Goodbye privacy, hello narcissism // The Circle Review

I’ve read a fair few books since I’ve been in Scotland.

In Summer, the amount of books I read doesn’t change but I may decide to waltz outside with a glass of Pimms, and with the sea views here I’ve been doing just that.

One book that’s stood out for me though is The Circle, by David Eggers. The Circle, is in fact a technology company endeavouring to create a utopia for its users and trying to dominate the world. Mae, our protagonist, starts her new job there and gets to experience the wonders of her new paradise- until she is manipulated into believing that without The Circle the world can’t progress and improve.

Throughout the book it’s easy to see the opportunities one can receive simply by being a member of The Circle. You can sample the latest technology the company has to offer, get free clothes, food, and beverages and the reputation you gain is astronomical.

However, the people are fake.

A similar theme has been explored in an episode of Black Mirror, where you are rated based on your actions on an internet app and the world is silently chaotic. A similar thing occurs here, as it is mandatory to share your life online, attend every event you’re invited to and ensure everyone you talk to is content. Privacy is eradicated, and the narcissism of humans is exposed via the popularity of their respective social media.

What’s interesting is the ending. Normally in this kind of dystopian sci-fi type novel, they manage to stop everything before it’s too late (although usually with devastating consequences), however here the result is more chilling. What is terrifying and what could even be considered realistic is the fact that it is too late for Mae. The fact that she is manipulated by the internet into having “right opinions” and “wrong opinions” results in the Circle being able to take over the world like a weed. No organisation should be able to do that.

What is more terrifying is that this could be our reality.

I read a lot of books in Costa Rica

Let’s talk books.

Somehow, thanks to the invention of hammocks, rocking chairs and well trained friends that know to leave me alone when I have a book in my hand, I read a not too shabby 17 books while I was away. Some were brilliant, and some were less so. So I’m going to talk about my favourite five.

The Martian Chronicles – Ray Bradbury

This is the oldest book I read, and what was interesting is its insight regarding the future. Books and films about mars and space and a future that’s corrupt but manageable seems to be all the rage these days, and it’s refreshing to see a different perspective on it from before my time. If you enjoyed Brave New World and War of the Worlds, you’ll enjoy this.

Hidden Figures – Margot Lee Shetterly

I saw the film before I read the book, and I can say with confidence that it is the best film I’ve seen this year so far. It’s so important to learn about the unsung heroes, especially since so many influential figures have been overlooked throughout history due to race, gender, and numerous other prejudices. The story of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson is moving, triumphant and inspiring. A great read if you’re into history, space, and empowering women.

The Girlfriend – Michelle Frances

This book was only released a few months ago, and it is definitely an intriguing debut. The concept is simple, but the way it escalates and captivates you makes it worth reading, especially if you’re into romance and a darker plot. In places some of the things that take place seem unreasonable, but if there’s anything I’ve learned in life it’s that girls and women can be scary and a force to be reckoned with. I’m excited to see what is in store for Michelle Frances in any potential future works.

The ’86 Fix – Keith A Pearson

This is another fairly new novel, and the first word that comes to me when I think of this book is ‘fresh’. It’s a classic, feel good, sci-fi/nerdy kid vs the world novel which made me chuckle and feel like I’d been deposited into 1986 myself, despite being a tiny young bean. Although I’ve read many stories about the concept of time, it was original and interesting, and I LOVED the twists that ensued. It was also a very light read after reading a million thrillers in a short space of time, which was cool.

The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini

About time, right? This is not a book that’s unheard of, however I didn’t think it was a book that would interest me. I was so wrong.

It left me reeling when I finished, and I the fact I practically read it all in one sitting made it all the more thought provoking and poignant. Especially with all the evil in the world today, it really does shine a light on what goes on behind closed doors, or open doors that we choose to ignore. It was dark, but not unnecessarily graphic. It was emotional, but not over the top. It also offered closure, even though it is riddled with tragedy and fear, even if many of the issues occurring today in similar environments show no signs of ending. It’s stories like this that remind us to remain conscious of people who live outside of our comfortable bubbles.

