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 Suddenly young girls are obliged to follow an outdated curriculum that no longer includes reading or writing.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

Summer Sweatalong Book Tag

Studious Saturday

This week’s Studious Saturday post is a tag which has been really fun to complete. Thank you, Lori, for tagging me! If you don’t follow Lori yet you should definitely take a look at her blog!

The Rules

  1. Link back to the original creator of the book tag (thebookwormdreamer).
  2. Start off with telling us your favourite season and why it is/isn’t summer!
  3. Tag five friends to take part.
  4. Enjoy!

My favourite season: Winter

I definitely do not enjoy the stifling summer heat here in Madrid. If I have to pick a favourite season it would most likely be winter because I always associate it with Christmas and New Year’s celebration which I love because I spend them surrounded by family. I also like being wrapped up and watching the snow fall from indoors (although we don’t get much of it around here).

Don’t Stop! A book you couldn’t stop reading:



Circe was just too good to stop reading and I had to force myself to leave it several times in order to not miss my stop and arrive to work on time!

You’re a cheetah – A book you read in just one day:



I remember starting this book during a flight and trying to rush and finish it but failing to do so. I then proceeded to finish it as soon as I arrived home.

Couldn’t let go – A book you reread straight away:

None! I don’t reread books.

Calm it down! A book that got your heart racing:



Twisted sure did get my heart racing on several occasions and kept me on the edge of my seat until the very end.

Second best – A sequel you read faster than the first:



I am a huge fan of Cara Hunter’s writing and read the third book in the DI Adam Fawley series right after it was published!

Books on fire! A series you read straight through:

It only took me around one week to read Stieg Larsson’s Millenium series and I still remember the excitement of finishing one book and starting the next. This series is by far one of my favourites.

Midnight Madness! A book that kept you up late:



I stayed up very late several nights in a row trying to finish The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. It was tough because there are so many little details that end up being key to the story line so I was skipping pages and turning back to check facts the entire time.

 

I won’t tag anyone this time but I really encourage everyone to do this tag. It is so great to look back on books that we hurried through because they were so brilliantly written!

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.

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 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.