The Handmaids Tale, Margaret Atwood

Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now…

I read an adult novel. Not only that, I read an adult novel that’s technically a classic and I liked it. (that’s two adults in a row. This is a rare and strange thing)

I don’t know if like is the right word though. Because it’s an uneasy and occasionally hard read, and not exactly enjoyable. But it was interesting and fascinating and I read it in two days.

I mean, I find it hard to believe we could ever make the leap between what we are now to that type of world – but then, the characters in the book didn’t think that either. I actually loved this way of looking at it; in most dystopian books, its years after society starts to change and no one knows any different. In this, it’s still in those first few years – every character knows of before even if they can’t talk about it. And it gave an extra part of horror to the whole thing – because things can change that quickly. Really, hopefully not that much but like… you could kinda see someone like Trump going yeah you know what lets stop women accessing their money without their husbands there. 

Talking of husbands – I often say the reason’s I dont like adult fiction is because in every book I’ve read there’s been cheating and alcoholics. That… doesn’t technically stop in this book (I mean, the whole idea of a handmaid is so they have sex with other peoples husbands to have children…) and the men still like to drink… but the actual story and way it was written made me not-as-annoyed as normal.

It is, overall, one of the best and most chilling dystopias I have ever read and I think I will be reading more Atwood at some point.

five stars

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, Becky Chambers

When Rosemary Harper joins the crew of the Wayfarer, she isn’t expecting much. The Wayfarer, a patched-up ship that’s seen better days, offers her everything she could possibly want: a small, quiet spot to call home for a while, adventure in far-off corners of the galaxy, and distance from her troubled past.
But Rosemary gets more than she bargained for with the Wayfarer. The crew is a mishmash of species and personalities, from Sissix, the friendly reptilian pilot, to Kizzy and Jenks, the constantly sparring engineers who keep the ship running. Life on board is chaotic, but more or less peaceful – exactly what Rosemary wants.
Until the crew are offered the job of a lifetime: the chance to build a hyperspace tunnel to a distant planet. They’ll earn enough money to live comfortably for years… if they survive the long trip through war-torn interstellar space without endangering any of the fragile alliances that keep the galaxy peaceful.
But Rosemary isn’t the only person on board with secrets to hide, and the crew will soon discover that space may be vast, but spaceships are very small indeed.

I don’t actually think I have enough words to explain how much I adore this book.  I love everything about it.

From the cast of main characters, each of them wonderfully unique and strong enough that you can always tell who is talking. And each of the characters has motive (no really, how many books have you read where all the characters seem to revolve around Mainy and every secret they have is actually about that one character?) and secrets, relationships and backgrounds that make them jump off the page.

Linked to that is the diversity. Oh my god, no sci-fi or fantasy can ever say that their worlds cant be diverse… or whatever excuse it is they use.  There are so many different beings in this book. Every alien species has a different language, set of myths, way of living, and you know the even nicer thing? No one is hated because of it. It’s a far less judgemental place than our own world seems to be.

There are aliens that upset the gender binary – finally, theres an author who says that, you know what, just because we use ‘female’ and ‘male’ doesnt mean every other planet would. (also, not every character is straight. YAY)

Its not just the aliens though; despite the fact that there are human characters in the cast, some were born and raised in spaceships, others on Mars, others around Earth, and each of them is vastly different too.

Seriously everything about this book was perfect.

I don’t often read sci-fi. I find that many books are all the same; spaceship, evil aliens, fighting. (Don’t get me wrong, I do like that some times, Star Trek is one of my favourite film franchises after all) so this is an amazing breath of fresh air in the genre. Because its not all about fighting and war (though there are a few conflicts within) its more about the day to day life of a long voyage through space, and a mismatch of characters that count each other as family.