I’m going to Scotland tomorrow, so I have no idea which direction I’m going to go with this blog as I never seem to settle down these days, but who knows. LIKE OUR GOVERNMENT RIGHT NOW HA HA HA (pass me the wine).

How Power must equate to violence // The Power Review

I finished reading The Power last night, and oh my sweet lord riding a bike into the sunset this was a R I D E.  A good ride, and a ride I would recommend to a friend, but nonetheless a wild one.

This book, by Naomi Alderman, a woman who teaches in the university my best friend attends, explores a world in which women suddenly develop a genetic mutation which gives them the power to control electricity. This suddenly gives them the ability to overpower men, after centuries of patriarchy and specific gender roles. What starts off as a confusing novelty escalates into war and destruction, and in this story we follow several protagonists as they try and navigate their way through this new world.

These characters give us very diverse perspectives of this situation the world is suddenly thrusted into. There is the religious aspect of it, as Allie discovers the healing process and the community it can provide. There are also opportunities to exploit it, as Tunde dedicates his life to recording what will be a dramatic historical era. Furthermore, there is the aspect of power, of course, as Roxy develops an unstoppable strength and learns how to enhance this new power further. Finally, there’s the political side to it, as Margot attempts to being together a shattered society in a world that is being divided by gender in a way that no one has ever seen. What makes me sad is that any new power always seems to lead to violence in the end.

What I found interesting was my reaction. What shocked me upon reflection was the fact that when the women became sadistic, prejudiced and downright barbaric towards men (in ways that makes me shudder to describe), it made me very uncomfortable. The shocking thing is if this was inverted I would be nowhere near as surprised. Attacks against women are nowhere near as shocking anymore, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who reads yet another rape story on twitter with a sigh, rather than a gasp. This should not become second nature, this should not become commonplace. In women or men. Neither universe, this fictional one or our reality, is right. In an ideal world, RESPECT WOULD BE COMMONPLACE.

What gives a man the right to have power over a woman because he is physically stronger? What gives a woman the right to have power over a man just because she can? Regardless of gender, if one is violated in this way they become a victim, regardless of gender. There should be no loopholes, or exceptions, or excuses. People cannot assume they can dominate or control another person without their consent. Sure, we live in a world where people are unlikely to develop supernatural powers (or if we can, hover-boards should be a thing- like the sort I used to read in ‘futuristic’ books as a kid in the 00s), but if anyone thinks they have the power to manipulate another person, then they need to take a long hard look at themselves.

This book made me realise a lot of things. This, along with a gripping and intriguing plot, makes me want to recommend it to anyone with an eye for a dystopian thriller who is looking for something a little more eye opening.

Viva la revolución… again // Glass Sword Review

What is it with young adult novels and the need for a full on revolution?

Aaaaaaages ago I got around to reading the sequel to Red Queen, a novel which I loved, which is called Glass Sword. This book continues to follow the story of Mare, a teenager who doesn’t fit into society due to being brought up in a Red family of poverty whilst possessing magical powers that were originally only seen in the other class, the Silvers.

I loved the book, don’t get me wrong. I’m all for a cheeky bit of romance and magic and all the wonders that young adult books continue to provide. However, I couldn’t help but compare this sequel to the sequel of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. So many young adult books have a revolution against the class system that is causing more issues than the more “perfect” parts of the society don’t want to admit. There always seems to be a corrupted government/ruler, and I suppose that could be seen as a good thing because it will make young people more aware of the political world that they can actively participate in once they’ve hit the age of 18, but the repetitive ideas takes away the poignancy of it.

Another thing that I always see in YA novels is the romance. More specifically: love triangles. Sure, it gives fans the chance to make their own interpretations based on who they prefer the protagonist to be with, but there’s always an obvious lover and then a long term best friend who will never fit into the mould (Although I was always team Gale in The Hunger Games to be honest). I believe it was poignant enough that Kilorn in this series was her best friend through everything, and his role was important and it didn’t need to be tarnished by feelings for her. On the other hand, THANK GOODNESS, it did not overshadow the overall plot.

