July 2016 Books

July 2016Books

 

 

Oh dear. You know you’ve got rather behind with blog posts when you are publishing a July round up post in the last week of August! Without further ado, here are the books I read in July.

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena *

I absolutely loved this book; you can read my full review of it here. It tells the story of a young married couple whose baby is kidnapped while they are next door at a neighbour’s dinner party. I expected it to deal with the public shaming of the parents for having left the baby alone while they socialised, but it was much more of a domestic thriller, with the ready privy to the innermost thoughts of both of them as they come to terms with what has happened. It’s a definite page-turner; I saw someone reading it on the train the other day and she had that fevered expression that only comes when you are a couple of chapters from the end of a book that you simply have to finish!

Blame by Simon Mayo *

I know most people probably don’t think that I can be unbiased about a book by my favourite radio DJ, but I can. I think. It just so happens that I have really liked everything he has written so far. Blame is a Young Adult novel set in the near future, when heritage crime laws have been passed – children can now be prosecuted, and sent to ‘family prisons’, for the crimes of their parents and grandparents. It’s a really interesting look at the consequences of extreme politics, with society blaming anyone they can think of for what’s wrong with the world. You can read my full review of Blame here.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

Well it’s Harry Potter season again, and I had been re-reading the first book for a while before finishing it last month. I did a full rewatch of the films, and spent a lot of time saying “In the book…” to my friend who has never read them. So I thought it was time for a re-read, and I decided to download the enhanced iBooks versions, as my actual books are still at my dad’s house. I wasn’t terribly enamoured with the ‘enhanced-ness’ of them, they just had a few animated illustrations, and the odd extra piece of Pottermore information. But it’s Harry Potter, so of course I enjoyed it.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne

Well it’s Harry Potter season again… I bought this the day it came out, and read it in 90 minutes. Partly out of nostalgia for the days when I would queue at midnight for a new Harry Potter book and be finished with it by lunchtime the next day (only to flip straight back to page one and start again), but mostly because it’s a play, and it only took me that long to read. I really liked it – I kind of understand the negativity towards it, but I think it’s really important to acknowledge that you are reading a script, something that is meant to be experienced on stage rather than on the page. I’m probably never going to see it performed, but I loved being back in the company of beloved characters, so it gets a thumbs up from me.

Songs About a Girl by Chris Russell

I bought Songs About a Girl having seen Chris Russell on a panel at YALC, talking about music in YA fiction. He was quite delightful, and he piqued my interest about this novel – the story of a teenager who is asked along to take backstage photos of the biggest boyband in the world, and ends up entangled in ways that are not just professional. It’s an enjoyable novel, and it’s clear throughout that Russell has experience of both life as a musician (he’s in a band), and life behind the scenes with a boyband (he’s worked for the One Direction fanclub). Also, he complimented both my glasses and my t-shirt at YALC when he signed my book, and he seems like a charming man, so he has my vote.

Books in 2016 – 30

*Books marked with a star have been provided by the publisher for review purposes

Book Review ~ Blame by Simon Mayo

1523In the near future the world has started to implement Heritage Crime laws; if you are the child or grandchild of a criminal whose crimes went unpunished, you face prison. Ant and her younger brother Mattie are locked up in Spike, a family prison, as punishment for the crimes of their parents. With them are their foster parents, Gina and Dan, both of whose own parents were also criminals. Situated between Pentonville and Holloway, prisoners of Spike are known as Strutters, named because of the way the locator straps they are forced to wear make them walk upright. Tension soon breaks out, with Ant at the centre of things, giving her the chance to show the world that they are not to blame.

Blame is a worthy addition to the canon of Young Adult dystopian literature. This is a world that is only slightly removed from where we are living now; heritage crime does not exist, but it doesn’t take a huge leap of imagination to think that it’s something that could become a part of the way we live. The wider society in the novel needs someone to hold responsible, to blame, and if the actual perpetrators cannot be caught, their children will have to do.

As he proved with his Itch series, Mayo is adept at creating wonderful female characters, and he more than proves himself with Ant, a truly wonderful central character. Written in the third person, the perspective is almost entirely hers, with only a few scenes taking place away from her view. We learn that Ant is mixed-race, with a white father and a Haitian mother, and rather than rely on lazy tropes such as a long look at herself in the mirror, her heritage is explored through language; the phrases and expressions that she shares with Mattie, such as the way she counts to four when she needs to steady herself. Ant and Mattie’s heritage is significant to them as more than just a way for them to be punished for their parents’ crimes.