It’s honestly brilliant, and I cannot wait to read the authors other book A Close and Common Orbit.

five stars

Noah Can’t Even, Simon James Green

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Poor Noah Grimes! His father disappeared years ago, his mother’s Beyonce tribute act is an unacceptable embarrassment, and his beloved gran is no longer herself. He only has one friend, Harry, and school is…Well, it’s pure HELL. Why can’t Noah be normal, like everyone else at school? Maybe if he struck up a romantic relationship with someone – maybe Sophie, who is perfect and lovely – he’d be seen in a different light? But Noah’s plans are derailed when Harry kisses him at a party. That’s when things go from bad to utter chaos

This book is hilarious.

And before I write a review, I want to convince you to read it in two pictures:

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and

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And if that didn’t make you cackle and cringe, there’s plenty more (of both) in this book that will make you.

It’s awkward. Oh my god, this book is full of awkward teenagers and even more awkward moments that honestly makes me feel like my own teenage years were almost normal.

I mean, the book is ridiculous. It jumps from one ridiculous thing to another, but the best thing is that the main character and his wonderful mess of a life makes it believable. From his panicking talking to anyone else to his attempts to be cool to the numerous plot twists that make everything worse, this book is a masterpiece of bumbling through the awkwardness of teenage years and sexuality and school and embarrassing mothers.

I was laughing (out loud) so much through sections of this book that my colleague ended up grabbing a copy off the shelf and reading it too – half an hour later she bought it.

This book is just a wonderful friesh of breath air. It’s funny and clever and over the top, but it’s also light hearted and good… and an lgbt book where all the lgbt characters survive (wow the fact that my bar is so low for gay characters says a lot). And its also a book with more than one gay character – I’m sure you all know what I mean. In 90% of  books there is just the one lgbt character… which is so not true to real life.

Basically, you should go out now and buy this book and you will not be disappointed. I would talk about this book for ages but I don’t want to spoil anything for people, so please, please, go and read it.

five stars

The Bookshop Girl, Sylvia Bishop

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This story is about a little girl named Property Jones, so-called because she was left in the lost property cupboard of a bookshop when she was five years old. Property loves living in the bookshop, but she has a whopper of a secret… she can’t actually read! So Property doesn’t see the newspaper article announcing the chance to win the Montgomery Book Emporium, the biggest and most magnificent bookshop in the world! When her family win the competition, Property finds herself moving to the Emporium, a magical place filled with floor upon floor of books and a very bad-tempered cat. But all is not at it seems at the Emporium and soon Property Jones finds herself in a whole heap of trouble.

Honestly, its books like this that makes me believe that childrens books are often the best and most creative books in existence. And the funniest.

I mean, here you have a girl called Property who lives at a bookshop but cant read because she never admitted the fact that when her mother gave her a book (assuming she could read) she thought they were just staring at the pages and not actually doing anything. And also here you have a bookshop where each room is a different theme and is mechanical and I really want to live there? It sounds like the best bookshop ever. Oh, and a creature that might be a cat but might also be a demon.

And a whole lot of other stuff that just makes it a brilliant book.

I feel as if the whole book was a love letter to bookshops. Everyone (well, mostly) in the book loved books and the shops. Both shops in the book were intriguing and lovely and fun, and strangely convincing enough that even the Emporium sounded as if it was real.

But more than that, the book had a gentle message in it that reading isn’t everything. Property can’t read, yet she’s the one that notices things and saves the day. It’s a nice message for anyone – but especially for the 7+ that the book is aimed for, because it’s telling them that they don’t have to be good readers, or good at anything, to be wonderful.

It is a quick read, but it’s a book that will make you snigger and give children and adults alike joy, so I really recommend it, no matter your age.

five stars

Letters to the Lost, Brigid Kemmerer

 

Juliet Young has always written letters to her mother, a world-traveling photojournalist. Even after her mother’s death, she leaves letters at her grave. It’s the only way Juliet can cope.
Declan Murphy isn’t the sort of guy you want to cross. In the midst of his court-ordered community service at the local cemetery, he’s trying to escape the demons of his past.
When Declan reads a haunting letter left beside a grave, he can’t resist writing back. Soon, he’s opening up to a perfect stranger, and their connection is immediate. But neither of them knows that they’re not actually strangers. When real life at school interferes with their secret life of letters, Juliet and Declan discover truths that might tear them apart. This emotional, compulsively-readable romance will sweep everyone off their feet.