It’s full of development, it’s progressive but leaves room for a climactic final novel, and Victoria Aveyard seems to set out to prove that Mare can’t do everything, and the powerful ending emphasises this.

Overall: I still very much enjoy this series, I’m planning on reading the third book soon, and although the repetition of ideas across young adult novels is frustrating, I haven’t been put off the genre just yet.

More broken than usual, but we’ll roll with it // Alicia Review

Naturally, because I haven’t had the chance to read lately, I’ve been sitting around this weekend doing nothing but read. Fuelled with caffeine and alcohol, I finally finished Alicia yesterday, a novel written by a friend of a university pal: D J Baldock.

This book is no normal superhero novel, and it’s also not set in a normal dystopian universe. Alicia, the eponymous protagonist, is a rogue and powerful woman who is hell-bent on revenge against the man who has forced her into a life of ruin and destruction. She meets a squeaky-clean superhero (Violet) who turns out to be her opposite with her own share of darkness. However, the wrath that follows extends beyond her personal vendettas and she must team up with fellow superheroes who are also fighting against this series of allegedly “coincidental” events, but of course, there’s more to it than just that. Somehow, he successfully combines powerful young women fresh out of their teen years with a perilous society without making it cliché, which is a feat that very much impressed me after reading many a predictable storyline over the years.

However, despite the whole young guns against the world thing going on, there is a dark side to this plot that makes it much more adult, and the very distinct lack of sugar-coating makes it refreshing (which completely juxtaposes the vibe of the story but I’m sure you’d know what I mean). Another thing to note is the language. As someone who has expanded their vocabulary through books, the complexity of the words used adds a flair to what could be just an ordinary sci-fi novel. Although it does seem like the author has swallowed a thesaurus, it’s nice to see some more sophisticated language for a change.

Another cool aspect is the realism. Every character is flawed to the point that you wouldn’t instantly gravitate to Alicia, Violet, Bethany, or any of the other characters, superhero or untempered (a rogue human with supernatural powers). Alicia is repeatedly described as broken to the point where you could lose faith in her, but she proves to be vital, and no one is safe from the whims of the author’s pen- although not to the extent of George R. R. Martin.

This book is underrated, and is available on Amazon, so if you’re looking for a superhero sci-fi novel with a bit more brutality and some unconventional twists, you’re welcome. 

Link to the paperback and kindle: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Alicia-Ascendant-Untempered-D-Baldock/dp/0993323707/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1491773629&sr=1-1&keywords=9780993323706

PS: This is the first of a series! I’m actually excited to read the next novel despite avoiding book series for a while due to life getting in the way. I need to stop rambling in the postscript- it must be time for a beer.

Darker than an angsty teen’s soul // Beside Myself Review

The exams are over, but the assignments are not, so my reading time is still very limited (Although I bet if my parents ever read this blog they’d be raising their eyebrows right now).

In the land of fewer assignments and more free time, I read Beside Myself, which was one of my more spontaneously chosen reads. The concept was intriguing, I’m drawn to a hardback and it’s discounted on Wordery right now which is always a win. I knew the plot wouldn’t be full of sunshine and roses, but the darkness almost seeped through the pages, and it stuck with me.

So here’s the thing. Helen and Ellie are twins. Like most duos, there is a leader and a follower, and they fit in these roles respectively. Until one day, aged 5, they pretend to swap as they are identical, which of course dooms Helen, who is now demoted to the sidekick role. Not only does Ellie refuse to switch back, but it results in a downward spiral of mental illness and trauma for Helen who slowly loses her identity as Ellie quite literally takes over her life. Not being a twin, I cannot relate obviously, but as harrowing as it was for me I cannot imagine how traumatising it would be if a twin was reading this.

You can’t help but feel frustrated and on edge throughout as the world seems to repeatedly turn its back on her. Her sister thrives and flourishes thanks to her upgraded identity and continues to shove Helen into the shadows, However, one of the most important factors that defends Ellie’s actions are in the prologue. In this introduction, we see that Helen pushes Ellie around, and some may suggest that she is bullying her. This could indicate why the roles get reversed so literally later on, however you can’t deny the horror of the consequences and how easy it is to just give up completely. Anne Morgan writes with such poignant accuracy resulting in even non-twins feeling shaken by the plot, and that’s why I liked it.