Ant is outraged by what is happening to her and her family, and she becomes a figurehead for the movement within the prison to try and fight back. In doing so, she joins the likes of Katniss Everdeen and Tris Prior, who lead their own revolutions. The world of Blame, however, feels so much more real and familiar than those portrayed in other Young Adult dystopian novels. The technology, the politicians and the media are not so far removed from the world we live in, and that’s what ultimately makes Blame so frightening.

A couple of spectacular set-pieces give this story a real cinematic feel; the short chapters through which we experience the terrifying prison riot will keep readers of all ages on tenterhooks, and the climax draws everything together whilst leaving plenty of scope and room for a potential sequel.

The plausibility of the world that Simon Mayo has created is what for me, makes Blame such an essential read. Having read it, I couldn’t leave it behind; its themes and ideas are thought-provoking, and Ant is a character who, though not without her flaws, is more than worthy of standing alongside the likes of Katniss as a true heroine of her world.

Blame by Simon Mayo
First published: June 2016
ISBN: 9780552569071
Corgi Childrens
Review copy provided by publisher

 

Book Blog Tour ~ Relativity by Antonia Hayes

Relativity Antonia Hayes review

Ethan is twelve years old, raised by a single mother, and is particularly gifted in the field of physics. He has an innate understanding of the scientific ordering of the universe, is fascinated by astronomy, and counts among his heroes Stephen Hawking and Albert Einstein. Ethan knows that his dad is no longer around, and that his mother, Claire, doesn’t like to talk about it, but what he doesn’t know, and what Claire wants to make sure he never finds out, is that his father, Mark, was accused, tried and convicted of shaking Ethan when he was just four months old, causing a brain injury.

The story proceeds from the point where Mark makes an unexpected return to Claire and Ethan’s life. This moment coincides with the discovery that Ethan, beyond the seemingly natural affinity for physics and astronomy, may be something entirely more unique; doctors posit the idea that he is an acquired savant, able to actually ‘see’ physics. This raises the question of whether or not the brain injury he sustained as a baby (something his father has always denied causing), really was such a tragedy, or if it set in motion the events that would allow Ethan to see the world differently to others.

Relativity book quote 2 [74270]

Relativity is first and foremost, a wonderful novel. In Ethan, Hayes has created a complex and brilliant young protagonist whose view of the world is a joy to read. Claire and Mark are equally complex, and as adults whose lives have been dictated by this earlier tragedy, they are flawed and open to much interpretation. One of the most enjoyable facets of this story is that the reader is not asked to vilify either character or their actions, either in the past or the present. Mistakes are made on both sides, but Mark and Claire are both imbued with such humanity.

Testament to Hayes’ talent for writing is that the physics element of the story is written with exceptional understanding, but never alienated me, a reader who has no natural affinity for the laws of the universe. I’m fascinated by the ideas of matter and anti-matter, of supernovas and wormholes, but I can’t say I approach even the most basic understanding of those things. Hayes writes with authority on this subject, but never allows the science to overpower the emotion at the heart of the story; rather, she uses the physical forces that are an undeniable part of our galaxy to examine emotions. Each chapter is named after a physical force – time, space, gravity, energy, and the book’s title, Relativity, refers as much to the idea of how a person exists in relation to those they love, as it does the scientific notion of the same word.

With exceptionally well drawn characters, an unflinching look at a family defined and forever-changed by a single moment, and a nuanced exploration of how our parents’ experiences impact on our own lives, Relativity is a wonderful debut novel from Antonia Hayes.

Relativity
First published (UK): 7th April 2016
ISBN: 9781472151681
Corsair
Review copy provided by publisher

Book Review ~ The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

The Interestings caught my attention a while back; I added it to my Goodreads ‘To Read’ list in December of last year. It was one of those book club books that everyone was talking about for a while, but I didn’t actually do anything about reading it. Then, as luck would have it, Waterstones got in contact with me to see if I was interested in being a part of a Waterstones Blogger Book Club Tour, with this as the book in question. Talking about books is one of my favourite things to do, so I was more than happy to join in!

The Interestings is about a group of friends who meet at a summer camp called Spirit in the Woods. The six friends are Jules, a girl who wants to be an actress, and when she realises that her new friends finds her funny, harbours dreams of being a comic performer in the style of Lucille Ball. Ash is Jules’ tentmate; a girl who seemingly leads a charmed life and also wants to act. Her brother, Goodman, is a wannabe architect but whose privileged life has made him lazy and complacent. From the beginning, Ethan is the one whose talent as a animator is apparent, and Jonah is a quiet, thoughtful young man whose mother found fame as a folk singer. Lastly, there’s Cathy, the ballet dancer whose full figure won’t allow her to achieve her dreams.