Taken at face value, this book might look like your average YA high school book. You know the ones; friends to enemies, Bad Boy with a Rep meets Gentle Loving Girl. With just a bit more angst than maybe normal. (I say maybe. High School/College Romance style YA/NA books seem to compete with each other for most amount of angst possible in one page)

But take that face value and… I dont know. Throw it out the window, or something just as fun. Because this book is more than that – and hell, while most people would count it as a romance (since the main characters are a boy and a girl talking to each other. That all it seems to take nowadays) I don’t.

This is a book about two people, who have both lost someone in their family, and that one thing has shaped each of them every day of their lives. Its a book about anger and friendship and love- not just romantic love – and mainly, grief.

Grief being the main thing the whole plot centres around.

I know grief. It and I have shaken hands on more than one occasion, and sometimes it likes to pop up again, just to remind me that now we are acquaintance, it will never truly leave. And reading this book – it was hard, at times. Because I understood how both characters felt. Their helplessness and anger and denial – not necessarily that the person is dead, but that you’ve lost them.

There was a part about a quarter through the book when Juliet’s dad pulls out all her mums stuff and starts talking about selling them, and Juliet screams at him and just starts crying. That bit, strangely, was one of the hardest parts for me to read, because it still happens.

People don’t understand grief. Not even those that have been through it. Because everyone copes (or doesnt cope) differently, and I think this book was amazing and putting that across. Not even six months after her mother dies and all her teachers and friends don’t understand why Juliet isn’t back to ‘normal’. They keep making comments about it, trying to stop her from going to the cemetery or hoarding her mothers things. Because people don’t get over things like that so quickly.  And this book – the grienf doesn’t just disappear to make way for a romance and oh mt god the fact that is so rare is wrong. It was wonderful to read and see how both characters struggled with emotions, both positive and negative, and watching their journey through the chapters to see how each changed the other.

The only thing I didn’t like was the formatting – in most double narratives, the chapters start by being headed by the character name. In this one, that doesnt happen, so the first few chapters can be hard to navigate through, especially as each chapter starts with a letter from the opposite character. But you do get used to it after a while so its not that bad.

five stars

Under Rose-Tainted Skies, Louise Gornall

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At seventeen, Norah has accepted that the four walls of her house delineate her life. She knows that fearing everything from inland tsunamis to odd numbers is irrational, but her mind insists the world outside is too big, too dangerous. So she stays safe inside, watching others’ lives through her windows and social media feed.

But when Luke arrives on her doorstep, he doesn’t see a girl defined by medical terms and mental health. Instead, he sees a girl who is funny, smart, and brave. And Norah likes what he sees.

Their friendship turns deeper, but Norah knows Luke deserves a normal girl. One who can walk beneath the open sky. One who is unafraid of kissing. One who isn’t so screwed up. Can she let him go for his own good—or can Norah learn to see herself through Luke’s eyes?

After the awfulness of some other YA contemporary books I’ve read recently, I didn’t hold up much for this one. I’d seen a lot online about it, though, and the fact that it was realistic in the mental illnesses it portrayed and thought I would actually give it a chance.

I was so so wary going into this. I had a proof copy, so I don’t know what it says on the back of finished ones, but the blurb on mine made it sound like the whole girl meets boy girl falls in love *poof* mental illness cured! Which… yeah, I’m definitely not the only one that hates the whole idea of that thing. It really really isn’t like that at all. But I had the book and I knew enough about it to be interested, so I started it.

It was slow. There is no denying that, and for someone like me, who likes fast paced fantasy and on-the-edge-of-your-seat plots, it was hard to get into (pretty much why this is a 4 star and not a 5 star.) but how can it be anything but slow, when the main characters whole world is the four walls of her house?

But that slowness didn’t stop the story, or make it boring. With something like agoraphobia, it would have been easy to slump down the monotonous route-with how Main Character’s, Norah, life was, it would have been more than easy. But Gornall is a clever writer that it never seems that way. She has just proven that you dont need massive world building and endless sets to create a beautiful story.