If you’ve got a spare fiver then thrill yourself a little, it’ll be worth it.

Hitting Home // It’s Kind of a Funny Story Review

Happy World Book Day! Apparently it’s the 20th year, meaning it began a few months after i was born, so thank you parents for that excellent timing??

ANYWAY, I read It’s Kind of a Funny Story a while ago, thanks to my friend, and it’s taken me a while to actually write this review, along with countless others, because I live off a healthy diet of naps and stress.

This book follows the story of a guy who checks himself into a mental health hospital after cracking under the pressure of school. According to a report from last year, 90% of headteachers have reported an increase in mental health problems in schools, and this book highlights this terrifying statistic. More than half of all adults with mental health problems were diagnosed in childhood.

What still sticks in my mind about this story, months later, is the fact that it hit home. Not because it was dramatic, or extreme, but because of how perfectly plausible it is. How his situation could be mirrored in any of our lives.

His family are supportive. His home isn’t broken. He is a bright, creative person. He had friends. He had the potential to be happy.

However, anyone has the potential to be sad too, and that’s what people don’t notice. That is what the author described so beautifully and humorously in this book. Things change, attitudes change, and sometimes the littlest incidents can trigger a lifetime of struggle, at least until you get the help you need.

What is also interesting are the reactions of his friends, old and new. As I mentioned in a blog post around this time last year, in real life your friends won’t be attached to your side like lapdogs, because, surprisingly, they have their own issues to deal with too.

What makes me happy is that it leaves us with hope. That it’s okay to go through something and move on from it.

The author of this novel committed suicide in 2013, but that doesn’t mean we all have to when we are faced with darkness.

Some things you can’t unread // Disclaimer review

****Trigger warning: rape, and me rambling about it from an outsider’s perspective****

This another one of those “my friend gave me this book ages ago and I’ve only just got around to reading it” origin stories. My TBR list has piled high and returning home for a well needed detox and unwind was the perfect excuse to tackle it. 

I knew this book was a thriller, so I knew it may not be the lighthearted read I probably should have chosen to help me relax while I was away from university. What I didn’t know was that I was about to read one of the darkest scenes I have ever laid my eyes upon, and that the concept of the novel inside a novel that I read in the blurb would take such a dark turn.

I do believe that to an extent, many of us are desensitised to things that we should be able to sympathise with. Thanks to shows like Game of Thrones and horror films being more accessible to younger people, we can be unfazed by the horrors in the world because we’re lucky enough to be sheltered from the terrifying real life situations that are going on (although it seems these days that no one is safe).

This isn’t fair. It isn’t fair that we turn a blind eye to the suffering in the world just because of where you are in the world, your religion or your gender, among many more reasons to divide us rather than unite us. Disclaimer has its twists and turns like any thriller, and this leads me to one of the most climactic scenes I have ever read.

This book follows the tale of a woman who discovers a novel that appears to follow her own life, to the point where one of her darkest secrets is uncovered. Unfortunately for her, it is twisted to the point where everything is turned against her, and just when you think she is going to put herself out of her misery we discover the truth. The truth being that she was raped. 

Sadly this isn’t new to me in novels either, and it’s important to address the fact that it can happen in many different circumstances. Why? Lord knows. To this day I have no idea what could possess a person to think it’s a good idea to violate someone in such a manner. This wasn’t just a quick one page pointer to add to the plot. This scene was dragged on, truly making us readers try and feel what was going on, feel how her son was threatened and she was forced to sacrifice her dignity and any modesty she had. It was graphic, detailed and truly harrowing. It is definitely the thing that stands out most in this novel. That people do things like this in real life, and get away with it. 

