thought provoking, Changeling is an up-to-the-minute, startling thriller, taking you to places you will never, ever forget.

My review:

What a ride! This book was so addictive and intense that I often found myself hurtling through the chapters, desperate for a resolution. Not only was the original idea of following the true crime through a series of podcasts alluring and atmospheric but the execution was just as brilliant with precise storytelling and a wildly unexpected plot twist at the end. Looking back, there is not much that can be criticised as the writing techniques used were flawless and the story line provoked a strong sense of urgency to uncover the mysterious circumstances surrounding Alfie’s disappearance.

One of the main aspects which made the book truly stand out for me was the emphasis on the personification of forest and the chilling nature of its contents. We learn through the experience of several interviewees in the podcasts that Wentshire forest has an alarming supernatural essence that many believe could explain Alfie’s disappearance. The research done in paranormal activity here was ingenious and very well inserted into the plot without verging on implausible but rather tempting the reader through a series of events which suggest that perhaps Alfie wasn’t the innocent child we all believe he was.

My personal opinion is that much of this book’s success is attributed to the format which it is written in which allows for the use of first person narrative and therefore a feeling of a closer relationship with the main character during each podcast recording. The storytelling is of the highest quality as each character involved in the podcast series shares their view on Alfie’s disappearance with the reader almost feeling like Scott King’s partner in attempting to solve the crime and discover the truth one recording after another. Although the storyline was captivating, the retelling of the night Alfie went missing through the more personal approach of a podcast created an atmosphere which could not have been produced if the book was written in a standard third person narrative tale and this unique format made for an even more fantastic story.

This book took over my thoughts completely as I was reading it and even the smallest noises made me jump as I read about the tap-tap-tap noises of the forest. A thriller requires a mixture of techniques to captivate and entertain and I firmly believe that Matt Wesolowski successfully managed to use all these right methods. Brave in concept and brilliant in execution, Changeling is a fantastic thriller that I recommend to everyone seeking a unique reading experience.