Because it was beautiful. In its writing but also in the truth of the mental illnesses it tackled. It was unflinching in everything, from the anxiety to the panic attacks to the self harm- and also the treatment of them all. And you know what else was beautiful? The fact that Norah has a caring support system from her mother. In so many YA novels, the parents are the bad guys. The ones that don’t understand, or don’t care, or teach their kids as less. Or even, aren’t in the story at all. But Norah’s mum worries and cares- but when Luke appears on the scene, she doesn’t smother. She just tries to help, and its lovely to see.

And lets talk about Luke. He’s apparently your average teen- good looking, and wanted by the High School Queen (this is a running theme in YA books. Was it just me that never seemed to have one of Those Types while in school?). He’s caring and funny and desperately wants to know Norah. I loved the interaction between these two. Because it wasn’t all love will cure everything. It was awkward- not just when Luke didn’t know anything about her, but even after she explained it, and they were trying to ‘date’. Luke made mistakes- as everyone does, and it’s heartbreaking to see from both sides.

Luke wasn’t the ‘cure’. Norah was not ‘cured’ at the end of the book- she still struggled leaving the house- even when her life was at risk- she still struggled with her OCD and anxiety. But Luke was almost… motivation (not the right word but I can’t think of it at the moment) to get better. To try the treatments suggested to her.

Though some of the book was funny, a lot of it was gritty and hard to read. Because she does struggle with a lot, and the book is written in her POV, you see a lot of what goes on in her head, and sometimes some of the things she went through reminded me of things I’ve struggled with in the past. But not all books are meant to be light- and books that rotate around characters with mental illnesses shouldn’t be easy, because mental illness isn’t easy.

It was an honest view into Norah’s life, and I really enjoyed it and I recommend it to everyone, no matter your normal reading tastes.

four stars

Illuminae, Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

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This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do. This afternoon, her planet was invaded.
The year is 2575, and two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than an ice-covered speck at the edge of the universe. Too bad nobody thought to warn the people living on it. With enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra—who are barely even talking to each other—are forced to fight their way onto an evacuating fleet, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit.
But their problems are just getting started. A deadly plague has broken out and is mutating, with terrifying results; the fleet’s AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be their enemy; and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady hacks into a tangled web of data to find the truth, it’s clear only one person can help her bring it all to light: the ex-boyfriend she swore she’d never speak to again.
BRIEFING NOTE: Told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents—including emails, schematics, military files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more—Illuminae is the first book in a heart-stopping, high-octane trilogy about lives interrupted, the price of truth, and the courage of everyday heroes.

I don’t think I can talk about this book. I’m kinda just sat in a daze because I never expected it to be this good.

Take everything you think a book is our of your brain and throw it all away. This is not a book in terms of, it has no chapters. It has no massive descriptions you need to plunder through, waiting for the story to start. Nothing that you expect from anything you would normally read.

And it was wonderful, amazing, and refreshing.

I’m attempting to write this review about half an hour after I stopped reading the book, and I don’t think its the best idea, because all my mind can really think is AHHHHHHH and the temptation to go and throw it at people in the street are to read it.

The story is plotted out in a series of emails, interviews, classified document and various other things. You have to keep note of dates- because it sometimes skips weeks, or even goes back in time. And you have to watch for who is talking to who- because a lot of it is in ‘messenger’ style, there are nicknames for a lot of them.

I loved that every page was differently styled; documents had tea stains on them, some had ‘blood’ splatters on them, there are logos of different for what ships are talking,  and also different designs for some of the characters.

I loved loved the characters, especially AIDAN (the AI of one of the ships). Their pages are all black, their style of speaking really poetic and rather amusing at time, and it was great to see this…thing learning to ‘be’. The fact that I, at times, felt bad for an AI shows just how good the style of writing is, and the genius of both the authors.

It was also full of odd little bits that made me smile- like another favourite author’s name turning up at one point in the middle of it.

The design of the book and the writing, along with the plot, characters and almost thillerish mystery of it all just makes it a fantastic, different book

five stars