The book starts off at the camp, introducing the reader to this group of youngsters who all have ambitions to make something special of their lives, and decide at the beginning that if nothing else, they will always be interesting. The title of the book is, I think, actually a misnomer. The story doesn’t feel as though it’s about whether or not these people remain interesting. It’s much more about how these characters’ creativity and dreams as teenagers translated into their adult lives, and how much nostalgia can play a part in your adult life. Jules’ life is consumed and very nearly ruined by her nostalgia for a past life, and by a jealousy that she feels over the way her life has turned out in comparison to her friends’. Ash and Ethan lead a charmed life, and Jules struggles, financially and personally, and she lets her feelings of envy and jealousy of her friends consume her, almost making a conscious decision not to let it go. Her husband suffers from depression, and I sympathised with his situation completely, knowing that he could not change the way he felt. Yet Jules can change the way she feels, she can make a decision not to move on, and yet she doesn’t.

For this reason, I actually found it quite difficult to like Jules at times. I wanted to shake her and remind her what a good life she had, despite all the problems. The problem for me was that she had a great deal of self-awareness; she knew how her obsessions were affecting her life, and yet she couldn’t do anything about them. I much preferred Ethan; a boy who used his talents to help him get through his parents’ divorce, and is the only one of the characters whose childhood creative endeavours translated into a career. I was also fond of Jonah, and felt a little short changed that I didn’t get to know more about him, or spend more time with him. Looking back, however, it’s apparent that this is Jonah’s character; he doesn’t let his best friends get too close, so we as the reader can’t expect to.

I loved the structure of the book – we jump from the camp to the characters’ middle age and then back again to fill in the gaps. This happens at various points throughout the story; we might not get all of the information straightaway, but Wolitzer always goes back to fill in any gaps. The writing is wonderful too; when I finished the book I realised that there wasn’t much in the way of a plot – there are some major events that happen, but in the end it’s just a panoramic look at these characters’ lives over the course of forty years, and I really, really loved it.

As part of the Waterstones Blogger Book Club Tour, I took part in a Google Hangout with Dane from Social Bookshelves and Penny from Lillies and Love. We talked for over an hour about the book, and it was great fun! If you’d like to take a look at the video, and see what we thought of the The Interestings, you can find the video here.

 

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
First published: April 2014
ISBN: 1594488398
Vintage
Copy provided free of charge by Waterstones

Book Review ~ Mrs. Hemingway by Naomi Wood

I’ve always loved modern historical fiction; the ability that some authors have to take real life people from the last 100 years and bring them to life just astounds me, and I have always found it a good way to spark my interest in a particular person or time period, leading me on to reading non-fiction on the subject.

That is exactly the case with Mrs. Hemingway. For all that I’m a former student of American Literature, I’ve read very little Hemingway. I studied The Sun Also Rises at university, and enjoyed it up to a point, but I haven’t ever really felt any overwhelming urge to read any more of his work. I’ve also never really read much about him as a man; I knew he had been married multiple times, and I knew the story of one of his wives losing a case full of his work, but other than that, I went into Mrs. Hemingway in the dark about this great novelist’s private life.

Naomi Wood dedicates a section to each of Ernest Hemingway’s four wives; starting with Hadley, onto Fife, Martha and Mary. It would have been easy to separate these four stories out, telling them from when they first met Hemingway through to the end of their marriage, but Wood resists this temptation. Instead, each section starts at the end of the marriage, and at various points flashes back to the first point of meeting. Hemingway’s marriages weren’t independent of each other; each relationship (aside from his first) began as an extra marital affair. There are no gaps between them; from the moment he starts a relationship with Hadley, until his death forty years later, he is never alone.

The women are written beautifully, Wood’s writing is just wonderful, and these four intelligent, creative and fantastic women come alive through her words. We see how they lose themselves to this man who treated them badly; the three latter women watch him treat the incumbent wife dreadfully, and yet still feel surprised and betrayed when they do the same to them.

Martha is their fifth guest at the table: invisible and mute, but loud as hell.

Each woman is distinctive, having her own voice, ambitions and character, and yet they all have the same flaw. They are all unable to resist the spell that Ernest Hemingway casts over them, and it’s fascinating to watch them fall in love, made to feel so special by this man, only to wonder where their dignity has gone as they battle to keep him.

I also very much enjoyed the cameos by the celebrities of the era; Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Sara and Murphy, Sylvia Beach, Pablo Picasso. It made me want to read much more about the ex-pat community in Paris in the 1920s, and I’ve already added a number of books to my list!

Mrs. Hemingway is a work of fiction, with Naomi Wood making sure that the reader knows that it was born out of her imagination. She has borrowed these women from literary history and brought them to life beautifully. This was a library book, but I can see myself purchasing it so I can read it again in the future.

Mrs. Hemingway by Naomi Wood
First published: February 2014
ISBN: 9781447226864
Picador
Library Book