It isn’t just a thing that happens, or an unfortunate situation. Surely it would scar you. Surely it would leave you with a permanent sense of anxiety around people for good. I remember years ago watching a video about a girl who carried around the mattress she was raped on around campus to represent the burden she would now carry for life and it’s not a rare case.

The world makes me sad sometimes, and books serve to emphasise how brutal humans can be. This book is truly a thrilling read, and it will cut you to the bone.

Screaming Young Adult // Dreaming the Bear Review

Signed books are always cool. I recently received a signed copy of Dreaming the Bear for my birthday and although I’m still struggling to find the balance between young adult and more adult novels, I did enjoy this book.

This book in particular screams young adult. The main character is your typical relatable teen to an extent, but due to a respiratory illness is very weak and confined in some ways both mentally and physically, until she accidentally stumbles across an injured bear- with whom she finds refuge and comfort. After this incident they share a bond and a connection which brings with it many obstacles and difficulties in a National Park prejudiced against these bears due to their violence.

It’s an original concept for a young adult novel. Although friendship is tackled in many books for teenagers it was interesting to explore the relationship between us and animals, especially when there are more complications due to the language barrier and any prejudices others have. Although it was mainly family orientated, of course it wouldn’t be complete without a love interest, and it was inevitable that something would happen between our stereotypically female protagonist and this mysterious yet somehow reserved boy, who was a friend of her older brother.

For me, the novel seemed to be paced in bursts until the climax. For the most part it was quite cliché, apart from the original concept and her illness, and the illness gave us an easy way to sympathise with her and excuse her for her bad attitude. Sometimes things fell into place too easily: for example she always seemed to have money and food for the bear and themselves during the storm.

However, we can’t ignore the startling climax. It suddenly gets very real and we are almost sent crashing back down to earth as our beloved problematic-yet-loveable protagonist is faced with the consequences of her actions, resulting in her having to kill the bear she worked so hard to care for. I would be lying if I said I was expecting it, and although it was quite heart wrenching to read it was almost refreshing to see her learn from her mistakes, even though she obviously meant well. It seemed like she got away with a lot during the story and I’m glad us readers could extract a moral from it: that actions have consequences, and you have to face up to them.

Overall: an enjoyable concept, definitely for teenagers, and a very lighthearted easy read.

PS: I’m 3 books behind schedule on my reading challenge. I have 5 books left to read before the end of the year. Help.

A Curious Concept // The Bees Review

It’s been difficult to find time to read these days, so when my birthday rolls around and I get a fresh supply of books it always kickstarts my reading just in time to finish my reading challenge by the end of the year (which I feel like I’m very behind on, whoops save me).

Today I’m going to talk about The Bees. I put this on my birthday wishlist because I was very intrigued by the concept, and although it wasn’t too far out of my normal comfort zone when it comes to genres, the fact that Laline Paull introduces a completely new perspective caught me off guard, and it worked out somehow.

It was original and exciting. I haven’t been this invested in a bee since The Bee Movie, and this was only because it became a massive meme and again, I was curious. The fact that they are very clearly bees physically yet appear to have human emotions gives us a new and fresh contribution to the dystopian genre, as like most popular dystopian books the society is rigid and controlled with very strict classes and roles. I was drawn into it, because somehow, even though I am most definitely not a bee, I could relate to it. I could relate to the boredom Flora felt about being stuck in the same routine, I could relate to her crave for society to accept a more creative or different outlook on life, I could relate, somehow. I’ve always wanted to have the ability to fly, too.

Sometimes I felt like it was unnecessarily dark. Sometimes the descriptions went to extremes that made it seem horrendously sexual, and if you were scarred by the Bee Movie, this is a whole new level somehow. Although graphic imagery can add to a story, sometimes I feel like it takes away the impact of the plot because people will struggle to take it seriously.

Nevertheless, I was hooked. The pace of the story was reasonably fast even though it takes place over a relatively long period of time. Also it revived my love of reading and kickstarted my reading challenge again, so I definitely consider it to be enjoyable.

Overall: I feel like it has a niche interest in the sense that you could easily be completely put off by the concept, but it wholeheartedly draws you in and takes you on a journey if you invest in it.